Nithya Ramanathan is CEO and co-founder of Nexleaf Analytics, a technology non-profit. Today, Nexleaf technology protects the vaccine supply for 1 in 10 children born on Earth. Nexleaf Analytics is known for its work in low-cost smart sensor design, data analytics, and data advocacy.
In this interview with Nithya Ramanathan, we unpack the formative experiences which led Nithya to Nexleaf. She talks about the discrimination she faced in high school, and ignored. She shares the complex lessons she learned from building a “simple” well in Bangladesh. And she celebrates the strong individuals who have inspired and guided her along the way.
In the second half of our conversation, we dig into a few trickier topics. For example, what is the role, and the limits, of researchers in international development. We discuss how health data needs to be owned at the country level, even though and especially when aid workers are eager to present this data in the international spotlight. Nithya celebrates what she’s learned through years navigating and supporting government decisions – even when those decisions acted against Nexleaf. And, of course, we talk about how low-cost sensor technology, often referred to as the “Internet of Things”, is changing how healthcare works in the most remote parts of the world.
- Nexleaf Analytics is a technology non-profit. It is known for its work in low-cost smart sensor design, data analytics, and data advocacy. Today, Nexleaf technology protects the vaccine supply for 1 in 10 children born on Earth.
- Hamilton is a modern, record-breaking, hip-hop musical recounting the life of one of the founding fathers of the United States, Alexander Hamilton.
- Deborah Estrin was Nithya’s PhD advisor. She is well known for her extensive research on sensor networks, mobile health, and small data. She has also founded the non-profit startup Open mHealth to promote effective use of data for health.
- The Internet of Things (IoT) is a term to describe the widespread network of sensors and other technologies that can exchange data over the internet – as well as the technical, social, and human implications of such a network. IoT is made possible by the modern proliferation of low-cost, robust, smart sensors.
- The Lorax is an (excellent) children’s book written by Dr. Seuss. It teaches about the plight of the environment, personified in the Lorax, a creature who “speaks for the trees”.
- GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, is a public-private global health partnership with a mission to increase access to immunizations in poor countries. It includes governments, WHO, UNICEF, and others.
- Data 4 Black Lives: Nithya gives a shoutout to Yeshimabeit Milner, Founder of Data 4 Black Lives. Nithya says, “she is brilliant, inspiring, and an incredible communicator of why it is so important to diversify the voices in data and the collection of data and the analysis of data and the articulation of data.”
- Josh Nesbit, founder and former CEO of Medic: Nithya credits Josh with first giving her the idea to use Nexleaf’s low-cost sensor technology to monitor refrigerator temperatures to ensure effective vaccine supply chains.
- Recidiviz is a data platform to support criminal justice reform in the USA. Nithya celebrates the founders of Recidiviz for their powerful product articulation and use of modern technologies to address inequality. She cites their work as inspiration for how Nexleaf thinks about its data platform.
- Winner Takes All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World is Nithya’s recommended reading. This articulate and controversial piece presents an argument for how rich and powerful philanthropists obscure and deny their own role in propagating inequality.