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The 30 Top Thinkers Under 30: The World Traveler Whose First Love Is Geographic Data—and Its Ability to Inform

We canvassed the world of the social and behavioral sciences, looking for rising stars whose careers promise to make a lasting mark. We'll be profiling the top 30 throughout the month of April.


(Illustration: Graham Smith)

(Illustration: Graham Smith)

Jamie Lundine is from the tiny, bucolic town of Errington, on Canada’s Vancouver Island. “My home is one of the most beautiful places on Earth,” she says.

Today her life is anchored in Nairobi, Kenya. Friends often ask why she left such a tranquil part of the world to live in one of its most frenetic spots. “I recognize the irony,” she says, “but I love living in the city and, through my work, attempting to understand the patterns in the chaos.”

The seeds for her work were planted when she was a freshman at McGill University, unsure of what she wanted to study. She was leaning toward majoring in international development when she took a human geography class and got intrigued by the way geographers see the world.

While still at McGill, Lundine traveled to Africa to do field studies relevant to her geography degree on a scholarship from Canada’s prestigious National Science and Engineering Research Council. After she graduated with honors in 2009, she took an internship with the Kenya AIDS NGOs Consortium and Ushahidi. In 2012, Lundine started her own company, Spatial Collective.

"Anyone who travels the world understands that where we are born and live determines our access to opportunities and well-being more than any other factor."

Here’s the short version of what Spatial Collective does: It deploys a team of on-the-ground researchers to collect data for a variety of do-gooder clients like non-profits. Lundine’s company then delivers that crucial information, alongside an expert interpretation of what it means. Her clients are then empowered with as much information as they need to make the best possible decisions toward goals that improve the lives of many.

Lundine’s motivation comes, in part, from “the excitement we generate when we speak to development professionals, academics, and community members about our work,” she says. “Everybody understands the importance of data and maps for generating insight about how to understand the world as it is. And then we use that data to improve development work.”

“My colleagues and I have already helped to put over one million people on the map,” she adds, “and in the past five years, we have contributed to the rising importance of geographic data in international development work.”

Based on the fact that, as Spatial Collective’s website puts it, “Citizens are experts in their own communities,” Lundine and her team turn custom, locally sourced data into “a powerful tool to address local issues” via a process designed to “empower collective action and develop insights that would be impossible using other means.”

The tools she uses to do that include more traditional ones like geographic information systems (GIS) mapping and GPS devices, but also innovative ones like SMS reporting (i.e., tracking text messages and other cell phone data), participatory videos, community engagement, and other forms of digital storytelling.

Her work has been getting noticed—among the awards Lundine’s Spatial Collective has received is a Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Explorations Award and funding from the World Bank. A small grant from the Rockefeller Foundation is allowing the company to develop Web-based programs that monitor local infrastructure problems.

The folks at Spatial Collective use their mapping and data-crunching expertise to catch trends in crime and violence, to track cottage industries, to track unemployment and job creation, to crowdsource crisis information, and to figure out how hundreds of schools are performing. They also train local governments to collect data.

In what free time she has, Lundine goes walking, practices yoga, and bakes a lot—she even tried launching a side business selling granola bars. “But,” she says, “my first love is geographic data.”

She hopes that love will continue to let her use technology to break down economic barriers and raise young, urban Africans out of poverty. “Anyone who travels the world,” she says, “understands that where we are born and live determines our access to opportunities and well-being more than any other factor.”

We’ll be publishing profiles of this year’s list of the 30 top thinkers under 30 throughout the month of April. Visit this page every day to read about another young person who is making an impact on the social, political, and economic issues we make it our mission to cover every day at Pacific Standard.

A version of this year’s list is also available to subscribers as a feature in our May/June print issue. For more from Pacific Standard on the science of society, and to support our work, sign up for our email newsletter and subscribe to our bimonthly magazine. Digital editions are available in the App Store (iPad) and on Zinio (Android, iPad, PC/MAC, iPhone, and Win8), Amazon, and Google Play (Android).