Julia Kumari Drapkin stands outside talking to a woman. She has dark brown hair that is pulled back and is wearing a blue blazer over a t-shirt.

Julia Kumari Drapkin: CEO and Founder of ISeeChange

The #SheInnovates stories team sat down with Julia Kumari Drapkin to discuss the role of women in innovation. Get involved at She Innovates Global.  

#SheInnovates Stories: Innovation is solving the world's problems. What problem are you solving?

Julia Kumari Drapkin: In neighborhoods around the world, the impacts of climate change are increasing. City officials, engineers and insurers seek to mitigate the damage with infrastructure and adaptation solutions, but they’re missing crucial insights and data from the stakeholders most impacted: the communities that live there. Without their key input, solutions are less effective—and less trusted. ISeeChange mobilizes communities to share their own personal climate stories, photos and weather measurements. 

ISeeChange combines this real-time data with sensor networks and natural language processing to illustrate community-scale climate trends. Cities, engineers and insurers use this data to inform climate adaptation planning, public safety, modeling, and infrastructure design, enabling them to build solutions that work best for communities.

#SheInnovates: When did you realize your innovation was a breakthrough?

JKD: ISeeChange launched its pilot crowdsourced climate story platform in Colorado with farmers and ranchers impacted by drought in 2012. Two months after building the first prototype, which was designed for a small rural community, a global audience of users began contributing. We were written up in articles, did an award-winning episode for This American Life, and both NASA and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory asked us to present on ISeeChange.

#SheInnovates: What were some unexpected obstacles you overcame in the innovation process?

JKD: Just as ISeeChange started gaining attention, we ran out of money. I took a 9 to 5 job at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked 5am-9am/5pm-9pm on ISeeChange. It was an exhausting two years keeping the faith until we received our first contract from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and support from the Wyncote Foundation to develop a global version of ISeeChange.

#SheInnovates: What inspires you to love your work?

JKD: Seeing change stories around the world in the ISeeChange feed is a daily source of inspiration and connection. Solving for global climate change can fundamentally bring people around the world, or even in a neighborhood, together. Both are powerful.

#SheInnovates: What do you hope that young women coming behind you take from your work?

JKD: Don’t let anyone tell you to give up or to move to San Francisco. Do what matters, even when it’s hard.

#SheInnovates: Why are women in innovation important?

JKD: ISeeChange was invented by women and most of our users are women; women are the most impacted by climate change, the most likely to take interest and action on climate change, and it’s women who will discover and drive solutions forward.

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Interviews have been lightly edited for clarity and length.