Sema Sgaier

Adjunct Assistant Professor of Global Health

Department of Global Health and Population

Contact details


Dr. Sema Sgaier is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Surgo Foundation.  Dr. Sgaier is passionate about solving complex human development problems. Her work brings a deep and integrated understanding of the human and the system to the center of solution design. She believes in the power of integrating non-traditional approaches to drive transformations in discovery and deliver major development agendas. At Surgo, she leads a multi-disciplinary team of data scientists, behavioral scientists, technologists, and development experts. Dr. Sgaier has led several large-scale programs, as well as research and evaluation projects, and has worked with governments in India and Africa on public-health policy and large-scale delivery.

Prior to joining Surgo Foundation, Dr. Sgaier held several roles at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). She led a portfolio on voluntary medical male circumcision for HIV prevention across eastern and southern Africa. As part of BMGF’s India Country Office, Dr. Sgaier led the scale-up of the foundation’s HIV prevention program (Avahan) in several states, managed its transition to the government of India, and developed data platforms for decision-making.

Dr. Sgaier has been selected as a Rising Talent by the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society. She also serves on the board of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Alumni Network.

Research areas

Methodologies to study human behavior

We integrate and develop non-traditional and the most cutting-edge methodologies to study human behavior. We mine a wide range of data to understand the many variables involved in human decision making. We use these insights to test, and deploy a portfolio of solutions within large-scale development programs.

Management practices to drive innovation within large scale delivery programs

We design management structures to strengthen the capacity of governments to deliver at scale. In addition, structures (such as Innovation Units) and processes (such as rapid A/B testing) that enable large-scale programs to continuously innovate and deliver impact.

Data systems, mathematical modelling, and machine learning

We design and deploy various big data and modelling tools to drive evidence based decision making. We are applying machine learning tools to build holistic models that explain the complexities of development programs such maternal and child health programs.

Other Affiliations

Co-Founder & Executive Director, Surgo Foundation

Affiliate Assistant Professor, Global Health, University of Washington


Postdoctoral Fellowship, Harvard University School of Medicine
PhD, New York University
MSc, New York University
MA, Brown University
BSc, Bogazici University