Sivaram relies on her MPP skills as an Economic Geographer for Fraym, a geospatial analytics startup.
Headshot of Varsha Sivaram
Varsha Sivaram

Originally from Delhi, India, Varsha Sivaram believes in the power of data science—specifically geostatistics—to address some of the most pressing policy issues of our time. “Geospatial analysis can be used to analyze and make a targeted impact on many types of problems, from vaccine hesitancy to tackling the increasing need for childcare services,” she said.

A child of parents who worked for the Indian National Government and United Nations, Varsha was introduced to the social sector at a young age. “Because of my parents’ work, my sister and I had a rich, hands-on exposure to social services and on ground program implementation. This heavily influenced my decision to work in international development and policy.”

In 2016, Varsha earned her bachelors from the University of Delhi, Indraprastha College for Women with a major in economics and a minor in political science.

As a student, Varsha became the Divisional Head of the Editorial Team for Qrius (formerly The Indian Economist), a leading digital magazine covering issues around business, economics, policy, and politics. “In this role, I curated articles, reviewed write-ups, and managed a team of contributors from more than 80 countries. I gained a great deal of experience in team management and saw a cross-sectional view of how policy works.”

She later joined the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) as a Junior Consultant. “At ICRIER, I learned so much about how India trades with its partners, especially Pakistan.” Varsha also conducted field surveys and led data analysis for a report on trends in India-Pakistan trade that was published by the Council.

After a year at ICRIER, Varsha began to consider advancing her career with a master’s degree. “I was attracted to a lot of policy schools in the U.S.,” she said, “and spoke with some alumni from Harris. Learning about the flexibility in the elective courses and the emphasis on evidence-based policy taught in the Core curriculum made Harris especially appealing. Plus, the opportunity to learn from and work with some of the top scholars and practitioners in evidence-based policy, such as professors Christopher Blattman, Ariel Kalil, and Dan Black, was a huge draw.”

While at Harris, Varsha took part in several extracurricular activities. She was an editor for the Chicago Policy Review, was a member of South Asian Students Policy Association, sang for the University’s South Asian Music Ensemble, and co-founded the International Development Policy Association. “There was a growing interest in international development policy among the student body, and we wanted to respond to that interest. We approached Professor Blattman with our ideas, and he was fully supportive. He helped us push for hiring more faculty in the field and expand course offerings. We were also able to collaborate with the Obama Foundation Scholars to expand opportunities in the field to international students.”

After graduating, Varsha worked with Innovations for Poverty Action in Bangladesh as a Research Associate leading field research for a large randomized control trial on labor markets, gender, and digital microfinance.

In 2021, Varsha began working as an Economic Geographer at Fraym, a geospatial analytics startup that helps clients best incorporate hyper local data into their policy solutions. Currently, she is working on a project that aims to identify potential communities in Africa to expand healthcare service options and efforts.

Varsha said that at Fraym she often leans on the skills she gained at Harris, “especially my Microeconomics coursework, because it provided a framework to consider preferences, costs, and benefits, which I deal with often. And, of course, the GIS [Geographic Information System] course I took. That class really sparked a lot of my interest in geospatial analysis and its applications in policy. I think those skills will continue to be a big part of my career moving forward.”