UNB Alumni
Telling our #ProudlyUNB stories

Aaloak Jaswal brings global digital transformation and humanitarian experience home to UNB

Author: UNB Alumni

Posted on Apr 22, 2024

Category: Computer Science , UNB Fredericton , Inspiring Stories

When a UNB alum makes a critical societal impact in countries around the world, it’s a big deal. When an alum brings that experience home to New Brunswick to make a critical impact in our backyard, it’s huge.

That’s why UNB is so excited that Aaloak Jaswal (BScCS’93, D-TME’93) has returned to Fredericton to take on the role of innovation director for the new Research Institute in Data Science and Artificial Intelligence (RIDSAI), a role supported with funding provided by IGT. 

The RIDSAI, established with the support of the Faculty of Computer Science and the McKenna Institute, is home to leading experts in the research, application and impact of data science and artificial intelligence, and will be a focal point for fundamental and applied research in all areas of data science and AI.

That’s right up Aaloak’s alley: he’s directed multiple global strategic digital transformation initiatives and is a champion for high-tech solutions for the greater good.

Over his career for the past 30 years, Aaloak has served in both the private and public sector on four continents providing technical and policy advice, strategy and leadership in the technological and public health sectors. It all began at UNB, when the Fredericton soccer player enrolled in the Bachelor of Computer Science program. But it wasn’t until he started taking the Technology Management and Entrepreneurship (TME) courses that his interest truly ignited. “I’ve always felt like I was an entrepreneurial thinker, so those were the courses that really piqued my interest,” he remembers. “I felt very fortunate to be able to combine tech and entrepreneurship.”

When he graduated, he traveled down the I-95 to Boston to work for a missile systems defense contractor. “It didn’t align with my goals, and I quickly found a place at IBM for several years before receiving an opportunity to get into humanitarian work due to my technical knowledge. That was a turning point for me. I fully swung the pendulum from a career centered around making missiles and prioritizing financial bottom lines to strategizing how I could leverage technology to maximize impact for those most at risk, particularly women and children."

Aaloak spent four years in New York City with UNICEF, as an ICT manager, where he deployed new technologies across 190 countries. He then joined the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), a WHO subsidiary, relocating to Panama City to architect and deploy the organization’s digital strategy in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. During that period, Haiti was struck by the devastating 2010 earthquake that resulted in a staggering loss of life and left millions homeless. Compelled to make a difference, he made his way to the island to assume the role of UNAIDS senior strategic information advisor. His primary focus was on strengthening the country's healthcare infrastructure and response to HIV/AIDS, ensuring policies and interventions were evidence-based. This involved collaborating closely with the Ministry of Health, establishing partnerships at the highest levels of government, and mobilizing stakeholders to support capacity building and program delivery.

"On top of the country's already precarious socio-economic conditions, the hurricanes in Haiti exacerbated existing challenges, particularly in providing essential services to vulnerable populations and People Living with HIV. We were able to mobilize essential resources to establish critical IT infrastructure, renewable energy sources, and access to antiretrovirals and medical services. In an environment plagued by technological and communication challenges, these initiatives were crucial in sustaining treatment for individuals living with HIV/AIDS in the aftermath of the disaster. The experience of witnessing the resilience and unity of the people amidst such adversity was deeply moving. It reinforced the importance of proactive intervention and collaborative efforts in times of crisis, underscoring the vital role that strategic planning, effective partnerships, and innovative solutions play in mitigating the impact of natural disasters and ensuring continuity of essential services for vulnerable communities."

After five years in Haiti, Aaloak was tapped as head of the UN Technology Innovation Lab (UNTIL) in Cairo, Egypt to advance the UN’s innovation agenda and position Egypt as a nexus of scientific and technological advancement. “We worked on some cool projects, even using AI before it became so accessible. Closest to my heart was working with UNESCO and the German University in Cairo to target an impoverished community in Egypt with no potable water, sanitation, or hygiene systems. Lacking grid access, we designed a water treatment system driven by solar energy and AI which also addressed the issues of gender-based violence and irrigation for agriculture simultaneously.”

From there it was on to Africa, as digital transformation lead for Botswana on behalf of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, where he designed the country’s first SmartBots Digital Innovation Lab. “Botswana is shifting from a resource to a knowledge-based, high-income economy. With over 60% of the population under the age of 25, and one in four HIV+, they have completely changed the narrative from 20 years ago. It was a privilege to help lead the national government’s partnership-building efforts to garner support for strategic initiatives and emerging technologies to steer top-to-bottom transformation.”

All the while, Aaloak was also growing his own sustainable energy venture, Shakti Power Systems, which strived to provide ultra-high efficiency solutions to solve transportation, utility, and urban planning challenges for government, military, private sector, and academic clients. “Sustainable energy and climate solutions are non-negotiable for our children’s future, but I can’t help but notice a stark contrast in attitudes from other places – by comparison, I’ve observed only minimal concern within our community and region.”

With all of that experience in his pocket, Aaloak returned home to Fredericton in 2023 to be with his mother and give his young son, Shivshankar, the stability of growing up in the community. “It’s nice to be back home – when you leave and come back, you realize how special our community and Canada really are. And to be back at UNB alongside researchers and people who are doing bleeding-edge work is humbling. Everyone here has been very supportive, and they are genuinely interested in helping each other. It’s refreshing.”

Aaloak says the vision for the RIDSAI is to bring researchers from across UNB’s campuses who are at the forefront of data science and AI research together with each other and with industry and community partners. In doing so, they hope to help organizations with technology transfer and take on some of the biggest challenges facing our world, contributing new ideas and solutions in areas such as health, climate, education, circular economy, cybersecurity, mapping and positioning, manufacturing, sustainable energy and transportation.

"Digital innovation and AI are indispensable for New Brunswick's competitiveness and relevance in our rapidly evolving world; embracing it is non-negotiable and its importance cannot be overstated. These technologies will revolutionize a multitude of industries, from healthcare and education to manufacturing and agriculture. They hold immense potential to drive innovation, improve student learning experiences, and foster innovation and economic growth within the province. Moreover, integrating these technologies into academic and research endeavors can position UNB as a leader in cutting-edge research and education, attracting top talent and funding opportunities."

“Being at the forefront of innovation is exciting, especially when it translates into tangible impact for vulnerable communities across private, public, and humanitarian sectors. My journey with the UN in various parts of the globe exposed me to both daunting challenges and inspiring opportunities for problem-solving. With the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and climate action engrained in my DNA, these experiences have become integral to my identity and I'm passionate about affecting positive change for people and communities. Achieving this requires a blend of creative thinking, interdisciplinary collaboration, cutting-edge technology, and strategic partnerships. I'm committed to bringing these elements together to drive meaningful change right here in the community in which I grew up. As Mom always said, 'Don’t listen to your head or your heart – they’ll set you on a wrong path. Listen to your conscience.”

Learn more about RIDSAI and the partners and people behind it.