Heba Nayef

Changing the world through technology

The whir of helicopters. The crack of gunfire. The percussive explosions of mortars. Heba is all too familiar with the sounds and scenarios that have forced more than 65 million people worldwide to flee their homes. Heba left her childhood home in 2012 after her neighborhood outside Aleppo, Syria had been reduced to rubble.

"Why change a limited number of lives when you can be a part of changing humanity?" But according to the computer science graduate and project manager who relocated to the United Arab Emirates, those sounds and circumstances can be overcome. She is creating one small part of the solution by the soft tap-tap-tap of her fingers on a computer keyboard. Heba, after taking a computer science course in college, realized she could combine her desire to help people, her talent and technology to create change at a scale she never would have imagined.

“Why change a limited number of lives when you can be a part of changing humanity?” she asks. Although she is quick to point to others who have prevailed against even worse odds than she, Heba is an example of what can be achieved through hard work and a lofty vision.

Heba, a self-described “techtivist,” has embarked on tackling big issues. She is working on bringing violence against women into the light through an app called VioLens, which empowers bystanders to report abuse and domestic violence anonymously. She is also part of a team at a creative agency developing a website called kwn.education, which provides affordable digital courses in entrepreneurship. The site is partly designed to empower refugees to work their way out of harrowing circumstances—a cause close to Heba’s heart.
Heba Nayef


Nothing is impossible

Making a meaningful impact can feel daunting—where do you even begin to solve a problem as huge as domestic violence or civil war? —but programming taught Heba that nothing is impossible. “When you do coding, you break a problem into smaller parts. Everything is do-able,” she says. “It can be scary figuring out what to do next. I’ve learned to take it day by day. Start small and the pieces come together.”

Despite the catastrophic violence she escaped, starting over in a new country and facing discrimination in a field dominated by men, this young woman refused to give up on her dreams to make a difference in the world. “I always believed that everything is possible. Now I am sure that everything is possible,” says Heba. She strives to transform that belief into a better world one line of code and one project at a time. “Over time, hopefully, we will understand that the only way to end suffering is when we take our share of responsibility and do something to stand up against injustices around the world.”