Alex Dehgan

Alex Dehgan

Former Chief Scientist, USAID;
Founder, Conservation X Labs

As a Rubenstein Fellow, Dehgan harnessed Duke’s interdisciplinary strengths to develop novel approaches to global challenges around sustainability, conservation, and development – including collaborating on the development of the Duke Tropical Conservation Initiative. Alex also taught a new social entrepreneurship course on Innovation and Entrepreneurship for Conservation and Development, which he turned into an open access Coursera course – Innovation and Design for Global Grand Challenges.


Dr. Alex Dehgan is the founder of a new startup, Conservation X Labs, focused on bringing technological, financial and behavior change innovations to conservation.

Dehgan most recently served as the chief scientist at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), with rank of assistant administrator, and founded and headed the Office of Science and Technology. As the Agency’s first chief scientist in two decades, Dehgan implemented the president’s promise to restore science and technology to its rightful place within USAID. During his tenure at USAID, Dehgan was the architect of a number of new Agency institutions, including the position of the chief scientist, the independent office of science and technology, the position of the Agency geographer, and the GeoCenter. Alex built the Office of Science and Technology from scratch to an 80-person office and $100 million research program in less than four years, and leveraged or raised $500 million, including a $200 million commitment from the Swedish government to his office. In 2014, this program received congressional approval to become the new USAID Development Lab and was launched in New York City in April 2014.

Prior to coming to USAID, Dehgan worked in multiple positions within the Office of the Secretary at the Department of State and the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs where he developed a science diplomacy strategy toward addressing our most challenging foreign policy issues in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and the greater Islamic world. Dehgan was the founding Afghanistan Country Director for the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Afghanistan Biodiversity Conservation Program. Through his leadership, the WCS led efforts to create Afghanistan’s first national park, conducted the first comprehensive biological surveys of the country in 30 years, helped develop Afghanistan’s biodiversity conservation laws and policies, and curtailed illegal wildlife trade on U.S. and ISAF military bases.

Dehgan holds a Ph.D. and Master of Science degree from The University of Chicago’s Committee on Evolutionary Biology, where he focused on extinction and adaptation of 12 lemur species during environmental change in tropical forests in Madagascar. He also holds a J.D. from the University of California, Hastings, and a B.S. from Duke University.

He was chosen as an “Icon of Science” by Seed magazine in 2005, received the World Technology Award for Policy in 2011, and has been recognized through multiple awards from the departments of State and Defense, and the USAID. In 2013, AAAS selected Dehgan as one of its 40@40 Fellows out of 2,600 AAAS Science Policy Fellows globally, recognizing individuals who: have made exemplary contributions to applying science to serve society; are creative, innovative, and collaborative problem-solvers in addressing global challenges; and are uncommon ambassadors for the role of science and technology.

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Alex Dehgan News & Events

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14Jan, 2015

Former Rubenstein Fellow Alex Dehgan Releases New Book 'The Snow Leopard Project'

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Snow Leopard ProjectAnd Other Adventures in Warzone Conservationby Alex DeghanHardcover, 278 pages Alex Deghan, a Rubenstein Fellow at Duke from 2014 to 2016, has just released a new book: The Snow Leopard Project and other Adventures in Warzone Conservation. Dehgan began working on the book, which recounts his efforts to create a wildlife…

14Jan, 2015

Want to Change the World? There’s a MOOC for That.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Online Duke | June 6, 2016 Emerging pandemic diseases like Ebola and Zika, the sixth extinction, and food insecurity: these are some of the most daunting issues facing the world today. A new open online course wants to empower people around the world to overcome these grand challenges in new and innovative ways. “Innovation and Design…

14Jan, 2015

Rubenstein Fellow Alex Dehgan Selected for New Online Education Project

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Duke Online Education | May 8, 2015 Nine new online education projects led by Duke faculty will be developed in the 2015-2016 academic year through support from Duke Online Education Initiatives, which seeks to advance educational excellence at the university through online teaching and learning. The projects will explore how online technologies and teaching methods can encourage pedagogical…

“The fellowship provides a remarkable opportunity to shape how a global university addresses critical grand challenges, augments its relevance and impact, and unleashes its capabilities too promising to withhold.”
- Alex Dehgan, 2014-15 Rubenstein Fellow

"This is an amazing opportunity to learn from and work with someone with incredible experience and, more importantly, sincere passion for making the world a better and more sustainable place … Alex is the kind of person that operates with sincere integrity and belief in the work he does. That is truly rare."

Andee Hendee

MEM/MBA, Class of 2016

"Alex’s class brought a refreshing dose of practicality and feasibility to our studies as all projects, assignments, and classes were founded not in theory but in examples of real entrepreneurs who often showed up in person to impart wisdom… each piece of the class encouraged and inspired students to do and not just to study."

Xander Xent


“Alex brings to Duke the rare combination of deep scientific knowledge of conservation issues as well as hands-on experience operationalizing global conservation and development programs, experiences that in turn are of tremendous value to faculty and students alike.”

Alan Townsend

Dean, Nicholas School of the Environment