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February 2019

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Njala University student writes code for his country: how an intern’s grit earned him a role in the Office of the President

Sierra Leone’s Office of the President (OtP) will soon launch a new online invitation platform that will help the government manage and respond to invitations for President Maada Bio. The development of this OtP Event Invitation system was led by Foday S.N. Kamara, a 25-year-old intern at the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI).

Foday, a final year Njala University student was the first intern to join DSTI when the office was commissioned last year. He says that it was the 2003 film, “The Italian Job”, that sparked his interest in coding and algorithms. In one epic scene in the movie, Actor Seth Green’s character Lyle writes code to develop a new algorithm to override the traffic light system in LA to allow his crew to make a getaway after a major heist. This scene made Foday wonder what else he could do with algorithms. He borrowed books from a relative and taught himself to code. That was 16 years ago. Today, he is a final year Computer Science & Information Technology student at Njala passionate about writing code to support his country’s digitization efforts.

Before he joined DSTI, Foday had been developing an early warning SMS disaster response system to alert citizens of emergencies. In 2017 a mudslide, caused by heavy rains, and deforestation killed over 1000 Sierra Leoneans in just one day. That catastrophe inspired him to develop a solution that would reduce casualties during emergencies. Data for decision making, effective service delivery and citizen engagement are part of DSTI’s key strategic pillars.  Citizens need digital services that will enhance their lives and improve interaction with government.

When given the opportunity, he immersed himself and made a home at DSTI. Although just an intern, his commitment and attitude to problem-solving made him the Directorate’s first ever employee of the month in January. He was part of a team of scientists that are developing a prototype fleet management system that will allow the government to keep better manage its vehicles. Last year DSTI scientists revealed that illegal transfers of vehicles cost the state over $1 million dollars.

DSTI staff often play football, make music and dance #ShakuShaku together in the office. Yet Foday reflects that problem-solving sessions with Dr. David Sengeh, DSTI’s Chief Innovation Officer will be most memorable of his time at DSTI;  

“Most times when we have difficulties we complain. We say, ‘doc I’ve tried everything but its not working’. He’ll just tell you that you need to fix it, you should fix it. Several times we asked the same questions and get the same response. It’s fun. I thought why should we be asking , why can’t we get it done before we complain.”

Over the last six months since its launch, DSTI has trained several interns from Sierra Leone’s universities and high schools. Monjama Alpha, the top Physics and Engineering first year student at Fourah Bay College; Joseph Jawa Kebbie, a high school graduate from Christ the King’s College in Bo, and several students from Institute of Public Administration (IPAM) have learned to code and build systems alongside full time staff. DSTI offers these kinds of internships, fellowships, and externships for students, post-grads, and professionals who want to build the solutions that will transform Sierra Leone into an innovation nation.

For more information about opportunities at DSTI please contact us.

Check out Foday’s story in our first podcast from the lab.

 

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DSTI Sierra Leone signs a new partnership with e-Governance Academy of Estonia

The Government of Sierra Leone wants to use technology to transform Sierra Leone into an innovation nation; in this regard, its Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI Sierra Leone) has secured a new partnership with the e-Governance Academy of Estonia (eGA). The eGA is a global leader for digital transformation for central and local governments.   DSTI Sierra Leone and eGA have signed a three-year MoU to establish technical collaboration on e-governance for public service delivery and administration in Sierra Leone. “Estonia is a world leader in e-governance and they keep innovating”, said Sierra Leone’s Chief Innovation Officer, Dr. David Sengeh. “Sierra Leone is a nation seeking to lead in public service delivery for everyone including those on the edge: the connected and unconnected, and the educated and uneducated. That is why I am most excited about this partnership. We will learn and build together and share back the lessons with the world.”

Officials from Sierra Leone and Estonia at a bilateral session at the EU-AU Meeting for African Foreign Ministers in Brussels – Jan 2019.

Jointly, DSTI Sierra Leone and eGA will develop new policies and frameworks particularly around digital identity, digital payments, and government cloud solutions. Specifically, Sierra Leone will benefit from capacity building in areas of e-governance for public officials, public service delivery and citizen engagement. DSTI Sierra Leone’s vision is to “use science, technology, and innovation to support the Government of Sierra Leone to deliver on its national development plan effectively and efficiently.” While eGA’s mandate is to “create and transfer knowledge and best practice in the area of digital transformation: e-governance, e-democracy, and national cybersecurity” as an independent non-governmental organization. “The e-Governance Academy is proud to be a partner for Sierra Leone in developing e-government,” said Director for Development of eGA, Mr. Hannes Astok. “We can provide world-class expertise based on the e-government success of Estonia as well as our work done in other countries building digital infrastructure, developing cybersecurity and taking the services and operations of local governments to a new digital level. Let’s turn e-government on in Sierra Leone!“ Efforts to strengthen existing ties between the two nations began at the 2018 UN General Assembly, and continued to the recently concluded EU-AU Ministers of Foreign Affairs meeting in Brussels were representatives from both nations engaged on issues of technology and good governance. This partnership will be bolstered when DSTI Sierra Leone participates in the eGA’s “e-Governance Conference 2019: Same goals, different roadmaps” in May. An expert delegation from Estonia will also make a working visit to Sierra Leone. To learn more, please contact Aissatou Diallo from DSTI (aissatou@dsti.gov.sl) and Tiina Viiderfeld (tiina.viiderfeld@ega.ee)
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