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November 2019

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DSTI and two engineers from Facebook host two-day hackathon for Sierra Leonean students

Abdoul-Kader Keita and Patrick Taylor, two West African developers at Facebook in consultation with the Chief Innovation Officer of DSTI, Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, held a two-day hands-on-learning hackathon at the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation on Nov 9-10 in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Hackathons are events in which programmers, designers, those involved in computer software development, and problem-solvers come together to solve problems with innovative ideas.
Before the hackathon could get underway, participants were taught the basics of data structures, algorithms, and modern web server development with python. Teaching was necessary because very few were able to complete the online test setup to measure participants’ programming skills.

The hackathon brought together 25 young people, including students from Limkokwing, Fourah Bay College, Njala University, and the University of Makeni–most of them first-time developers to solve the problem of student registration at universities. Every year during the first couple weeks of the new semester, thousands of students across Sierra Leone spend hours in queues waiting to register for classes. The hackathon tried to develop alternative ways to register to ease student strain.

Coding at DSTI

“More than one hundred software developers in Sierra Leone took the test, but only 12 were able to pass,” said Mahmoud Javombo, Ecosystem Manager at the Directorate of Science Technology and Innovation. With a population of more than 7 million, that has just 25 developers means that more needs to be done to promote coding skills.

Those who gained entry to participate in the two-day workshop, and hackathon were able to develop the knowledge they needed but did not have to perform the functions required to attempt to solve the problem of registration.

“Technology is not complicated with the right guidance, right structures, everybody can make significant progress in a short time,” said Abdul Kader, an Ivorian software engineer at Facebook.

Mary Sia Konoyema, a third-year student of the Limkokwing University of Creative Technology, said she had learned a lot in these two days.

“I had done two programs, but I just did it out of obligation, but now I know a better way of doing things.”

She said she was introduced to APIs during the workshop, and she learned how to create and work using the API system.

API stands for Application Programming Interface. An API is a software intermediary that allows two applications to talk to each other. In other words, an API is a messenger that delivers your request to the provider that you’re requesting it from and then responds to you.

Hackers at the student registration hackathon at DSTI – Nov 9, 2019

“Their output was great. We were amazed at the brilliance of students that they gave high-quality output in terms of their progression from day one to day two. This shows that a lot of them were able to pick up a new understanding of the new programming language,” said Kader.

The top 3 performers at the hackathon will intern with DSTI to work with software developers, data engineers, and scientists. The hackathon was the fifth held by DSTI in just 12 months. Hackathons and workshops are part of DSTI’s broader mission to create and transfer knowledge locally to strengthen the local ecosystems for technology and innovation.

Kader and Taylor will head over to Ivory Coast, where they’ll hold the same event for developers there in a bid to get local developers on the continent focused on problem-solving.

Blog

DSTI signs MoU with Purposeful Organisation to bring innovation to grassroots programs for girls 

The Directorate of Science Technology and Innovations (DSTI) and Purposeful have signed an agreement that will support the latter’s work to deliver data-driven girl-centered development programs.  

The Memorandum of Understanding signed at State House last week allows the two institutions to collaborate for Sierra Leone’s achievement of SDG 5–gender equality of all women and girls. 

Purposeful mobilizes resources to support grassroots organizations and movements that amplify girls’ voices and challenge the structures that hamper girls’ achievement in Sierra Leone.

“This unique partnership will yield multiple innovative solutions for the girls of Sierra Leone and for the country as a whole, ” said Ms. Michealla George, Policy Lead, and Acting Director, DSTI.

Through this MoU, the Directorate will share data on issues affecting the human capital development of girls available through its IGIS Portal (www.gis.dsti.gov.sl) and the Education Data Hub (www.educationdatahub.dsti.gov.sl) that Purposeful will use to inform service delivery and program design. 

“It gives us and our partners the opportunity to access and use the most up to date, customised data for our strategic and programme decisions,” said Chernor Bah, CEO of Purposeful.

“We will innovate the way work and how to measure the impact of our work as we press for progress for girls inSierra Leone.”

DSTI has an open-door policy for knowledge sharing to support the work of organizations in the public and private sectors seeking to use technology for development. 

Blog, NIDS

DSTI Sierra Leone’s Integrated GIS Portal launched at NIDS wins $773,000 grant from the Gates Foundation

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded a $773,476 grant to the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) to develop an Integrated GIS Portal that will utilize technology, software and devices to collect, label and model data to inform real-time government and development partner decision making. The grant will also seek to strengthen the local ecosystem around human capacity development. This grant for expanding the GIS Portal is in addition to the support already provided by the Foundation to Sierra Leone’s Innovation in Government Human Capacity Development Incubator launched by H.E. President Julius Maada Bio in December 2018 at GoalKeepers South Africa. 

 “This generous support provided by the Bill & Melinda Foundation will enable DSTI to use low-cost technology solutions like SMS, USSD, interactive voice response, and mobile Apps to provide citizens with real-time information for timely access and receipt of services, and optimize service delivery specifically in the provision of maternal healthcare services,” said Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, Chief Innovation Officer.

 “We will further be able to collect and analyze data that will be provided to government service providers to optimize and improve their services both for supply chain and resource allocation.”

The Integrated Geographic Information System (iGIS) Portal 1.0 (www.gis.dsti.gov.sl) is a cross-sectoral spatial data infrastructure and geodatabase. The portal links diverse geographic information datasets from the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) and its partners. It supports GoSL in implementing policies and interventions towards the National Development Plan and the Sustainable Development Goals. H.E. President Bio has prioritized Human Capital Development as a central focus for Sierra Leone (SDG Goals 2, 3, 4 representing Food Security, Healthcare, and Quality Education, respectively). The iGIS portal, designed and implemented by DSTI in collaboration with Statistics Sierra Leone, brings together the data to support this national and Presidential vision. 

“The Foundation’s support will serve as the seed funding for the scaling of the Integrated GIS Portal and will support the collection of critical data and develop analyses to promote health, agriculture, environmental, and education outcomes,” said Glenna Wilson, Data Engineer, and GIS Portal Project Lead.

“By the project’s completion, the government will have the evidence to efficiently target HCD investment resources towards the most impactful interventions and to effectively coordinate investments by government, development partners, NGOs, and the private sector.”

In August 2018, Dr. Sengeh met with Bill Gates as they discussed issues on the intersections of technology and global health service delivery in the lead up to the second edition of Goalkeepers. A month later, President Bio joined the two innovators at Goalkeepers in New York, where he shared his bold vision to set Sierra Leone in the right direction with a focus on human capital development. 

At the launch of the National Innovation and Digital Strategy (NIDS) in Freetown two weeks ago, President Bio thanked the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for their continued support of technology for development in Sierra Leone.

Blog

Dr. Moinina David Sengeh is now Sierra Leone’s Minister of Basic & Senior Secondary Education, and Chief Innovation Officer

“We the citizens – the designers, scientists, artists, and civic leaders – are the problem-solvers who will transform Sierra Leone into a prosperous innovation nation.”

The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) announces that Chief Innovation Officer Dr. Moinina David Sengeh has been appointed by H.E. President Julius Maada Bio to lead the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE). 

Dr. Sengeh will serve as Chief Innovation Officer and Minister of MBSSE concurrently.

DSTI remains ever committed to its mission to use science, and technology to support the effective and efficient delivery of Sierra Leone’s national development plan. We would like to use this opportunity to encourage citizens to continue to SMS to *468# (*GOV#) to find and locate services nearest to them. Feedback on this service primarily for every citizen could be sent to info@dsti.gov.sl

Our team of data scientists, policy analysts, and technology enthusiasts will continue their work on the education datahub (http://education.dsti.gov.sl), the GIS portal (www.gis.dsti.gov.sl), the USSD project (*468#), and digital governance.

Dr. Sengeh, as Minister, and Chief Innovation Officer will continue to provide technical leadership and stewardship to DSTI. His appointment strengthens the already great existing working relationship between MBSSE and DSTI as the two institutions innovate to put quality into education.

DSTI will continue it’s work to support MDAs with technology and data for decision making as the Government aspires to make Sierra Leone into an innovation hub.

Blog

No citizen left behind – Sierra Leone develops a smart new direction towards innovation

FREETOWN – Sierra Leone’s Directorate for Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) has unveiled a national vision to digitize the way the government manages its resources and how citizens receive services.

Dr. Moinina David Sengeh , chief innovation officer checks the 3D printer on stage for the launch of Sierra Leone’s National Innovation and Digital Strategy – 1 November 2019 at Bintumani Conference Centre in Aberdeen, Freetown.

President Julius Maada Bio officially launched the National Digital and Innovation Strategy (NIDS) in Freetown on Friday, 1 November. He hopes it will boost and quicken Sierra Leone’s human capital development.

DSTI, which celebrated its first anniversary this week, is the agency that provided the technical know-how for Sierra Leone’s plan to go from analog to digital over the next 3 to 10 years. The foundation for digitization under NIDS comes after eight months of consultation with government and civil society leaders, donors, international actors, and citizens. A delegation from Sierra Leone also took a learning tour to Estonia-recognized global leaders for state-led digitization and e-governance. 

“What I have learned in engagement with innovators, and technologists from MIT, TED and here within Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation is that if we are open to exploring new ideas, and innovatively doing things, we not only gain a better understanding of our development challenges but we also solve the problems affecting our people,” said President Bio. 

Sierra Leone has a population of 7 million, with 57% living in poverty. Out of 188 countries, it is ranked 184 on the United Nations 2018 Human Development Index. Other countries with the same GDP per capita rank better on the HCD Index. The country’s medium-term development plan notes that public service delivery does not meet the population’s basic needs for developing human capital. 

Over 55% of households in Sierra Leone own a mobile phone, and it is this fact that makes digitization plausible. Citizens can already access a DSTI Integrated Geographical Information System (iGIS) to retrieve information about public service infrastructure. With the iGIS Portal, citizens can use Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) to send an SMS to the shortcode *468# to locate government services-‘find my nearest school,’ ‘hospital,’ or ‘local court,’ saving time and in cases of emergency facilitating life-saving interventions.

Sierra Leone is embracing digitization so that no citizen gets left behind. It hopes to have every national own a digital ID. All government employees, ministries, departments and agencies, and national assets will also be digitized. Banking and financial services will also be digitized-the latter already underway as of August when Sierra Leone became the first country to deploy blockchain digital ID platform to make financial services accessible to the unbanked. 

With NIDS, the government will better understand when, how, and where to provide services, and more importantly, which services will deliver the most impact towards the HCD. 

For the vision to become a reality, the government’s leaders must embrace the change, said the Chief Innovation Officer. 

One government agency already leading the way is Statistics SL – the agency that collects, stores, and analyzes demographic data to inform decision making. NIDS enables researchers at Stats to launch a Comprehensive Health and Epidemiological Surveillance System (CHESS)-a longitudinal study that will follow participants throughout their life. CHESS relies on e-ID to link data from health facilities to community-level information.

“We struggled to create the electronic identification system in other countries like Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Burkina Faso, India and Vietnam where we implemented CHESS for research,” said 

Sierra Leone’s Statistician-General, Professor Mallam O. Sankoh, a global expert on development research and data for decision making.

Sierra Leone’s government aims to be fully underway on its digitization journey by 2023. Over five million citizens already have a digital ID that unlocks with their thumbprint. DSTI has developed a fleet management system that tracks and manages government vehicles to stop the kind of loss that occurred in 2018 when thousands of cars belonging to the state went missing.

25-year-old Jane Williams from Cole Farm, who works at a local media company, said that to her digitization matters because of accountability.

“This will also give citizens peace of mind knowing we can use digital data to monitor officials in terms of corruption,” said Williams at Bintumani Conference Centre after the launch of NIDS.

“Sierra Leone doesn’t lead in many things, but today with DSTI and the launch of NIDS, we can say we lead with technology for development.”

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