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February 2020

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Africa’s master connector is in Sierra Leone to develop the entrepreneurship ecosystem

Emeka Okafor is a leader in the African maker and entrepreneurship space. For over two decades, he has connected innovators with the resources they need to access local, regional, and global markets. He has taken on a new challenge as Ecosystem Accelerator Lead working with the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation at the Office of the President in Sierra Leone.

The ecosystem strengthening is made possible by a grant from the UNICEF Innovation Fund in New York as part of the ongoing partnership between DSTI and UNICEF in Sierra Leone. The Innovation Fund invests in problem solvers, increases open source intellectual property and grows solutions that can bring results for children. 

Emeka Okafor
Ecosystems Accelerator Lead, DSTI Sierra Leone

Okafor is a venture strategist and entrepreneur from Nigeria by way of New York. He is co-founder of the TED Fellows Program and the lead curator of TED Global in Africa.  He has advised governments and world leaders on innovation and entrepreneurship systems and policy for Africa, including President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) and the U.S. State Department.

Okafor works with DSTI’s team to plan, promote, manage, and support the development of a collaborative and enabling ecosystem for the growth of entrepreneurial activity.

In the most recent Global Entrepreneurship Index released in 2019, Sierra Leone ranked 131 of 137 countries, scoring just 12% on product innovation, startup skills, technology absorption, human capital and other indicators used to measure the health of the entrepreneurship ecosystem-a network of self-regulating attitudes, resources, actors and infrastructure in any given country. Understanding the importance of innovation and enterprise to value creation and economic development, H.E. President Julius Maada Bio launched DSTI with a mandate to transform one of Africa’s least developing countries into a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship.

“We hope that this work will impact those who are most disadvantaged; young people and children as much as it would be of advantage to those who are more privileged.  If you look at it as the components that make up the human body, nothing works if everything isn’t working well,” said Okafor.

“If you want to make improvements for those who are more vulnerable, like children, improve the ecosystem to allow incomes to rise, allow for the creation of wealth, which ultimately leads to greater revenues for the government that they’re able to reinvest into key public needs.”

Okafor and DSTI’s ecosystems team will work to strengthen Sierra Leone’s ecosystem across industry, manufacturing, agro-processing, tourism, and technology. The objective is to focus on reducing inefficiencies while bringing together different stakeholders and components that work together. So far, the team has engaged with government agencies, SME organizations, and entrepreneurs to listen and learn. The output of these engagements will be used to build a framework that will form the backbone of the ecosystem map.

“Once this is done, the next phase is local, regional, and global resource mobilization,” said Okafor.

“When you bring the right kind of people together, and the right kind of people could be just as much a market woman who is exceptional at selling palm oil in a rural district, as it could be someone who’s coding in Freetown. I don’t make that distinction. For me, it’s about finding producers and creators to knit together productive networks.  And when you have government backing as you do here to create the policies and regulations to remove impediments, then acceleration can and does happen quickly.”

The mapped ecosystem will be a dynamic tool that will increase and facilitate the connection of producers to resources and give policymakers the data they need to improve service delivery.  Furthermore, it will place local entrepreneurs and investors in a better position to identify opportunities in Sierra Leone.


Blog

DSTI and Ministry of Trade and Industry will use technology to make Sierra Leone better for business

The Directorate of Science Technology and Innovation (DSTI) and the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to develop and implement evidence-driven reforms for efficient public service delivery and to make Sierra Leone better for business and trade.

The MoU signed at the Ministry of Trade and Industry at Youyi Building in Freetown last week provides a framework of cooperation and collaboration for both institutions to improve Sierra Leone’s performance on the World Bank’s Doing Business Index. The Doing Business Index released annually compares quantitative indicators on business regulations and the protection of property rights across 190 economies. The index measures government regulations that enhance business activity and those that constrain it. 

Over the past decade, Sierra Leone’s Ease of Doing Business ranking averaged at 150, placing it amongst the worst performers in the world. When H. E. President Julius Maada Bio assumed office in May 2018, the EODB ranking for that year was where it is now at 163 of 190 countries. Committed to creating an effective and transparent business environment in Sierra Leone, H.E Bio launched the Ease of Doing Business initiative as an integrated and coordinated effort across all Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) engaged in service delivery. 

“When government institutions actively seek to share data, knowledge, capacity, and ideas- citizens win. This relationship will improve service delivery not just for the private sector but also for citizens seeking to access government services like payment of taxes or registering a company. These activities fall within the National Development Plan and the National Innovation and Digital Strategy. We seek to make Sierra Leone a favorable place for innovation, entrepreneurship, and industry,” said Dr. Moinina David Sengeh.

“Within our mandates, DSTI and MTI both represent essential ingredients to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 9 – Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure. The Government of Sierra Leone also has the Office of the President Infrastructural Initiatives. All these show our commitment to achieving the SDGs. With MTI specifically, DSTI worked hand in hand to map entire business processes for improving service delivery. We have also developed trackers for holding champions and government officials accountable in this transformation process.” 

Although the MOU makes the partnership between DSTI and MTI official, both institutions have engaged in knowledge sharing, working to fine-tune regulations over the past 18 months.  Together they proffered policy changes to enable decision-makers to implement the necessary reforms to ensure all EODB interventions are sustainable. At the signing of the MoU, DSTI had completed the research-the first part of a three-phase Ease of Doing Business Reform Methodology. Data analysts produced end-to-end process maps for all Doing Business Indicators that reflect both user and administrative processes. 

“The resources and understanding of technology that DSTI has is one of the greatest treasures that DSTI is bringing to MTI and this collaboration will set the tone for business reform in Sierra Leone,” said Dr. Edward Hinga Sandy, Minister of Trade and Industry. 


DSTI supports MDAs with data and technology design to allow policymakers to make data-driven decisions to deliver on Sierra Leone’s national development plan. Since its inception, DSTI has built partnerships with local and international leaders on technology and innovation, including MIT, Statistics Sierra Leone, The Gates Foundation, eGovernance Academy, UNICEF Sierra Leone, and UNDP.

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DSTI Sierra Leone at the first African Drone Forum #ADF2020 in Kigali, Rwanda

The National Drone Project Lead, David Manley, represented the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation at the African Drone Forum (ADF) recently held in Kigali, Rwanda (February 5 -7, 2020).

The Forum was organized in collaboration with the Government of Rwanda, the World Bank Group, and partners including UK AID and the World Economic Forum. The first of its kind event explored how Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies like drones can improve citizen service delivery. The ADF focused on emerging transport technologies that can leapfrog the continent’s infrastructure deficit and address its public health and mobility challenges.

At the grand opening ceremony, H.E. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda encouraged Africans to design and manufacture drones with a focus on the continent’s needs and challenges and not just focus on its use. 

The Government of Sierra Leone is at the forefront of Africa’s emerging drone industry. In November 2019, H.E. President Maada Bio launched West Africa’s first Drones for Good Corridor in Sierra Leone (only the second drone corridor on the continent). And earlier this year, a nurse at the campus clinic at Njala University in Southern Sierra Leone received the nation’s first medical drone delivery

“What drives our work at DSTI is the belief that we can use technology to improve the lives of our citizens. Chief amongst the test cases being explored at the Corridor is blood delivery to health centers. Sierra Leone has one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world, an estimated 1,165 women die each year primarily because medical practitioners do not have the life-saving blood they need for high-risk pregnancies. Drones offer us the opportunity to solve these challenges,” said David Manley, DSTI’s National Drone Project Lead.

He presented Sierra Leone’s plan to expand the Drones for Good Corridor to include crisis response, data, and digital connectivity and aerial imaging for education. As well as the government’s efforts to support private sector involvement in the ecosystem for the development, deployment, and use of drones.  

“Sierra Leone is taking leadership to work with partners including the World Economic Forum to develop the appropriate regulatory environment. We are committed to finding the right balance; technological advancements go hand in hand with safety and security,” said Manley.

On the sidelines of the ADF, Manley held meetings with two of the continent’s leading providers of medical supply deliveries; Zipline-a California based drone medical deliveries company with operations in Ghana and Rwanda, and Lifebank a digital blood bank saving lives in Nigeria. DSTI will continue to build relationships with local and global leaders as it fulfills its mission to make Sierra Leone a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship.

Sierra Leone’s Drone Corridor is under the technical leadership of the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation in partnership with UNICEF Sierra Leone, Njala University, and the National Civil Aviation Authority.

Blog

Building the workforce of the future – Sierra Leone sends a woman to master drones in Malawi

Rakie Sesay, a 24-year-old mechanical engineer from Freetown is the first person from Sierra Leone to attend the Africa Data and Drone Academy’s (ADDA) drone certification program at Malawi University of Science and Technology.  

UNICEF Sierra Leone and the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) made a joint call for application to the ADDA program after the launch of the Drone Corridor at Njala University, Sesay answered that call. 

She and others from the continent have enrolled at the UNICEF-sponsored African Drone and Data Academy operated in partnership with the Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST), and Virginia Tech University. Located in Lilongwe, the academy is hosting the selected applicants for three months. Upon completion of the course, graduates will receive a Certificate of Drone Technology (CDT). The course covers aircraft fundamentals, operations, regulations, and data analytics for drones-Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV).

Graduates of the program will be licensed as drone pilots under the Malawi government and will possess valuable skills to enter the drone workforce.

“The future is here and we need to build our human resources as governments so that our citizens can compete globally.”  Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, Sierra Leone’s Chief Innovation Officer. 

“Among the critical fourth industrial revolution technologies that will shape the economic and social development of Africa is drones. It gives us a lot of confidence that young people in Sierra Leone are acquiring the skill sets needed locally and internationally to prepare us for that future,” Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, Sierra Leone’s Chief Innovation Officer. 

Drone technology is an emerging field in Africa. There are only two drone corridors on the continent; in Sierra Leone and Malawi. A drone corridor is an airspace designated and defined by aviation authorities to keep private drone operations out of the non-segregated airspace in which manned aircrafts operate. Drones provide instant telecommunications infrastructure to perform quick deliveries for equipment, drugs, and patients; they also enhance search and rescue efforts to assess damage and map disaster zones. 

By participating in the Africa Drone and Data Academy, Sesay will become Sierra Leone’s first certified female drone pilot.

“There are but a few drone pilots in Sierra Leone so what this opportunity to study in Malawi gives me is the chance to not only perfect my flying skills but also learn how to build drones,” said Sesay.

When she returns home, Sesay will join a community of drone researchers and enthusiasts currently testing use cases for medical deliveries and drones for social good at Sierra Leone’s drone corridor. 

Rakie Sesay at the launch of Sierra Leone’s Drones for Good Corridor – 29 November 2019 at Njala University.

“Seeing a dynamic, young Sierra Leonean furthering her skills at the African Drone and Data Academy is exciting. We see that the opportunities for people to make a difference for children in Sierra Leone through the technology and innovation sectors are accelerating. For example, with Sierra Leone’s Drone Corridor, someone like Rakie will have space and support to contribute in a positive way to Sierra Leone,” said Shane O’Connor, T4D Specialist, UNICEF Sierra Leone.

In November 2019, the President of Sierra Leone launched a 25-acre drone corridor in Moyamba District, Southern Province. The corridor, which includes two drop-off sites in Bo and Ernest Bai Koroma University, in the Northern Province, was set up by the Directorate of Science Technology and Innovation in partnership with UNICEF-Sierra Leone, Njala University, and Korri Chiefdom.

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