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March 2020

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DSTI Sierra Leone announces new Director and Chief Operating Officer

Michala Mackay has been appointed as the new Director and Chief Operating Officer of the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI).

Michala Mackay addresses the team at DSTI as Chief Operating Officer for the first time on 30 March 2020 at DSTI Office at State House in Freetown

Before joining DSTI, Mackay was CEO and Registrar of the Corporate Affairs Commission. Prior to that, she served as Director of Legal and Licensing Affairs at the National Telecommunications Commission. Her responsibilities amongst others included leading the legal team in negotiating  Sierra Leone’s agreement for the landing of its first fibre optic cable, a segment of the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) cable.

Earlier in her career, she was the Legal Counsel and Regulatory Specialist at Celtel,  now Orange Sierra Leone. 

“It is such a critical time to be joining DSTI. Last year, Sierra Leone launched a medium-term national strategic plan. Although that plan is very broad in perspective and looks at eight clusters in total, the silver lining for all those clusters to be achievable within the desired time frame is to use science technology and innovation. DSTI is central to achieving our national goals and objectives,” said Mackay.

“Over the past year, as CEO of the Corporate Affairs Commission, I’ve had several engagements with the DSTI as we work to develop the framework to improve Sierra Leone’s ranking in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report. I’ve been impressed with the talent here, and the culture of openness and excellence. I am eager to join this dynamic team to deliver H.E.’s vision to transform Sierra Leone into an innovative hub for technology and entrepreneurship.”

Chief Innovation Officer Dr. Moinina David Sengeh commented: “Michala brings 15 years of policy and management expertise from the ICT private sector, government and high-level partner engagement to DSTI. Her understanding of the global and local ICT landscape and her commitment to excellence aligns with the culture here at DSTI.

“She has led the Corporate Affairs Commission from its inception to where it is today–an efficient, technical and service-driven institution. Under her leadership, Sierra Leone’s Starting a Business Indicator improved significantly from 99 to 58 out of 190 countries in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Report – all in just 3 years. With Michala at the helm, DSTI will also continue its mission to support our youthful, technical and energetic staff. She has an excellent rapport with the team already and this is critical for me. She will take DSTI to another level.”

The Directorate of Science Technology and Innovation, established in October 2018, has supported the inclusion and growth of women both in leadership and technical expertise. DSTI commits to at least half of its senior staff being female. It supports the government of Sierra Leone with accurate real-time data, analysis, and research to enhance decision making, technological solutions to improve service delivery and citizen service engagement, and mobilizes resources to build and strengthen the local ecosystem for entrepreneurship and innovation. 

DSTI collaborates with local and international leaders on technology and innovation, including MIT, Statistics Sierra Leone, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, eGovernance Academy, UNICEF Sierra Leone,  UNDP, and Dimagi to deliver on its objectives.

The new Director and COO of DSTI has an MBA in Leadership and Sustainability from the University of Cumbria. She is a Barrister and Solicitor with a post-graduate diploma in I.T. and Telecommunications Law.

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DSTI and Dimagi partner to create cutting edge tech solutions for COVID 19 Response

As Sierra Leone scales up its national response to COVID-19, the Directorate of Science Technology and Innovation (DSTI) has announced that it will develop digital solutions with local and global partners to support frontline workers. 

The first of these collaborations will be between DSTI and Dimagi, Inc. – creators of CommCare, a powerful mobile data collection and service delivery platform. DSTI and Dimagi will develop digital solutions for contact tracing to contain the spread of COVID-19 and the distribution of public health messages for community education.

“The contagious nature of COVID-19 means that technology has a crucial role to play in breaking the chain of transmission. Furthermore, governments can use technology to remove redundant and inefficient processes to strengthen the wider healthcare system. DSTI is working on a host of other digital solutions and partnerships to support Sierra Leone’s efforts, including the use of USSD for communications with citizens,” said Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, Chief Innovation Officer, DSTI.

Sierra Leone currently has zero reported cases due to swift emergency measures put in place by President Julius Maada Bio. However, the government will continue to increase its preparedness by leveraging mobile technology for social impact. During the 2014 Ebola Outbreak, Sierra Leone used mobile money to disburse payments to frontline health workers nationwide, and a Public Health National Emergency 117 Call Centre served as a tool to document, track and provide follow-up on suspected EVD cases and deaths.

Using lessons learned from the Ebola response, DSTI and Dimagi will create a joint team to support the ongoing rapid development of a contact tracing mobile application specifically for COVID-19. This solution will decentralize contact tracing, and increase efficiency in resource mobilization, information dissemination, and comprehensive data collection. 

“As we saw during the previous Ebola outbreak in West Africa, digital technology can play a critical role in improving the impact of the outbreak response. Through this partnership with DSTI, we will leverage leading best practices in developing critical technology to rapidly respond to and curtail the impact of COVID-19 in Sierra Leone,” said Jonathan Jackson, CEO, Dimagi. 

This latest partnership with Dimagi along with others including MIT, Statistics Sierra Leone, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, eGovernance Academy, UNICEF Sierra Leone, and UNDP underscores DSTI’s commitment to strengthen the local ecosystem for technology and innovation in collaboration with local and global leaders. 

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DSTI’s Human Capital Development Incubator will scale-up innovations to the Free Quality Education Program

The Human Capital Development Incubator (HCDI) at the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation held a two-day workshop to develop the framework and design of the next phase of the HCDI’s Education Innovation Challenge (EIC). The workshop brought together leaders and experts from the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, the Teaching Service Commission and the Education Outcomes Fund for Africa and the Middle East (EOF).

Currently, in the first phase of implementation, the Education Innovation Challenge is Sierra Leone’s $1,5 million investment to improve learning outcomes across 170 schools in 15 districts. HCDI has engaged EOF for support to the EIC’s nationwide scale-up that will run from 2020 to 2023. 

The EOF works together with governments to fund innovative education and youth employment readiness programs, such as Sierra Leone’s EIC, on an outcomes basis. 

“EOF is enthusiastic about supporting the Education Innovation Challenge because it is a government-led program that is focused on innovation and learning and we are also very emboldened by the government’s overall focus on Free Quality Education and support of a transformative vision, ” said Alina Lipcan, EOF Senior Education Advisor. 

The three-year program, which will start in September 2020, is designed to improve and incentivize government-assisted primary schools to learning outcomes. In achieving this, the government will identify schools in need of additional support, set the target outcomes and implement innovative interventions in partnership with NGOs. Unlike the typical fee-for-service model, the Government of Sierra Leone and its partners will only pay for those interventions that improve learning outcomes.

“We are embarking on ground-breaking innovation to bring about significant improvements in learning outcomes. It is worthy to note that innovation has resulted in significant positive advances in education, ” said Dr. Albert C. T. Dupigny, Education Consultant and Advisor, MBSSE.

Dr. Dupigny, Education Consultant and Advisor, MBSSE

”Under SDG4, we are to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’ and that is why the DSTI-HCD Incubator, MBSSE, TSC, and other service providers through the EIC are developing partnerships with organizations like EOF to develop interventions and approaches that will ensure that by the end of 2030, all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes.”

Over the next three years, the Government of Sierra Leone in partnership with EOF will invest additional resources in schools, education partners, administrators, teachers and all players engaged in the ecosystem to ensure that all students have access to inclusive, and quality education.

Blog

How Sierra Leone’s tech agency is getting it right on gender equality

Lessons on inclusive leadership from the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation – International Women’s Day

Women at Sierra Leone’s agency for science and technology say policies implemented there have created a gender-inclusive workplace where they are empowered to lead.

29-year-old Glenna Wilson studied computer science at Njala University. She got her first big break in her final year when a local bank in Freetown offered her an internship in its IT Department. When she started work, however, the all-male team treated her differently.

“Instead of teaching me what I was there to learn, they would ask me to make coffee, bring them food, and told me that as the woman, I had to be their mother. While the other male intern was easily accepted as part of the team.”

(L) Bineta Diop (Business Analyst) and (r) Glenna Wilson (Data Scientist) at the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation in Freetown – March 6, 2020

Wilson says she had to work hard to prove herself. She was motivated to show colleagues who doubted her abilities because of her gender that they were wrong.

“I would go downstairs and carry a system unit, bring it up to my office, open it up myself, get on my hands and knees and get dirty, to find solutions. In this way, I learned faster and in the end, I was asked to come and work after completing my dissertation.”

That was four years ago. Wilson joined the bank full time, and in a short while, she rose through the ranks to become the Database Administrator responsible for managing and administering the bank’s core banking system and database and support for all staff, and branches across the entire country. That’s where she was when the call came from the Chief Innovation Officer of the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) asking if she would like to join other talented young Sierra Leoneans to support the country’s drive to become a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. Wilson says the working conditions for women at DSTI are miles apart from where she once worked.

“DSTI has created a platform that encourages women more, pushes women more; and gives women opportunities for leadership roles. One of the best feelings is to come to work at DSTI, where I know I’m going to show that I’m a leader. I’m going to take charge,” says Wilson. 

She is a data scientist and technical lead for DSTI’s Integrated Geographic Information System (GIS) Portal, an interactive platform that links disparate GIS datasets from the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) and its partners.

24-year-old Bineta Diop, who also joined DSTI in 2018, says that she was pleasantly surprised at the level of support and encouragement she received when she joined DSTI as an intern. This is her first job since she finished university.

“As a young woman, every day, I come to work in a place where my voice is heard. I’ve been encouraged to trust my voice and myself more. I went from being an intern to being absorbed full time and then actually being promoted to technical lead of one of the projects, and it’s just because I’ve been pushed to grow here.”

She went to the University of Westminster in the United Kingdom, where she studied Business Economics. When she returned to Sierra Leone in 2018, she wanted to work in government, so she applied for an internship at DSTI. Diop says that much of her work is engaging with local DSTI partners, and it is at those engagements; intra-government meetings that she’s reminded that the culture of inclusion and empowerment at DSTI is not the status quo.

In Sierra Leone, gender-based inequalities are most pronounced in reproductive health, empowerment, and economic activity according to the UNDP 2018 Human Development Report. When the country’s Human Development Index is adjusted to reflect gender inequality Sierra Leone’s HDI falls from 0.438 to 0.282. The 35.7 percent loss in HDI shows that urgent improvements are needed towards women’s capital development.

“DSTI is a bubble. Sometimes I go to a meeting, and I’m the lead, but someone would doubt it and treat me as though I don’t belong. I’ve been asked if I wasn’t too young to be in a meeting. Other times I’m not given room to participate in a technical conversation, but because I remember that David believes in me. Even though it can be difficult sometimes, the encouragement I get at DSTI gives me the confidence to say no; I know what I’m talking about, and you’re going to have to listen to me,” says Diop.

She says that making the workplace more inclusive starts at the top. Change has to come from the people in leading positions.

“If David hadn’t made sure that women were data scientists, and in leadership, none of this would be possible. He has made it such a priority, so everybody else has to fall in line; everybody else knows that gender equality has to be guaranteed.”

Diop is a business analyst and the technical lead on the National Financial Digital Architecture Project, while she also supports the Ease of Doing Business Project at the Directorate.

DSTI Sierra Leone came into existence in May 2018 when President Julius Maada Bio appointed Dr. David Moinina Sengeh as the country’s Chief Innovation Officer. Dr. Sengeh says that right from inception he knew that for DSTI to achieve its mission it needed to be gender inclusive.  Now in its second-year, DSTI’s 41 person team is gender-balanced starting from its leadership, a startling accomplishment for a tech organization anywhere in the world. Half of the organization’s workforce is made up of women.

“We have evidence that more inclusive environments produce better results, so if you want to produce better results, you need inclusion in the workplace and all activities.”

“From day one, I had the opportunity to shape DSTI in policy statements. One of the most important of these was to say I want half of my leadership to be female,” says Dr. Sengeh.

“I made that so by then implementing the policy, and developing the strategy to get more women in top leadership. I made sure we expanded our reach and engagements, to get the quality women applicants. And when there were no women who applied, I knew it meant we didn’t work hard enough, so we would start the process over again.”

Such high-level commitment to inclusive leadership is what Human Resource Expert and Managing Partner of JobSearch Sierra Leone Edleen Elba agrees is needed to make the workplace gender-balanced. 

“Gender inclusion strategies should be part of Organizations’ wider diversity programs. These should include policies, training, discussions, and reporting mechanisms in the areas of recruitment, retention, performance management, learning and development, procurement, and workplace behavior. But don’t stop there. Guidance must also be provided that pushes for gender-neutral language, e.g., ‘they’ instead of ‘he’ or ‘she,’ ‘person’ instead of ‘man’ and make the use of sexually offensive or sexist language a disciplinary offense.”

Dr. Sengeh says that to ensure that DSTI’s women thrive he looks beyond the number of women on the roster. 

“For lasting impact, we have to change the culture both internally and externally in society but especially, internally at work.”

“It means making sure that when women are at the table and in the room that we pass the mic for them to speak. Sometimes yes, as the leader, you may have to fight for this, but you must. In meetings, I have no problem stepping in if someone speaks over a female colleague or uses gendered endearments in the workplace. I fight for the women on my team, so they know we are in this together.”

Blog

DSTI Scientist Leads Partnership On Digital Health Education For Community Health Workers And Health Systems Leaders In Sierra Leone

Data Scientist and iGIS Technical Lead, Glenna Wilson represented the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) at the Last Mile Health, Community Health Academy organised “Designing the Future for Health Systems Leadership Workshop” in Kampala Uganda (February 17th -19th, 2020).

Last Mile Health was founded in 2007 to support governments in building national community health systems. To promote its vision, Last Mile Health launched the Community Health Academy in 2017 to strengthen the clinical skills of community health workers and the capacity of health system leaders in order to build higher quality health systems by leveraging the power of digital training tools through partnerships with Ministries and development partners in the health sector.  

The Community Health Academy operates at a global, regional and country-level. The regional level is made up of western and central African countries, including Liberia, where the regional hub sits, and Sierra Leone, the newest hub member. Representatives from the various countries at the regional level will be responsible for developing and strengthening partnerships, recruiting a regional faculty network and establishing a community of practice. 

The workshop was designed to create a shared vision among member countries for a global health systems leadership development programme. Participants from around the world, focused on ideas to answer questions such as; what are the most critical competencies, skill sets, and areas of expertise needed by current and next generation health systems leaders? How can they establish high-impact regional communities of practice that support leaders to advance improvement in their health systems? How is the impact of leadership development on health systems change measured?

As a member of the Community Health Academy, DSTI will work jointly with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to develop and digitize a sustainable and global curriculum that equips community health workers and health system leaders in Sierra Leone with high-quality, on-demand, and engaging digital education materials.

The partnership will be led on the technical side by Glenna, whose technical background and previous collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation on the iGIS portal (which involved mapping all national assets including health facilities and building a database that will be used to track and monitor all child and maternal cases), makes her the ideal focal person. The Human Capital Development Incubator at DSTI, previously engaged Last Mile Health on their work in strengthening service delivery at the community health level in a bid to reduce the maternal mortality rate. 

In her remarks at the workshop, Glenna expressed that “the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, DSTI, and the Human Capital Development Incubator, are committed to this partnership and helping to improve health systems for all Sierra Leoneans by improving the content and delivery of health services education to all the Community Health Workers and health policymakers using digital and innovative tools including the iGIS and USSD systems.”

Part of Glenna’s role as the focal person will be to ensure that Sierra Leone participates fully and benefits from the Community Health Academy’s edX courses (developed by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) for health system leaders and Community Health Workers.

Plans are currently underway for Sierra Leone to host a similar “Designing the Future for Health Systems Leadership Workshop” with Last Mile Health and the Community Health Academy under the leadership of the Ministry of Health and Sanitation and DSTI.

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