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50,000 citizens to gain industry-ready skills as Sierra Leone becomes the first African country to launch Coursera’s Workforce Recovery Initiative

With 60% of the world’s student population impacted by the temporary closing of schools and hundreds of millions of people left without employment due to the on-going socio-economic disruption of COVID-19, many industries including education are relying on digital technologies to curb transmission rates, mitigate the impact on student learning and enhance sectoral resilience. In Sierra Leone, for example, technology including, e-learning, radio, TV and SMS are being used to support remote learning in schools and universities.

There is a pressing need for students, at-risk or displaced industry professionals, and unemployed individuals to upskill, reskill and retool in order to gain a competitive edge or have the necessary skills required for roles in the workforce during and post-COVID. In recognition of this, DSTI in collaboration with the Ministry of Technical and Higher Education and Coursera has launched nationally, the first African Coursera Workforce Recovery Initiative!

The Sierra Leone Coursera Workforce Recovery Initiative will offer learning and certification for Sierra Leoneans in over 3,800 courses and 400 specializations effectively supporting 50,000 Sierra Leoneans build on in-demand and industry-ready skills to accelerate workforce development over the next 6 months (July to December 2020).

Coursera is a leading online learning platform for higher education founded by Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng with a vision of providing life-transforming learning experiences to anyone, anywhere. It is now the world’s largest online learning platform with 65 million learners in nearly every county. In light of COVID-19, Coursera launched the Workforce Recovery Initiative to help governments worldwide provide their workforces with free access to 3,800 online courses. The initiative supports governments to help impacted workers and unemployed citizens to reskill and up-skill to regain employment. 

“The pandemic has affected hundreds of millions of jobs around the world, including the livelihoods of many youths in Sierra Leone, Coursera is honoured to partner with the Government of Sierra Leone and the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation to provide young workers in the country with job-relevant online learning to swiftly enter the workforce”. Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO of Coursera.

In the last 4 days since the initiative was launched nationally on Wednesday, July 1st, 2020,  over 2,000 Sierra Leoneans have registered and clocked in 1,664 learning hours to pursue professional certifications in Google IT Automation with Python, web development, data science cybersecurity, entrepreneurship, accounting, AI etc. 

During the High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation webinar convened by the UN Secretary-General in June 2020, the Government of Sierra Leone’s Chief Innovation Officer, David Moinina Sengeh, highlighted that there has been an increase in internet usage in Sierra Leone in the last one year. Increased internet penetration (8.1% to 25%) during this period demonstrates Sierra Leone’s willingness to adapt to new technologies, digitisation and innovation, and means many more Sierra Leoneans will benefit from this initiative.

While President Bio’s administration continues to support individuals and businesses across all industries during COVID, it is also working on incentivizing more people to apply and gain the necessary skill sets that will make them ready to work in an economy that is increasingly digitally dependent on 21st-century problem-solving skills. To join the programme register online here:  https://www.dsti.gov.sl/coursera/

Blog

“Drones in Salone” Weekly Webinar kicks-off on May 15 – Join the Conversation!

DSTI will host a weekly webinar to examine the use of drones before, during, and after the COVID-19 Pandemic. Sierra Leone has the only national drone corridor in West Africa, the second on the continent after Malawi.  The “Drones in Salone” webinar is a platform for  policymakers, regulators and private sector drone experts to discuss emerging trends, challenges, and opportunities and benefits in the local drone ecosystem. 

Drone enthusiasts, innovators, media and the general public  are invited to participate in the panel discussion every Friday starting May 15, 2:00 PM GMT via Zoom.

The theme for the first-panel discussion is “The Role of Drones in the Covid-19 Response”. Speakers include; Edmond Nonie, UNICEF; David Manley, DSTI; Koinguma Baimba, Flying Labs Sierra Leone; James Houghton, Crown Agents Sierra Leone; Samuel Nonie, TYB Holdings; and Michael Duff, Drone Video Journalist.

The UNICEF backed Drone Corridor was launched in November 2019 by H.E. Julius Maada Bio, a demonstration of Sierra Leone’s high-level commitment to technology and innovation. Since the launch of the corridor,  drones have been used for medical delivery and most recently for surveillance during the government-mandated lock down to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Next week the “Drones in Salone” Webinar will take place on May 22, at 2:00 PM with guests including; Minister and Chief Innovation Officer, Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, and representatives from the World Bank Sierra Leone and the World Economic Forum. Visit @DSTISierraLeone on Facebook and Twitter for weekly updates.

Blog

Sierra Leone’s COVID-19 lock down and curfew E-Pass for essential travel is here

Over 1000 paper applications were submitted to the Sierra Leone COVID-19 Emergency Operation Center (EOC) during a 72-hour lockdown in early April. When additional interdistrict travel restrictions were put in place, the manual process required additional manpower and time. The Government has now announced an indefinite extension on the lockdown and curfew to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, which has killed 4 Sierra Leoneans this week. 

The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS), Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC), and Niche Solutions created the Electronic Pass (E-PASS) Management System (http://www.epass.eoc.gov.sl) as part of an integrated ICT response to COVID-19. The electronic issuance of passes will now make it easier and faster for the EOC to process requests and authorize the movement of essential goods, and service providers during the COVID lockdown and curfew in a transparent and auditable process.  

“We are mobilizing tech resources from within our existing ecosystem to provide government and citizens with the tools they need to stop the spread of the pandemic while mitigating the impact on essential services,” said Michala Mackay, COO, and Director, DSTI. 

“The public should continue to practice social distancing, wash their hands regularly, and respect all government measures put in place to flatten the curve. In order to support the fight against COVID-19, the E-Pass would only be issued to individuals and organizations who offer essential services and functions that are necessary, during this pandemic.”

Essential services include goods and other supplies that Sierra Leoneans need to survive, such as medical supplies, food, public works (electricity, and water), telecommunications, and gasoline. Essential workers are the personnel needed to maintain essential services such as health care workers, security personnel, social and emergency relief. 

A consortium of public and private technology experts will continue to develop tools that would enhance and strengthen existing systems to support the government efforts in response to COVID-19. Niche Technologies is the lead private sector partner on the COVID-19 Lockdown and Curfew E-Pass. Niche’s Chief Executive Officer was a former Director of Planning and Strategy in Sierra Leone’s National Ebola Response Center. He brings his crisis response experience and technical expertise to the forefront.

Mahmoud Idriss, CEO, Niche Technologies in Sierra Leone

“One of the most notable differences  that I see this time around is that the ICT response has been swift and efficient. When we came in as non-state actors, everyone knew their expected deliverables and we helped put the wheel in motion,” said Mahmoud Idriss, CEO Niche Technologies.

“It is not uncommon for the Government to have many partners around the table trying to get the same thing done. The problem is how quickly you can get everyone to agree on what they’re supposed to do. The leadership at DSTI has been effective in removing the hurdles and the bottlenecks that could have slowed down the tech response.”

The E-Pass is but one of many tech solutions currently in the works.  A COVID-19 Mobile Self-Check and Update tool that was launched earlier this month has over 250,000 USSD responses since its launch.

All E-Pass applications will be processed within 12 hours of submission but within 6 hours for emergency requests. An SMS will be sent to confirm or reject an approval. Applicants would also be informed if applications require further review.  E-Passes can only be used by the individual or vehicle whose name and registration number appear on the pass. Security officials at inter-district and other checkpoints would carry out verifications using USSD and other mobile solutions- the mobile phones used are donated by the two leading telecommunication companies in the country.

DSTI will continue to engage with partners in the public and private sectors to deploy innovative solutions that will improve and enhance the Government of Sierra Leone’s COVID-19 response efforts.

To make inquiries call the COVID-19 Lockdown and Curfew E-Pass Toll Number +232-55-117117. For all health emergencies, please call the 117 National Emergency Helpline.

Blog

President Bio appoints Mohamed James, a data scientist at DSTI to high-level Scientific and Technical Advisory Group for Emergencies

34-year-old Mohamed “M.J.” James, a data scientist at The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) has been appointed to Sierra Leone’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Group for Emergencies (STAGE) by H.E. President Julius Maada Bio.

James has developed code to help fight corruption and led the design of an economic data analytics tool that hosts time series data on national inflation, foreign exchange, imports, and exports.

Mohamed “M.J.” James

As a data scientist, he collects data for analysis, processes, and visualization. He builds machine learning models to support government leaders with decision making. 

James and the team of data scientists and developers at DSTI have been integral to the design and development of technological solutions to support the ICT pillar of the national COVID-19 response. Together with private sector tech ecosystem players, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, the Ministry of Information and Communication, and development partners, they have created a registration App for the Emergency Operation Center, a COVID-19 Public Information Portal, a Quarantine Data Dashboard, and a COVID-19 Surveillance Dashboard to enhance the work of frontline health workers. Others are developing tools to incorporate big data analytics into Sierra Leone’s response. 

“It has been my privilege to serve with other scientists and developers at DSTI, under the leadership of Dr. Sengeh to support President Bio’s vision to transform Sierra Leone into an innovation nation,” said James.

“This appointment will inspire and motivate me and the rest of DSTI. I was really surprised to be included amongst so many brilliant minds. I am humbled and grateful to President Bio for his commitment to highlighting and rewarding the contributions of young technical Sierra Leoneans.”

A release from the Office of the President, State House explained that the key functions of the STAGE would be to “provide real-time scientific advice, insights from research, and state of the art technological interventions for the considerations of H.E. the President and the Government of Sierra Leone.” James’ expertise in data analytics will be a critical contribution to the Advisory Group.

Other appointees to the STAGE include Dr. Nellie Bell, Dr. Austin Demby, Dr. Kande-Bure Kamara, Professor Mallam Osman Sankoh, Dr. Isata Wurie, Dr. Nehlema Barrie, Dr. James C Boima, Dr. Paul Farmer, Ms. Ishata Conteh, Mr. Lawrence Babawo, and Dr. Pardis Sabeti. 

“We are proud of M.J. He is an amazing team player and a dedicated member of DSTI. We are extremely grateful to have one of ours appointed to such a high-level scientific committee,” said Michala Mackay, COO, and Director, DSTI. 

Blog

Sierra Leone joins Africa’s tech nations to deploy drones for COVID-19 Response

Drones flew over the capital city of Freetown during a three-day lock-down in March as part of Sierra Leone’s COVID-19 Response. The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) collaborated with a local drone company to capture images to understand citizen compliance in the Western Urban and Western Rural districts during the lock-down.

In West Africa, Sierra Leone has the sub-region’s only national government drone corridor which was launched in November 2019, by H.E. Julius Maada Bio in partnership with UNICEF, and Njala University. Since then, the nation’s first certified female drone pilot graduated from the Africa Data and Drone Academy’s (ADDA) drone certification program at Malawi University of Science and Technology, aerial drones have been used in medical deliveries, and now for COVID-19 emergency response activities.

Countries in Africa that have embraced innovation are integrating technological solutions in their COVID-19 Response. This week Rwanda used drones to spread public health awareness messages. In South Africa, Artificial Intelligence and drones are collecting data on citizen movement and lockdown measures. Similarly, in Tunisia, police robots equipped with AI capabilities are manning the streets as part of their compliance monitoring strategies.

Sierra Leone’s DSTI has the vision to use science, technology, and innovation to support government service delivery and strengthen the entrepreneurial ecosystem. DSTI is currently deploying its scientists and technologists to support the Government’s integrated COVID-19 Response.

Blog

Sierra Leone goes live with SMS and USSD COVID-19 self-assessment mobile services

Sierra Leone has recorded its tenth case of COVID-19, less than a week after it ended a 72-hour mandatory stay at home to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. During the three-day lockdown, a team of local computer scientists and data engineers from the public and private sectors collaborated to develop technological solutions to enhance the nation’s COVID-19 preparedness and response efforts. 

The COVID-19 emergency tech response team made up of experts from the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI), UNICEF, the Emergency Operations Center, Ministry of Information and Communication, Ministry of Health and Sanitation, other government agencies and private sector partners developed and incorporated COVID-19 public health information into the Government of Sierra Leone’s *468# (*GOV#) Public Information System. 

They expanded the existing *468# (*GOV#) Government Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) platform to allow citizens to conduct a self-check against their symptoms; learn prevention tips; and get updates on Sierra Leone’s COVID-19 situation, including the number of cases, deaths, and the quarantine status. A complimentary SMS mobile application that offers users the same functionalities was also developed. 

Today DSTI and its partners are announcing that the *468# (*GOV#) Government USSD platform and its accompanying 468 SMS Service have been activated to make it easier for citizens’ self-assessment of their coronavirus risk and to access accurate and correct information on COVID-19 on any mobile phone device.

Fix Solution is the lead private sector partner on USSD mobile service delivery. Their Chief Executive Officer, Sorieba Daffae, was one of the first private sector partners to sign up to the national tech response. 

Sorieba Daffae – CEO – Fix Solution SL

“What the crisis has shown us is that we are on our own. While we have some external support, this is the time to mobilize local expertise. I reached out to DSTI to volunteer towards the COVID-19 tech response to ensure that we could speed up the national effort by leveraging our local market knowledge. Our core competencies are specifically around technology solutions for public service delivery. With the USSD and SMS self-assessment tools, we’ve been able to collaborate with epidemiologists and DSTI to assist with the telecommunications integrations,” said Daffae. 

In November 2019, President Julius Maada Bio launched the National Innovation and Digitization Strategy (NIDS) and the USSD Portal to engage citizens and to improve government service delivery. A central principle in NIDS is the development of hybrid technologies that work for everyone. 

“We are collaborating with partners across government and the private sector to deliver Sierra Leone’s unified technological response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The SMS and USSD systems work with or without the internet, meaning that we reduce barriers to citizens’  access to information,” said Michala Mackay, Director and Chief Operating Officer, DSTI.

“We have also seen an increase in fake news across social media, which is causing anxiety and fear. Citizens can now use the USSD portal to verify news and get the most up to date information on the national COVID-19 situation.” 

According to the 2018 Sierra Leone Integrated Household Survey, two out of every three Sierra Leonean households (77%) have access to a mobile phone, meaning that SMS and USSD-based solutions will reach both citizens in the urban centers and rural communities. 

The USSD and SMS solutions offer flexibility to ensure that citizens have access to accurate information, whether or not they are using a smartphone. For now, the USSD code *468# and SMS to 468 are only available to users on Orange, and Africell. Even as the USSD and SMS solutions for COVID-19 go live, citizens are reminded to report any and all emergencies to 117 the national helpline.

Sierra Leone has started a two-week partial lockdown that limits travel between districts and a national daily curfew that starts from 9 pm-6 am. During this period, in addition to the COVID-19 services, citizens can use *468# to access information on government facilities and services within their districts including ‘find my nearest hospital’, and others. The COVID-19 tech response team will continue to develop technology for crisis response.


SMS USSD Activation Tools & Frequently Asked Questions

Blog

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.

Blog

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. 

Blog

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.”

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