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First year college student beats 12 others to win first idea challenge at Commonwealth ICT Forum in Sierra Leone

Mahmoud Gbessay, 23, has won the first-ever Connectivity & Innovation Idea Challenge organized by the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI), the National Telecommunications Commission at the Commonwealth ICT Forum on connectivity in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Gbessay’s idea is Education Television (E-TV), a home-based channel broadcasting at 5.5MHz with a range of 100 meters that will create and share educational content nationwide. ETV uses solar panels and has a radio frequency transformer, a trimmer capacitor, some resistors, and other components. Gbessay’s ETV was one of 13 entries to the Idea Challenge. He won a cash prize of SLL 5,000,000 sponsored by the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO) and the National Telecommunications Commission (NATCOM).

Gbessay, who is from Freetown, is a first-year student studying Computer Science at Njala University. The young innovator has always had an interest and passion for problem-solving.

“It all started with configuring mobile phones. I used to assist people with mobile phones and tablets when I was younger. I was also into electronics. So I would repair radios, build other electronic devices that people use around the house, and help people with their appliances in my community,” said Gbessay.

Four shortlisted candidates were invited to pitch their ideas at the Commonwealth ICT Forum. Each candidate had 3 minutes to tell the audience and judges about their concept. The winner was chosen by a panel of judges representing DSTI, CTO, and NATCOM using the following metrics: innovation, impact, and feasibility. Ideas that focused on thematic areas of the CTO conference were given special consideration.

“I am overwhelmed by this win. Education TV can now become a reality. I will be able to build a prototype and make my contribution to education in Sierra Leone,” said Gbessay.

In addition to the prize money, Gbessay will have an opportunity to develop his prototype with technical support from the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation. Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, Chief Innovation Officer, DSTI said that Idea Challenges and hackathons support the local tech and innovation ecosystem.

“Sierra Leone’s entrepreneurship ecosystem is growing quickly. There are various hackathons where young people share ideas, meet up to develop solutions, and attract funding. We need many more of these kinds of opportunities so that people like Mahmoud Gbessay can be incentivized to imagine!” said Dr. Sengeh.

Gbessay says that hackathons and idea challenges give young people like him a push in the right direction. Beyond the opportunity to showcase their talent, seeing others create and do will motivate others.

“People need to know that Sierra Leone is not only rich in mineral resources. We have people that are rich with ideas; we have great thinkers and doers,” said Gbessay.

With his prize, Gbessay says he will pay for online courses to learn python. He wants to explore concepts around machine learning and artificial intelligence. This summer, he plans to continue working on a mobile application already in development that will help students become better learners.

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First time hackers at urban mobility hackathon in Sierra Leone win 38 million leones to prototype USSD transport payment solution

A team of 10 young Sierra Leoneans has won 38 million leones for their innovative mobile payment solution. They met for the first time at the three-day Resilient Urban Mobility Hackathon. The hackathon funded by the World Bank Group was organized by the Ministry of Transport and Aviation, Sierra Leone Road Transport Corporation (SLRTC), and Sensi Tech Hub under the technical leadership of the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI). Hackathons are events in which programmers, designers, those involved in computer software development and problem-solvers come together to solve problems with innovative ideas. Contributing to this partnership, were other stakeholders, including local and international experts in urban mobility and planning.

Over 100 first-time and seasoned hackers came together to develop solutions to improve urban mobility (capturing the movement of people in cities using urban transportation systems).

“We are here to create solutions to help facilitate the process of solving a problem around the issues we’re having in moving people and goods across our city,” said Morris Marah, Founder, and Director, Sensi.

“The problems include safe roads, smart parking, disaster management, environment safety, and pollution, all of these things are issues we have at large in our city.”

Marrah’s organization Sensi creates spaces for young people to develop skills for innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship. As the implementing partner Sensi (through the support of DSTI) received a grant of US $48,851,33 from the World Bank to organize the manage the hackathon. The hackathon is part of a drive to create an ecosystem to support the World Bank’s integrated and resilient urban mobility project in Sierra Leone.

Before the hackathon, DSTI in collaboration with the World Bank organized a one-day workshop to train participants on the tools and technologies for processing and analyzing large-scale data from cellular phones often referred to as Call Detail Records (CDRs). Over fifteen participants representing Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), Sensi Tech and other private sector entities attended the workshop.

Data scientists and software developers from DSTI provided technical support and mentorship to the teams to build prototypes/tools, including guidance on how to improve and scale their prototype during the hackathon.

The first day of the hackathon included presentations from key stakeholders from the transport sector, including Sierra Leone Road Transport Corporation (SLRTC), Sierra Leone Road Safety Authority (SLRSA), Freetown City Council (FCC), Sierra Leone Urban Research Center (SLURC), the World Bank, and DSTI Sierra Leone. The 105 participants were divided into 11 groups.

22-year-old Ishmael Kargbo, a developer, and graduate of Blue Crest College led Mobility Hackers Team, the winning team which included; Mariam Cremelda Conteh (22), Mohamed Lamin Kargbo (23), Alhassan Turay (21), Tejan Kamara (23), Peter Joshua Conteh (26), Princess Koroma (23), Walter Marvey-John (27), Abdulai Bah and Sarah Blessing Kargbo.

Their idea for the $4000 prize is SwiftPay. SwiftPay uses Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) to allow users to make mobile payments to purchase bus tickets. SLRTC told the hackers in its presentation that when bus conductors sell tickets, money comes up short. The ticket sales don’t match the cash that is brought back to SLRTC at the end of the workday. SwiftPay uses USSD because most Sierra Leoneans do not own smartphones and already use the same platform via mobile money. Although Ishmael Kargbo’s team won the hackathon, he felt intimidated when he arrived at the event.

“When I came in on the first day I was afraid seeing developers, innovators, entrepreneurs gathered in one place,” said Kargbo, Group Leader Mobility Hackers.

Sierra Leone needs to develop a dynamic community of innovative and creators to disrupt the status quo with solutions to meet the challenges affecting the nation’s most vulnerable citizens.

“We were the second team to pitch our ideas, and after listening to presentations from the other teams, we were sure that ours was the winning idea and this is because all the other teams had ideas that made sense but was difficult to implement. Ours, on the other hand, was easier to implement and easier to use,” said Kargbo.

The goal of the hackathon was to actively engage the public, especially problem-solvers, as a means of strengthening the entrepreneurial and tech ecosystems.

“We are creating opportunities that bring together change agents, tech operators like Sensi, hackers, donors, and Ministries, Departments, and Agencies as we work collectively to make Sierra Leone an innovation nation,” said Mahmoud Javombo, Ecosystems Manager, DSTI.

Kargbo and his team will spend the next three months working under the mentorship of technologists at Sensi Tech and DSTI. There they’ll get administrative, and technical support to develop the prototype for SwiftPay, USSD payment solution.

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DSTI, UNICEF, Njala University, Civil Aviation Authority, and Korri Chiefdom to establish a 25-acre drone test corridor in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone has taken the first steps towards the establishment of a drone test corridor. The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) and its partners will use the corridor for testing use cases including drone delivery of medical supplies, and aerial imaging for disaster management and response to remote areas. In this regard, DSTI has signed a Memorandum of Action with partners UNICEF-Sierra Leone, Njala University, and Korri Chiefdom to secure 25 acres of land for the testing of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), also known as drones.

Sierra Leone’s drone corridor will be one of six supported by UNICEF in the world and the technology promises to transform disaster management.

“The corridor means access to technology to provide immunizations and deliver medical supplies to children in need in remote areas during emergencies,” said Andrew T. Sellu, UNICEF Chief of Field Office.

In 2017, Malawi launched Africa’s first drone test corridor in partnership with UNICEF. There, industry, universities, and individuals have been able to test the use of drones for imagery, connectivity, and transport. The drone test corridor at Mokonde, Njala University will offer the same opportunities for learning and exploration for the use of drones in Sierra Leone and create research opportunities for students and fellows. The government’s Medium-Term National Development Plan recognizes the need to use advanced technologies to overcome existing challenges.

“Drone technology is an emerging field that offers the government the opportunity to test its impact on health service delivery to far-reaching regions of the country,” said Michaella George, Policy Lead, DSTI.

“Beyond telemedicine; the delivery of drugs, or medical equipment, research has shown that drones can be useful during and after disaster relief efforts. They can provide an instant telecommunications infrastructure, perform equipment/drug/patient delivery, enhance search and rescue efforts, assess damage, and map disaster zones.”

DSTI and Sierra Leone’s Civil Aviation Authority (SLCAA) are collaborating to develop policy recommendations and regulations for drone operations locally. The partnership with SLCAA will ensure that the nation’s aviation body will be involved with the research and the promotion and sensitization of the public on acceptable drone use.

The 25-acre drone testing corridor was well received by the Paramount Chief of Korri Chiefdom who sent a representative to express their commitment and support for the introduction of new technology for youth in their community.

“One community benefit of which I am convinced is that this project will help us overcome the challenges of access to rural areas during emergencies,” said Dr. Phillip Mornya, School of National Resources Management, Njala University.

Students, researchers, and staff from Njala University will have access to the Corridor. Njala student and staff will handle the day to day operations of the corridor while DSTI will provide technical leadership, and oversee the evaluation of licenses of drone operators, as well as lead the research around local test cases for drones in the corridor.

The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation reaffirms its commitment to partners, researchers, and technologists interested in the exploration of drone technology both in the public and private sectors as Sierra Leone glides towards its first drone corridor. DSTI will announce details for program participation in due course.

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Sierra Leone launches e-ID for more social and financial inclusion for 5.1 million citizens. 

Sierra Leone has digitized its national identification system to make it easier to deliver services to all citizens. The National Civil Registry Agency (NCRA) has launched an electronic identification system for 5.1 million citizens.

Nancy Gbamoi became the first person in Sierra Leone to open a bank account by accessing her digital ID with her thumbprint from the NCRA database. A teacher from Port Loko District, she said that this wasn’t her first bank account, but the digital identification will be easier to use.

“If you misplace your ID card and you want to use some money from the bank you won’t be able to make a financial transaction,” said Gbamoi.

“Now I’ll have access to my money even if I don’t have my ID with me.”

The digital ID after pilot testing and implementation for financial services will be rolled out as the principal means of identification for citizens seeking to receive services from the government. UN Sustainable Goal 16 requires all nations to provide legal identity for all citizens to build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions.

According to a World Bank 2018 Sierra Leone Financial Inclusion Project Fact Sheet, 12.4 percent of adults in Sierra Leone have a bank account. The total number of those with access to formal financial services, including mobile money is 19.8 percent. Opening a bank account starts with establishing the identity of each customer. Banks must meet a Know Your Customer (KYC) requirement, which prevents fraud and lets financial institutions verify and authenticate each account holder. A completed KYC must have an ID, address and in some cases referees. But in Sierra Leone identification is a burden both on banks and potential customers.

“A lot of our people still do not have their physical IDs. Even though the National Citizen Registry Registry holds about 5.1 million registrants of our citizens,” said Dr. Patricia Laverley, Deputy Minister of Finance.

“The new platform will help about 20% of financially excluded adults who are unable to access financial services because they lack the correct documentation to prove their identity.”

President Julius Maada Bio launched the digital platform, which is led by the Bank of Sierra Leone (BSL) in collaboration with the Ministry of Finance and supported by UNDP and Kiva. Kiva is an American company that gives loans to individuals who would otherwise not have access to credit from banks. They operate in 80 countries, including Sierra Leone.

“At the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly last year, I announced a partnership with the UN and Kiva to launch a bold new initiative designed to give a country’s several million citizens access to financial services. Today, we have accomplished that objective,” said President Bio.

“My government has developed a National Digital Identification Platform. I announce with pride that this is Africa’s first Blockchain and decentralized national digital ID system.”

Although Kiva is backstopping the platform with Kiva Protocol – a digital identification system that uses Blockchain distributed ledger technology, the NDIP data usage will be governed by Sierra Leone’s laws. The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation provided the policy guidelines for use, access, and protection of citizen data.

“Kiva policy and technical team have met with us at DSTI several times to review and co-develop system architectures, deployment plans and agree on technical roadmaps,” said Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, Sierra Leone’s Chief Innovation Officer who heads the Directorate.

“We worked with partners in government to provide technical support where needed. For example, after NCRA reviewed the Data Protection Agreement, DSTI further scrutinized the agreement to ensure that the protection of data is a paramount activity even in this pilot. Because Sierra Leone does not have any current modern data protection laws, it is important that we use this process to enhance innovation, protect citizens while laying the groundwork for comprehensive legislation.”

The only way that anyone can access the citizen data is after that citizen has unlocked their ID and consented to share their data. Speaking at the launch of Africa’s first blockchain national data ID platform, Dr. Samuel Doe, UNDP Country Director for Sierra Leone, said that collaboration and determination allowed Sierra Leone to act in record speed.

“To develop a distributed ledger technology-based credit reference platform that will provide for national identity, financial profiles, and financial inclusion is a shining example of a whole of government response to a development challenge.”

Each registered citizen can unlock their digital ID with their thumbprint. Once unlocked citizens can grant access to their biodata to any institution connected to the digital ID platform. The technology that collects, stores, and makes the platform work is an encrypted distributed data storage system known as Blockchain. Blockchain ensures that the e-IDs will be decentralized, transferable, and where need be interoperable. Once deployed to national scale Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs), will be able to use the digital ID to provide social services whenever a citizen grants them access.

The NCRA collected Nancy Gbamoi’s data along with over 3.1 million others who registered to vote for the 2018 elections. The NCRA database also includes 2 million additional citizen biometric data collected from the same for the 2012 elections, and other registers like government payroll for the civil service.

“For the government, a critical function we are seeking to optimize for is service delivery and citizen engagement. To ensure that the right citizen or resident gets their benefits and services at the right time, in the right place, we need to be able to authenticate who they are,” said Dr. Sengeh.

“We are hoping that this platform can be used to bring services to citizens across all spectrums: for those in far remote areas needing to access their postal mail or mobile money to those in cities wanting to pay for public and private sector services from their handheld devices. The opportunity is in our hands.”

Gbamoi’s biodata and other information unique to her is now digitally accessible. She and 5,1 million citizens now has a unique digital identity that the government can verify.

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President Bio’s Free Quality Education inspired MIT post grad to intern at DSTI

President Julius Maada Bio on his visit to Massachusetts Institute of Technology made a passionate call in a town hall in Massachusetts for technologists to join computer scientists at the newly formed Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation to solve Sierra Leone’s development problems. Mgcini Keith Thuthi a post-graduate physics student at MIT chose to answer the call.

In the president’s speech he spoke concerning the National Development plan and how people can look for a role they can play to execute the plan outsiders or not.

“We know that you can play a role and you are always welcome, we want you to come there is a wealth of knowledge here in this hall alone and around the United States and I invite you all to join us and make Sierra Leone a better place.”

Motivated by the President’s speech, Keith just had to come and honour the call of the President and the team from DSTI to be part of the technological change, he therefore abandoned his summer holiday vacation to spend that time in Sierra Leone.

It is no secret that the DSTI is an enthusiastic group of change makers formed by President Julius Maada Bio whose vision is to use technology and innovation for human capital development and national transformation and is being monitored by the Office of the Chief Minister.

Keith gave DSTI Media a heart warming interview when we caught up with him after his internship in Sierra Leone.

DSTI Media:- Why did you come to Sierra Leone?

Keith:-I wanted to do something in Africa before the summer break, before I go to graduate school. And I was talking to a few people a number of people from a delegation from Sierra Leone, including the President, and people from the DSTI came to my school, and talked about the projects that they were doing. And they mentioned a few that I found very interesting. And I talked with them, and decided that this is where I wanted to be over the summer break.

DSTI Media :- What attracted you to come to DSTI?

Keith:- The Free Quality Education Program was the one I found most interesting. And then there was also topics on energy, Ease of Doing Business and I found the whole project very ambitious

DSTI Media:- As you are from an African country why did you chose Sierra Leone?

Keith:- So I wanted to gain experience working in Africa, and again, after talking to the delegation that came, they seem very enthusiastic about the projects that they were working on and it was very interesting and ambitious. I therefore wanted to be part of something that was actively trying to do something positive.

DSTI Media:– What were your expectations coming to Sierra Leone?

Keith:- Yes, I had concerns. I did not know the language. I’ve never been to West Africa. The expectations I had the group seemed very enthusiastic and I was hoping that was actually the case that it wasn’t just a show that they were giving to us. And I think I found that it is it is a very ambitious group that’s working really hard, which was great.

DSTI Media:- Were your expectations met?

Keith:- Yes, I’m very satisfied with my experience, especially the work that we are doing, we are in a position where we are doing things that can actually affect people positively. The group of people that I see around, I noticed they care about their community, they care about Sierra Leone, they care about Africa, they care about what they’re doing. So to me, that’s the most valuable thing to have, because people are actually trying to make a positive difference. I’m happy to be a part of that, to tap into that, and possibly contribute to that as well.

DSTI Media:– On what projects have you contributed?

Keith:- So I’ve been working mostly with data science and innovation team mostly to do things that have to do with education. I think I came at a good time when a lot of discussions were starting. So that meant I could get involved from the beginning, became really useful to me to get on board. And so many things we’re talking about, finding ways to so one of the things that we want to do as the education team is to use data science to inform policymakers to use data for decision making one of the pillars of DSTI. Also one of the things we wanted to do was to help the Ministry of Education figure out a way to build more schools that’s one of the main things I’ve been working on.

In my time here we’ve changed our approach to so many things, and I think we are slowly getting to a point where we know how we can make these suggestions with schools or guide policymakers. And that it’s not just about making decisions, but we help them and give them any information they need to make that decision. So we are doing a lot of collecting data, keeping that data and then doing data science and analysis on top of that, to bring out any insights we can get anything in terms of answering the questions that people might have and then beyond that there’s also the issue of being able to communicate what you’re doing because that’s very important so that it has an effect, you must be able to go to stakeholders and say, we have these insights do you understand them, and can you use them.

DSTI Media:- What impact do you think this work will have on Sierra Leone?

Keith:- I think the real output of what we do translated into policy for policymakers, when they use our information we provide them, the tools we provide to make decisions. The output is reports and visualization. Things can be presented to stakeholders to say you have all these insights, you know a place where children have to travel 15 kilometres to go to school, if you’re to make decision, if the government is trying to build more classrooms, the information we have collected would help them make the right decision on which schools should benefit from that.

DSTI Media:- how do you feel being part of such contribution?

Keith:-I feel that it’s important work am contributing towards and it is just a piece or part of the whole system. So for anything we do to be successful we all need to work together. I feel like we can individually make different contributions, but we need to work together to get the outcome. So I’m yet to see if this affects anyone. In terms of education, success means whatever we come up with that affects the child in the classroom positively. In terms of my time here the contributions I have made might trickle down to a student who can maybe go to a new school or get on the bus to go to school.

DSTI Media:– You as a technologist, what lessons have you learned working at DSTI Sierra Leone?

Keith:- Every day, I learn a lot of new things working here that I certainly didn’t know what to do when I got here I still don’t know how to do everything. Half of my time is spent looking at how to do things. So technically, I learned a lot faster now looking at data and analyzing data, because I have been practicing it over the last few months.

So technical skills, I think I gained a lot and improve what I had before.

DSTI Media:- So how do you find the work environment?

I feel like this is one of the best work environments I’ve had. I really enjoyed it. The people are friendly, they help each other, we have open discussions. Everyone’s opinion is important. And we come to a unanimous decision on what to do next, so this makes everyone feel like they’re contributing.

DSTI Media:- What recommendations do you have for others in others in tech?

Keith:- My advice I would give is start now there’s so much that can be done. If you have even the slightest idea and the simplest ideas bring them here. And those little things when you build them up, those things help build your CV for future employers.

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MIT prepares Sierra Leone’s higher education faculty for better learning outcomes

The MIT-Sierra Leone Program has organized its first learning workshop for educators in Sierra Leone. The seminar at Njala University was a three-day (August 5-7th, 2019) short course on problem-solving approaches in higher education. The MIT-Sierra Leone Program is a partnership between the Government of Sierra Leone through the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI), and the Ministry of Technical & Higher Education.

“Since the launch of the MIT-Sierra Leone Program it has been a pleasure to have Njala University as an affiliate of the Jameel World Education Lab (J-WEL) MIT’s higher education initiative,” said Professor Hazel Sive, who is the founding coordinator of MIT-Africa. The MIT-Africa Short Course is a new initiative. It not only focuses on strengthening the link between Njala and MIT, but it creates a bridge between MIT and Sierra Leone’s universities to improve curricula.

Sive is a professor of biological sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge where she also focuses on the evolving role of faculty in teaching and scaling of curriculum reform. She leads the MIT-Sierra Leone Program launched in March this year after a high-level government delegation led by President Julius Maada Bio visited Boston.

“One of the first things President Bio asked us to do at DSTI was to create links between Sierra Leone and world-class institutions globally. So we went to Harvard and MIT because they are the best higher education institutions in the world,” said Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, Chief Innovation Officer, DSTI.

” This unique and historic partnership formed between Sierra Leone and MIT less than six months ago has led to over a dozen bilateral exchanges of talent and resources. These interactions are already leading to several new solutions that will impact the lives of everyday citizens in the entrepreneurial, and education sectors.”

Present were representatives from all public higher education institutions in Sierra Leone including; Ernest Bai Koroma University, Milton Margai, and Kenema Polytechnic. With this course, Njala University opened its doors to share knowledge gained from its affiliation with MIT’s J-WEL. Top on the agenda for educators and government was curricula reform-turn college graduates into entrepreneurial 21st Century problem solvers.

“We hope that the representatives here are not only learning but trying to translate what they have learned by looking at their curricula and trying to incorporate some of these best practices to enhance the capability and the marketability of our products which are the graduates from our institutions,” said Fatmata Kaiwa, the Director of Science & Education at the Ministry of Technical & Higher Education.

The Government of Sierra Leone has committed 21% of the country’s budget to education. The highest on record to date. The focus on education is at every level; pre-primary to tertiary. Also, a human capital development incubator has been launched at State House to further demonstrate the New Direction’s commitment to learning, innovation, and research.

“The World Bank has been working with the Government of Sierra Leone to strengthen the education sector in the country. We are keen to build the foundations for the demanded skills development in the country which will help the country build strong intellectual human capital,” said Dr. Mari Shojo, Senior Education Specialist, Education Global Practice, World Bank.

DSTI and its partners; the World Bank, UNICEF, MIT, national educators and policymakers across all Ministries, Departments, and Agencies are collaborating to develop a national ecosystem to improve learning outcomes from beginning to the end of the education lifecycle. Through academic exchange and research, the MIT-Sierra Leone Program allows educators to learn world-class techniques to make students successful.

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DSTI Sierra Leone scientist contributes to Artificial Intelligence and Child Rights policy with support from UNICEF

Freetown, Sierra Leone: Kumba Musa is a data scientist and machine learning expert at DSTI, where she teaches policymakers and academics how to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools to clean, analyse, and visualise data. Ms. Musa joined 50 artificial intelligence experts from different countries, who gathered at UNICEF in New York City to take steps towards developing policy guidance for AI and child rights.

While Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Sierra Leone is being used to inform education policy at the highest national level, there is still little awareness amongst the public about the benefits or dangers for children living in a world that is driven by AI.

Musa says that the ongoing collaboration between DSTI and UNICEF means that lessons from Sierra Leone will help to shape global policy around child rights and AI by addressing questions such as what happens when decisions are made using datasets that may be gender-biased? Or how do we use algorithms that we understand and can tweak to promote desired outcomes for children?

These important guidelines are being developed at a time when Sierra Leone and the world are marking the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on the 20th November 2019. AI systems are expected to transform life in the 21st century, the global community has a responsibility to set guidelines that will protect and enhance children’s rights for the next 30 years.

As UNICEF and the Government of Sierra Leone explore the many compelling reasons to use AI for children’s development (such as education, health and social welfare), there are concerns about unchecked technology use; from the internet to Artificial intelligence and beyond. When policies and guidelines are not in place for safer internet use, new threats and harm are introduced to the lives of children, including cyberbullying, trolling and illegal movements of children. Sierra Leone is taking these issues head-on even as the government embraces technology and innovation.

“Participating in the AI Child’s Rights Workshop was meaningful to me because it taught me about the design decision that I should take to ensure that my technologies do not infringe on the rights of children,” said Kumba Musa, Data Scientist, Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation.

“Had it not been for the continued support of UNICEF Sierra Leone to DSTI we would have missed out on this monumental opportunity to learn and share best practices around the protection of children and Artificial Intelligence.”

The AI Child Rights workshop accomplished the following:

Built a consensus among stakeholders about the objectives of the initiative and key principles of the guidance.

Brainstormed how to move from policy to practice and what support tools are needed for different audiences – government, industry, and the UN – to implement the guidelines.

Generated ideas on multi-stakeholder policy engagement strategies for government, industry, and the UN to implement the guidelines.

Built a network of AI and child rights changemakers committed to support the cause.

UNICEF, in partnership with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Standards Association and in collaboration with the Berkman Klein Centre for Internet & Society, the World Economic Forum and other organisations will collaboratively develop the guidelines to help governments, corporations and UN agencies to protect and empower children in the age of AI.

“To have informed policy development around AI and Child rights, at a global level, allows us to continue to ensure the rights of the child are protected and considered for the next 30 years,” said Shane O’Connor, Technology for Development Specialist, UNICEF.

UNICEF and the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) will continue to collaborate by way of knowledge exchange, and learning to strengthen the ecosystem around Science, Technology, and Innovation for Sierra Leone’s national development.

“The partnership between DSTI and UNICEF is enabling great strides to be taken in the use of Technology and Innovation to support our work for the children of Sierra Leone.”

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MIT grad travels 4000 miles for one of a kind innovation and technology internship in Sierra Leone

Banti Gheneti was looking for an opportunity to solve problems. The computer data scientist traveled over 4000 miles from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to Freetown to be amongst the first interns to join the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) at the Office of the President in Sierra Leone. DSTI was launched in October 2018, by President Julius Maada Bio whose vision is to use technology and innovation for human capital development and national transformation. DSTI Media caught up with Banti at the end of his five month-long internship to find out how it was to work at the newly formed directorate.

DSTI Media: Why did you come to Sierra Leone?

Banti Gheneti: I came to Sierra Leone because I was looking for impactful projects to work on relating to data science. And I was interested in moving back and visiting West Africa again. I got in touch with David Sengeh [Chief Innovation Officer, DSTI] and heard about some amazing work people were doing. I was really excited about visiting and spending some time here.

DSTI Media – What attracted you to come to DSTI?

Banti Gheneti: What attracted me to DSTI is manifold. DSTI works at the highest level of government in the Office of the President, and DSTI works on impactful projects that are trying to improve the access citizens have to resources by aiding the way government makes decisions, and many other things.

DSTI Media – What were your expectations coming to Sierra Leone?

Banti Gheneti: Coming here I didn’t really set myself to any specific expectations, I tried to come very open minded. Speaking to people before I came, I heard that this was a country that was very friendly to foreigners. I also was aware that people speak Krio here, but I didn’t quite know what that was before I came. And also, I was told that people here are very friendly and welcoming. And then when you go anywhere, you need to introduce yourself to everyone because people here like greeting each other, but besides that I tried to come with a very open perspective, trying to learn more and learn how I could fit in.

DSTI Media – What projects have you contributed towards ?

Banti Gheneti: I would say the key project I’ve worked on is the integrated GIS portal project. In addition to that, I’ve also contributed a little to some other projects. I’ve assisted a bit with creating the concepts notes for a hackathon, which we hosted this August, which we got UNICEF funding for. I’ve also helped a little bit with the education team related to some of the machine learning work they were working on, and also thinking through some of the optimization work that we’re doing. But my primary contribution has really been the GIS team.

I joined here when Glenna my colleague, had sort of started acquiring data sets from a lot of different MDAs. And these were data sets on different concepts people care about, maybe water was one set she had at the time, financial data on where the banks or top of places are. It was sort of a start of trying to see how we could put all these different kinds of data about different resources together and make them useful so that the government can try to understand where, when can people have access to these things. Where do they not? It also makes them think about where can we add more resources.

Additionally, were also thinking, you know, how could we share this information with citizens. So I sort of started at this early stage for Glenna. I had done a lot of work, working with a lot of different MDAs and collecting this data, and had sort of thought a lot about how we could make it accessible and I helped with developing a technical concept for that and figuring out what sort of tools we would need to make this project possible and going from there. I mean we’ve done a lot, we’ve had other interns join, we’ve worked with other people across the DSTI at a point where we now have a web portal that’s close to finished. We have our data sets visualised there, we have charts that help you understand which districts have a lot of water points compared to their population, and which ones have less, which ones have a lot of courts, which ones have less. And this work is being recognised by different people inside and outside of government. And were at a stage where we are working to finish, to polish up our portal and release it so that all of government and all citizens can start exploring it to inform their lives and inform their next steps. And we’re not quite there yet. But I think that we’ve already seen so much excitement and the potential for that is huge. So I think that is an impact, I’ll be really proud once it happens.

DSTI Media – What impact do you think this work will have on Sierra Leone ?

Banti Gheneti: This impact will be felt in multiple ways. This will allow Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) to better understand where they want to place new resources, where they want to maybe place new water points, new health facilities or where they might need to repair facilities, and do so efficiently using funds efficiently. Instead of speculation about why this district is asking for more or these people are asking for more, you can clearly get a sense of which areas are underserved and combine that with other information to determine where you want to place new resources.

Additionally, this will be a very useful tool to educate citizens, they can know where different resources are maybe once they hadn’t known before. And they can also use this information to hold their representatives accountable, to ask for more if they feel like they’re being underserved.

This is also a good first step towards creating an infrastructure to collect more data to manage data better. Instead of having different files or different stacks of paper in different places, the government of Sierra Leone, can now in a very accessible matter, collect, preserve and share its data.

DSTI Media – You as a technologist, what lessons have you learnt working here ?

Banti Gheneti: What really amazes me as a technologist is seeing all sorts of challenges people go up against here, and how they really overcome them. One thing I’ve really come to appreciate is how passionate people are here, I don’t think I’ve ever worked in an environment where people are this passionate about the type of work they do. And trying to make a meaningful impact every day, and that goes a long way towards making amazing things happen in potentially adverse conditions.

Additionally, I think I’ve learned a lot about prioritisation, there’s a lot of different things different people want you to build. I mean, there’s so many exciting projects that could be useful, there’s so much potential here, there’s so many, there’s so many smart minds, there’s so many ideas for things people want to do and it gets really exciting but at times. I mean to deliver to get a project to this stage where we can share with this, it means making hard decisions about which features we want to include or not, which things we want to save for later, and what exactly we want to deliver on because we can do all sorts of visions, and I think that’s an interesting challenge.

I think that a lot of people here at least I do see I have figured out interesting ways of thinking about what are the key strategic projects we want to work on, and how can we use those to improve lives for our citizens. And I’m hoping delivering on the GIS project, and having that being publicly released in a month or two, can sort of serve as a beacon of one of the ways, DSTI is thinking strategically about how we can better the lives of citizens.

DSTI Media : What recommendations do you have for others in others in tech?

Banti Gheneti: I would recommend anybody interested in technology to explore and consider ways in which you can take some time, couple weeks, couple months to come here and work on some of the exciting things happening.

Blog

Sierra Leone introduces new e-Justice tool to improve rural courts system

June 17, 2019 –  Freetown, Sierra Leone: An e-Justice tool that uses a Geographic Information System (GIS) developed at The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) digitizes local courts and cases in Sierra Leone. E-Justice is the use of technology to improve transparency and efficiency for wider access to justice.

Developers at DSTI have created an integrated GIS platform that allows citizens and lawmakers to better understand national data on population, education, health, water, financial institutions, communication-related assets, and access to justice.

A prototype of the integrated GIS tool was used to visualize, and digitally map the geographic locations of  Sierra Leone’s local courts. Henry Musa Kpaka, Ph.D., London School of Economics (LSE), collected the geospatial court data while DSTI provided the technical and statistical support needed to analyze the data for policymaking. DSTI welcomes and encourages all researchers and academics to submit data that will enhance the GIS portal.

Geospatial mapping of Sierra Leone’s local courts system on the GIS Platform

Reviewing the geospatial data presented by the team, Professor David Francis, Sierra Leone’s Chief Minister, who hosted the meeting at State House said that improved access to justice and judicial reform would strengthen Sierra Leone’s democracy.

“H.E the President is committed to ensuring that our justice system is impartial and accessible to every Sierra Leonean, ” said Professor Francis.

”A justice sector that is transparent, coherent, robust and most importantly developed on the principle of dialogue amongst government, citizens, communities, justice delivery stakeholders and our development partners is what will best serve Sierra Leone.”

The geospatial mapping of the local courts is the first nationwide digitization of the geographic locations of 241 local courts in 149 chiefdoms over the past decade in rural Sierra Leone. Upon deployment of the GIS portal, citizens and policymakers will be able to log in to locate any court and to gain a better understanding of the nature and type of disputes at the provincial level. Although the local courts were established in 1963 to adjudicate over land and civil disagreements, there has been limited oversight of the courts by the Judiciary.

“In the past, we relied on data that was not initiated by the government,” said Dr. Priscilla Schwartz, Sierra Leone’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice.

The Attorney General said that while the local courts offer the nation’s most vulnerable access to justice, the Judiciary did not have the tools to explore the nature of dispute resolution on a national scale until now.

“Thanks to DSTI, we have credible government-owned data to assist with the digitization of Sierra Leone’s justice sector.”

Mr. Kpaka, a Ph.D. candidate at the LSE, explored several questions related to costs to access to the courts, distance to the courts, record keeping, legal capacity, efficiency, and cultural attitudes around dispute resolution. He found that across Sierra Leone, locals do not access justice through the courts because of mistrust.

“There are some places where there are court buildings, but when you go there they will say no this hasn’t been working for over five years,” said Kapka.

The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) in the Office of the President has a mission to use science, technology, and innovation to support the government’s National Development Plan. DSTI has been pioneering the use of state-of-the-art tools in service of its strategic pillar linked to data analytics for decision making. While scientists at DSTI have been the core of this transformative use of data analytics across government, they work closely with partners in and out of government.

“The GIS portal takes data like what we received from Mr. Kpaka, maps and visualizes it into an accessible format that can be used to inform policy,” said Glenna Wilson, Data Engineer, and GIS Portal Technical Lead at DSTI.

“We collect data from all Ministries, Departments, and Agencies. Then we write the programs to analyze the data using tools like Python. Our ultimate goal is to provide the technology to allow everyone to access and understand  data to enable better decision-making from the central government to Sierra Leonean citizens at the last mile.”

Media Enquiries

DSTI Media:  +232 76 403103 / media@dsti.gov.sl

Blog

DSTI partners with Orange to create Sierra Leone’s first school for coding at IPAM

Orange Sierra Leone has committed 2.75 billion leones towards the creation of Sierra Leone’s first free coding school.  Aminata Kane Ndiaye, Chief Executive Officer, Orange SL, made this announcement at the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) at State House. When President Julius Maada Bio visited Harvard and MIT in March, Madame Kane Ndiaye, who was present at the meetings promised that Orange would support Sierra Leone’s digital transformation. The coding school will be at the innovation hub at the Institute of Public Administration and Management (IPAM).

Earlier this year IPAM allocated the fifth floor of the school’s new building for an innovation hub with a signing of an MoU with DSTI. IPAM’s commitment has paved the way for Orange to engage DSTI and for the three institutions to form a public-private partnership to meet the shared objectives of supporting the technology and innovation ecosystem in Sierra Leone.

Speaking at the signing of the MoU Madame Ndiaye said Orange Group seeks to empower young people across the African continent with skills for tomorrow but that the coding school in Sierra Leone will be a first of its kind.

“We are here to create an enabling environment for whoever wants to be a part of the revolution that’s going on around the world,” said Madame Ndiaye.

“Writing code is not something you wake up and do; it’s something you need to learn. So this is why we decided to partner with DSTI to make sure that along with English, along with French, along with Krio,  Sierra Leoneans can learn how to code.”

She said that the coding school would create new job opportunities for Sierra Leoneans. Orange and many other multinationals operating in the country currently have to bring technologists from different parts of West Africa to do coding and computing in Sierra Leone because those skill sets are not readily available in the market. She thanked Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, Chief Innovation Officer, DSTI and the Ecosystems technical lead for their openness to collaborating with the private sector.

“IPAM took the lead and generously gave us their best space for the innovation hub, and now with this commitment, Orange is taking us closer to our goals,” said Dr. Sengeh, Chief Innovation Officer, DSTI.

“When we do digitization, the private sector in Sierra Leone; the banks, and the telecommunications companies are the largest industries, so they are most important. We are engaging with the private sector and linking them with the government to ensure that the solutions that we implement for government, can be used by citizens,” he said.

With this partnership, DSTI and Orange SL will bring coding skills to the general public and create a space where anyone with a proven interest in learning computer languages can become a coding expert.

The coding school will officially open its doors to the first class of students at the end of the year.

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