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The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supports Drones in Sierra Leone for medical supply chain innovation

On 20th, October 2020, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded a grant of $131,130 to the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI) to support the proposal for the design of a sustainable and cost-effective drone-delivery model for integration into Sierra Leone’s medical supply chain.

This is a supplement to the grant that was previously awarded for the support of The Integrated Geographic Information System (iGIS)  Portal, a cross-sectoral spatial data infrastructure and geodatabase.

“When DSTI presented their vision to the Interagency Supplies Group on UAS I was determined to support them. I had been aware of the project from a distance, but it was important to hear the clear articulation of how they planned to work across the different departments of the Sierra Leone Government, and with UNICEF and Crown Agents. Supporting and empowering DSTI helps ensure this is Government-led, that partners selection is consistent with Government procurement protocols and that there is a plan to fund implementation in the medium term that donors can get behind.” David Sarley, Senior Program Officer- Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The National Development plan has as one of its strategic objectives, “to transform the health sector from an under-resourced, ill-equipped, and inadequate delivery system into a well resourced and functioning national health-care delivery system that is affordable for everyone and accessible to all.” Consequently, optimizing the speed, responsiveness and efficiency of the existing medical supply chain, through the use of drones to improves access to essential medical supplies, could be a key factor in influencing that outcome.

As an affordable technological device, a drone has the potential to provide increased access to areas in Sierra Leone previously thought too remote or unnavigable. Drones can complete a trip, in under 90 minutes from a single, central location on a drop-and-return basis. This provides leaders and decision-makers in the Ministry of health and Sanitation (MoHS), the following:

  •  a real-time, on-demand delivery strategy for cold chain essential medical supplies  
  •  a cost-effective, timely option for hospitals  and rural community health centres restock rural community health centres to restock 
  •  amplify logistics capabilities by extending the current limited diagnostic coverage 
  •  a rapid-response strategy to pathogen outbreak 

DSTI, in collaboration with the National Medical Supply Agency (NMSA), and their development partners, intend to design a 5-year project to integrate a national drone-based, multi-commodity, medical delivery system in Sierra Leone. This builds on the existing rapport and collaboration with UNICEF Sierra Leone Innovation Office. UNICEF, through the UNICEF Innovation Fund provides resources to quickly assess, fund and scale companies, teams, and ideas that have been developed in new and emerging markets. The Innovation Fund supports the generation of open source, public goods that address the most pressing challenges facing children. It was under this mandate that the collaboration between DSTI and UNICEF SL was forged, leading to the establishment of West Africa’s first Drone / UAV / UAS testing corridor in Sierra Leone in November 2019.  

“In Sierra Leone, innovation is not an option. It is our determination to use fourth industrial revolution technologies to solve our most intractable problems. To see our work in drones, advance from idea, to a drone corridor, and now being projected on a flight path is incredible. The day when lives will be saved because of cost-effective national drone delivery mechanisms is upon us in Sierra Leone. With the partnerships being created and led by government, the impact will be transformational.” Dr David  Moinina Sengeh, CIO 

In line with the objective of developing Sierra Leone’s drone ecosystem organically, the design team will be putting out an expression of interest inviting suppliers to demo multiple use cases and UAV capacity in the corridor to inform the final proposal document. A scholarship would be awarded to the supplier selected using the grant resources.  

The Managing Director of the NMSA, Dr Lawrence Sandy, hopes that the introduction of drone technology will support and enhance the timely delivery of critically needed medical commodities such as blood products, and temperature sensitive drugs like oxytocin to remote and hard to reach communities. He continued by saying, 

“This would save precious lives, empower our health workforce, and strengthen our healthcare systems. A healthcare system is only as good as having the ability to deliver critically needed life-saving products at service delivery points to treat, prevent and reduce disease burden on individuals and communities. As a nation, we’ve made significant strides over the last two years to optimize our drug distribution systems. We are with a strong view that this innovation will reduce our maternal and child mortality and morbidity, improve health outcomes and strengthen our supply chain into a more resilient outfit. We look forward to a fostered partnership and close collaboration on this national drone project.

To make any inquiries, send an email to drones@dsti.gov.sl

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Government of Sierra Leone’s open source initiative “OpenG2P” developed during COVID-19 announced as a UN Digital Public Good

The UN-based Digital Public Goods Alliance adds OpenG2P as a digital public good in alignment with the Digital Public Goods Standard.   Bootstrapped by a dynamic group of innovators at the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI), Government of Sierra Leone, “OpenG2P” emerged out of the 2014-2016 Sierra Leone Ebola Payments Program, and is developed as a set of open-source building blocks to help Governments worldwide digitize their social protection programs. 

In today’s Covid-19 pandemic, accelerating cash transfers is the single most important response to getting assistance in the hands of frontline workers and vulnerable groups in a timely and transparent manner.  However, many governments across the world are hampered by limited interoperability within their nascent digital infrastructures such as identity, payment ecosystem, and social protection enrollment systems. OpenG2P creates a framework to digitize cash transfer programs through a set of open source, free to use, digital solutions that build on existing infrastructures to address country-specific gaps. 

Dr. David Sengeh, Chief Innovation Officer of DSTI and one of the architects of OpenG2P said; “Mobilizing cash transfers and payment of beneficiaries through digital bank accounts and mobile wallets is not the singular magic potion that solves governments’ Covid-19-related social protection challenges. But it is a critical step to ensuring that the right people get the resources they need in a transparent way. This is why today we are proud to be recognized for our work within government and the entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

The ultimate goal of OpenG2P is to provide a seamless solution that helps governments increase the efficacy of their economic relief, maximize choice for their citizens, and improve financial inclusion while protecting their right to data privacy and informed consent.

“These complexities around implementation will be solved by building a collaborative cross-sectoral ecosystem that can continually verify, enroll and pay with improved transparency, accountability, and choice for citizens,” said Mr Salton Massally who is the technical lead and architect of OpenG2P.

OpenG2P is also selected as one of the 7 key projects along with MojaLoop, Mifos, and MOSIP by the Alliance’s Financial Inclusion Community of Practice to help advance the Secretary General’s digital cooperation roadmap to achieve greater financial inclusion and meet the sustainable development goals by 2030. As such, Paul Maritz, a seasoned early stage open source investor, will provide catalytic co-funding for the reference implementation of OpenG2P in Sierra Leone through the Digital Inclusion Foundation

DSTI collaborated with key partners Mifos, DIAL and iDT Labs on OpenG2P through voluntary non-financial contributions of James Dailey and Ed Cable of Mifos, Salton Massally and Keyzom Ngodup Massally as independent advisors.

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The Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation and EDACY to Launch Digital Skill Program for the Public Servants

November 4th 2020 – The Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI) of Sierra Leone and EDACY launch a digital skills program – “Digital Foundations for Public Service Program” to provide Sierra Leone government employees with access to digital skills training.

COVID-19 has altered the technological landscape of many industries. Digital technology is now the centre of operation for many industries. In light of such transformations, there is a pressing need for public servants to upskill or re-skill in order to have the necessary digital skills and digital mindset to contribute in building and fostering opportunities in the public initiatives during and post-COVID.

His Excellency the President, Dr. Julius Maada Bio’s Human Capital Development Agenda aims to equip and enable Sierra Leoneans to acquire the necessary skills sets that would make them competitive in the twenty-first-century workforce and global economy. In support of this, DSTI in partnership with other government stakeholders has identified the upscaling of the public sector workforce as essential for much-needed capacity building and preparation for the ‘Future of Work’ in government services.

In this regard, DSTI has partnered with EDACY to provide an opportunity for public servants in Sierra Leone to undertake and earn a certification on Digital Foundations for Public Service. 250 participants will be part of a first phase and the possibility to expand to more public servants will be discussed before phase one resumes.

Michala Mackay, the Director and Chief Operating Officer of DSTI, asserted that, 

continuous learning and capacity building in the public sector is a must in order for Sierra Leone to drive a robust innovative agenda. Opportunities of this nature are welcoming as the knock-on effect in institutional strengthening and ultimately improved government service delivery is assured …

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

 As policy leaders in the 21st century, we need the right skills, language and acumen to solve the very complex problems we face today. While these problems often transcend technology, innovation is critical for developing impactful solutions. This is why we see very senior government officials including cabinet ministers and heads of agencies showing interest in these programs 

Said Temitope Ola – Founder and President, EDACY.

At EDACY, we believe that access to great development opportunities in today’s digital world comes from the right learning experiences, mixing digital tools, collaborative learning and peer reviews. We launched the Digital Foundations for Public Services Program with the desire to help African governments with high-quality training. We are now delighted to collaborate with the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI) of Sierra Leone and support their employees’ capability development. 

EDACY, in partnership with the Swiss Institute of Technology (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne – EPFL), created the Digital Foundations for Public Services – a 5-week online program, designed to equip government employees with the skills, knowledge and mindset needed to successfully navigate the “new normal” driven by digital technology and innovation.

Government employees who participate in the program will be able to improve their organization’s processes, service delivery and operations for digital. They will also be able to explore and find new tools and technologies for their current organization’s challenges and to identify new solutions and ways to accomplish their work and day-to-day tasks.

About EDACY

EDACY is a fast-growing Swiss-based Edtech company that partners with leading universities and top global product companies to develop and offer certified short online courses to upskill the workforce for the 4th Industrial Revolution and shape the future of public services. (www.edacy.com)

Register Here: https://rb.gy/rnpfh2

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Sierra Leone’s Quarantine App Offers Real-time Data, Improves Citizen Service Delivery

A mobile application developed for the National COVID-19 Emergency Response Center (NaCOVERC) has made it easier for officials in Sierra Leone to track services at quarantine facilities. The Quarantine App can be used to log and track food delivery, date in and expected date out of quarantined persons, psychosocial support and other services in real-time.

Benjamin Davies, Research and Operations Manager, and Foday Kamara, Software Developer HCD Incubator DSTI have trained Quarantine Supervisors, Ops Coordinators, Field Managers, and all-district  ICT staff to use the Quarantine App which was developed with the support of DSTI partner Dimagi.

“Before this app was developed, one would have to log information in a book and then get a data entry clerk to enter it on a computer and then find a reliable internet connection to send that information to Freetown, ” says Davies.

The training sessions took place over thirteen weeks at District COVID-19 Emergency Response Center (DICOVERC) nationwide. 

”With the App, the moment monitors go to the site, enter the information, and click sync, the server makes the information readily available nationwide. It allows for real-time decision-making based on the facts on the ground at that particular moment,” says Kamara. 

Since the rollout of the app in July, there has been a significant reduction in complaints made by contacts in quarantine facilities. The Quarantine App is connected to the 117 Call Center so accurate information could be provided to persons in quarantine..

Over 11,144 people have been in quarantine so far according to the latest figures from the Ministry of Health and Sanitation September 21 Situation Report on Covid-19.

Wilsona Jalloh, Acting Team Lead, Human Capital Development Incubator

”We would have had the App and the tablets with end-users earlier but the lack of flights and Covid-19 restrictions slowed down the rollout process, ”  said Wilsona Jalloh, Acting Team Lead, Human Capital Development Incubator. 

”We are thrilled to have collaborated with our global and local partners  to make our quarantined homes and centres easier to manage for our frontline workers, and more suitable for citizens affected by Covid-19.”

Since the outbreak, Sierra Leone has used technology to replace inefficient manual processes and in so doing strengthened the wider healthcare system and improve the national pandemic response.

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Government Incubator Education Innovation Summit highlights lessons from national pilot program

Learning by experimentation was the theme at the Education Innovation Summit hosted by the Human Capital Development (HCD) Incubator in Freetown, Sierra Leone last week. President Julius Maada Bio launched the HCD in 2018 as an Innovation in Government Incubator to test, seed, and scale innovations related to health, agriculture, and education.

The Incubator hosted education partners, Save the Children-SL, Rising Academy Networks, EducAid, National Youth Awareness Forum Sierra Leone (NYAFSL), and World Vision SL to exchange ideas, best practices, and innovations in education service delivery. Their winning ideas are currently being implemented in 170 schools and communities in Phase One of the Education Innovation Challenge

The leaderships of the Directorate of Science, Technology, & Innovation, the Ministry of Basic Senior Secondary School Education (MBSSE), and the Teaching Service Commission jointly co-chaired the event.

The Minister of MBSSE, Dr. David Sengeh, said that access to quality education in Sierra Leone has always been unequal; rural communities have had less than the Western Areas, and girls and women less than their male counterparts. He said that making education inclusive was a guiding principle for the Free Quality School Education Program. He also announced that the Education Innovation Challenge was to receive additional donor funding that would extend the pilot phase. 

Dr. Staneala Beckley

The Chairperson of the Teaching Service Commission, Dr. Staneala Beckley, said that the Summit’s purpose was to assess the pilot’s impact on learning outcomes for children. She said that the challenges and lessons gleaned from this phase would inform the pilot. 

Two representatives from the HCD and DSTI; Benjamin Davies and Foday N. Kamara, presented the EIC baseline findings—data collected from a random sample of ~10,000 students whose literacy and numeracy levels were evaluated by researchers before the pilot.

Wilsona Jalloh of the HCD Incubator gave a summary of The Challenge so far and reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to data collection. She said that the findings drive decision-making—not just the pilot design but education policy. The pilot’s singular focus is to improve learning outcomes for all of the children in Sierra Leone. The HCD will conduct an end-line study and review the 2020 National Primary School Examination results to learn more about the interventions’ impact. 

There was a breakout session for the various EIC implementing organizations. They brainstormed in smaller groups with DSTI, HCD, and other education stakeholders to understand what worked, the challenges, and outstanding questions. 

The EIC Summit closed with a recommitment of Government to the partners who will continue these innovations in education service delivery.

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Government is big; but it is small enough for one to have real impact built on vision and values

When you think about government and working for the government, what do you imagine? 

Two years ago, a word cloud of my perceptions read something like this: Governance, Politics, Opaque Systems, Policy, Regulations. At the time, I had just been offered (after a competitive process) the opportunity to work for the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) at the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI). While I had spent the majority of my career in the public sector, I had never worked directly in government (and definitely not close to an Office of the President) and had no idea what this pivot might mean. At the time of the offer, I had built a career and identity focused on studying, deconstructing and organizing against systemic power dynamics in the international development space; designing, running and facilitating adolescent girls programs and movements globally. I am a lawyer but I saw myself as metaphorical David, the small and powerful antidote to Goliath and his excesses.

Substituting the government for Goliath in my imagination and experiences, I struggled with this cognitive gap and had difficulty imagining how I would fit in and what value I would bring. Nonetheless, I was deeply inspired and compelled by H.E. President Bio’s desire to center science and evidence in his government’s decision making and by Dr. David Sengeh’s vision and values for DSTI. I saw the magic and wanted to be part of it. I wanted to help build and resource it. I stood a chance, I thought, to broaden my experience, lending it more grit and a more balanced perspective, deepen my humility and desire to serve as I heard that working in government can be a thankless job. At the very least, I would update my word cloud and perspective on government. 

Turns out, I could not have chosen a better landing and transition into government. Whereas I expected big government and the attendant bureaucracies and inefficiencies, DSTI was an enabling oasis that allowed my colleagues and I the privilege of exercising unbounded intellectual and creative freedoms in effectively crafting our mission, our team and work environment. Under those conditions, we set out “to use science, technology and innovation to support the Government of Sierra Leone to deliver on its national development plan effectively and efficiently; and to help transform Sierra Leone into an innovation and entrepreneurship hub”. We would aim to build a culture that was rooted in the ethos of collaboration, openness, agility and one that focused on the future, problem-solving and humility to unlearn and learn with and from others. We curated a team and environment where young people (in my late thirties, I am one of the oldest staffers at DSTI) and women were not just equally numbered but equally voiced. DSTI is arguably the most gender equal institution in government I am aware of. For me, this is a high note not only because this outcome was consistent with my feminist values, but our approach to recruitment I believe guaranteed that we were able to curate the best and most capable team to deliver our mission in government.

DSTIWomen

I have worked with brilliant and thoughtful men at DSTI without a doubt, however, it is the young women at DSTI whom I have been privileged to collaborate with, to champion and work with that give me the most hope for our country and its future. In those DSTIWomen, I saw and experienced compassion, empathy, drive, humility, honesty, wisdom and brilliance, all qualities that we desperately need at the top of our government structures. The freedoms that allowed us to act were underwritten by a few factors which were enabling in ways I cannot overstate: the start-up nature of DSTI, the complete endorsement of the executive, and the appointment of solid leadership to DSTI with crystal clear vision. Why at the end of the day do all of these matter when experience in and of the larger government remains different? 

I believe that DSTI and what we have built at DSTI matters not as an aberration in the matrix but as a demonstration of what is possible and beyond within our ecosystem. It is an example of what is possible when we imagine different, when Goliath cedes power, when we have leaders who are driven by values, evidence and empathy.  

As if that wasn’t all enough, I also had the chance to move and influence several systems shifting initiatives while at DSTI- something not often imagined possible in government systems. I did this at a level I could only have dreamt of in my previous roles. Coming from the NGO space, I am attuned to the fact that many best in class ideas from the field never break through the project cocoon to replicate and embed in more scalable and sustainable structures. Government can be the north star for scale and sustainability so in my work I had always eyed and appreciated the possibilities and benefits that could come out of innovating alongside government. I just never thought I would be innovating from within government with the necessary mandate to collaborate, convene, influence and actually witness how my work actively molds and shapes government programs and policy that have direct impact on society. Just last year, a team I led at DSTI, in close collaboration with Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE), Teaching Service Commission (TSC), the Tony Blair Institute and other senior government advisors, launched (through the Human Capital Incubator) its first Education Innovation Challenge– a US$1.5M initiative.

Leveraging the Free Quality School Education Programme launched by the central government, the Education Innovation Challenge is designed to support quality education outcomes in Sierra Leone by working with education service providers to test innovations aimed at radically boosting learning outcomes from Sierra Leonean children at the primary school level. This programme was designed with a learning objective (DSTI was involved in design and implementation to the extent that we were interested in creating a solutions ecosystem with MBSSE) and with an end goal and transition plan to MBSSE, the government body with the education mandate. This means as I now plan my move away from DSTI, the first  Education Innovation Challenge has also grown and entered its next phase. Earlier this year, we brokered a partnership with the Education Outcomes Fund to scale the experiment to a pilot which will find a new implementation home within the MBSSE with significant financial commitments from government and other partners.The speed and efficiency of this adoption is remarkable and I deeply appreciate that it would not have been as seamless working from outside government.

I also anchored GoSL’s relationship with the Digital Public Goods Alliance, where the Republic of Sierra Leone is one of four champions, helping influence and shape policy and facilitate resources for open digital technologies and data models towards the attainment of the sustainable development goals in countries like and including Sierra Leone. I was center in facilitating transformative trips and relationships, including the Harvard-MIT engagements and our grant awards, that birthed many other opportunities and involved pitching and persuading partners to direct investment in government through DSTI to enable us to drive evidence-based policymaking and research. These engagements have measurable, visible and direct impact on the lives of people and this is humbling. 

Lest I start to give the impression that it was all la vie en rose, it is important to note at this point that I also encountered numerous challenges and frustrations in my work and not everything I touched turned to gold. In fact, I did fail at times. Some argue that failure makes learning possible. I agree, with a broad caveat that failure makes learning possible within an institution only when that institution is keen to learn, is flexible and has a built in ability to absorb and bounce back. One failure that does stand out is my inability to successfully establish a physical hub space for the Human Capital Development Incubator.

When I joined DSTI, the team had already brokered an agreement with an academic institution in University of Sierra Leone (IPAM)  to use their penthouse space for DSTI. The ambition at DSTI was to design and create a hub space that would accommodate the HCD Incubator, IPAM student entrepreneurs and a coding school. In fact we had entered into an agreement with a corporate sponsor to establish the coding school. The sponsor had agreed to cover recurring costs of running the school and as owner of the space and school, DSTI would cover the capital and all other costs associated with establishing and running the Incubator space and coding school. Unfortunately, I was not able to mobilize the full funding we needed to kickstart this important project. This delay caused some frustration for our partners and while the project hung in limbo, we had to cede use of the penthouse space back to IPAM and there is a chance our corporate sponsors will move ahead without us.The HCD Incubator, even without an official space, operated and thrived from my tiny office at DSTI. At one time, that space was host to more than 6 staffers at a time! Good times.

A big shout out to every career civil servant who has toiled under a less than ideal and enabling condition as I have during my short time in government. I understand my experience is not representative of the majority and the very outcomes that have made my time so fulfilling are not guaranteed even over the course of a career. This is so because moving big bureaucratic systems can be onerous and systemic changes happen slowly and impact often is not felt until years later, often time after a particular administration has passed. I think of it this way: our lines remain long- our lines for opportunities, ministry lines, recruitment lines, payment systems, even getting paid takes longer than what it should- and for citizens, most interaction with government most likely still feels like a long waiting game.

These challenges are exactly why DSTI should exist and be optimized for: The freedoms and mandate granted DSTI are extraordinary and necessary in our quest to enable an ecosystem that accelerates and leapfrogs our national progress whether it is through solving for our basic literacy and numeracy issues, making it easier to do business in Sierra Leone or designing systems to enable government to do its work faster, optimize service delivery to citizens and reduce the time citizens spend waiting for basic government services in health, education or other social services.

I acknowledge we are far from solving our most critical problems and some of the issues I have worked on and highlighted here are still percolating—as a country, we still have a gender problem, we are still struggling with our education outcomes, many of our compatriots do not have the basic necessities but I am proud that in my time at DSTI, I had the opportunity to be changemaker and part of the solution to help demonstrate, build and show the kind of changes that will drive the President’s vision for a true new direction—a Sierra Leone fit for every child and every woman and every citizen.

Click here to apply for the position of Head of Global Partnerships and Business Development.

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Sierra Leone launches Online Travel Portal to Manage Passenger Safety During the Pandemic

Travel.Gov.Sl is Sierra Leone’s official travel registration portal for passengers arriving at or departing from Freetown International Airport. The ICT Covid-19 Response PIllar manages the site which processes travel authorisation and assists the Surveillance Pillar with contact tracing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Government of Sierra Leone has reopened its national airspace to commercial flights after air, land, and sea borders were closed on March 22, 2020. Public health and aviation officials agree that one key way to build traveler confidence and continue to flatten the coronavirus curve is with increased testing.

Sierra Leone’s travel protocols effective July 22, 2020, require all passengers to apply for a travel permit from Travel.Gov.Sl. To receive permission to travel in or out of the country, each passenger must provide the following: A negative COVID-19 PCR lab test result issued no longer than 72hours before departure, proof of payment for a COVID-19 PCR test in Sierra Leone, and a completed public health locator form. Children ages two years old and younger are exempt from testing. Travel.Gov.Sl is the one-stop-shop that will process all requirements and issue travel authorizations.

Travel.Gov.Sl is available 24/7. Passengers can register and pay for their tests online and through mobile money. They can order a regular or premium test, with the latter offering appointment flexibility.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak in Sierra Leone the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation as the lead of the ICT Pillar of the National Covid-19 Emergency Response has worked with various Ministries, Departments, and Agencies, Local ICT experts and development partners to deploy digital tools to improve the fight against the coronavirus. Fix Solutions, a technology company has played a leading role in the design and deployment of the travel web application. 


From drones for surveillance during lockdowns to an e-pass solution to ease travel restrictions, and a COVID-19 Self-Check SMS and USSD Mobile Application; DSTI continues to champion Sierra Leone’s commitment to national innovation.

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