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DSTI and UNDP team up to accelerate Sierra Leone’s national innovation strategy with artificial intelligence and evidence-based approaches

The Directorate of Science Technology and Innovations (DSTI) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU)  to continue collaboration on applied artificial intelligence for governance, entrepreneurship, and social good.

The MoU signed in Freetown last week provides a framework of cooperation and collaboration for both institutions to contribute to the successful implementation of the National Innovation and Digital Strategy (NIDS), especially in areas of common interest. 

In October 2019, the UNDP Country Lab also known as the Accelerator Lab for Sierra Leone was launched to examine and explore emerging untapped resources to speedup national SDG performance. The UNDP Accelerator Labs are a network of 60 labs serving 78 countries with the collective aim of finding new evidence-based approaches to problem-solving with the use of artificial intelligence, testing, mapping, and experimentation

“DSTI and UNDP have been engaging since Day 1. However, this particular agreement focuses on how we can continue to make significant inroads in the implementation of the National Innovation and Digital Strategy,” said Dr. Moinina David Sengeh.

“When the government and partners collaborate, we can identify specific areas of application to accelerate Sierra Leone’s achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. The leadership of both institutions and the technical staff are already working in this vein.”

Although the MOU makes the collaboration official, joint efforts by DSTI and UNDP were already underway as of last year that led to the delivery of a successful national UNDP Social Good Summit, and mapping of the local technology and entrepreneurship ecosystems.

“This MOU signing symbolizes UNDP’s commitment to the philosophy of the National Innovation and Digital Strategy and is a tangible evidence of our organization’s readiness to undertake the 10-year journey in partnership with the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation to accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030,” said Dr. Samuel Doe, UNDP Resident Representative.

DSTI has an open-door policy for knowledge sharing to support the work of organizations in public and private sectors seeking to use technology for development. Since its inception, DSTI has built partnerships with local and international leaders on technology and innovation, including MIT, Statistics Sierra Leone, The Gates Foundation, eGovernance Academy, and UNICEF Sierra Leone.

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DSTI Policy Brief: A Spatial and Temporal Assessment of Cases Reported at Local Courts in Sierra Leone Between 2009 and 2018

This DSTI policy brief addresses biases that may result from variation in access to the local courts by geo-spatially mapping all local court locations to determine if they are optimally located and whether the distribution gave most people the chance to access them. We also collected information on the cost of accessing each of these courts from the record books, and the length of time to resolve cases in these courts (recall information from court clerks). Acknowledgement Note: This is research was funded by the International Growth Center (IGC) in collaboration with the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation. Lead Researcher: Henry Musa Kpaka – DSTI Fellow.

Download the brief here

Blog

Sierra Leone designs online portal to take long wait out of teacher recruitment

A new teacher recruitment portal developed at the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) will make it easier and faster for education administrators to hire teachers, and allocate teachers to classrooms. The Teacher Application, Approval, and Allocation Portal (TAAAP) upgrades Sierra Leone’s paper-based teacher recruitment processes, including application, approval, and allocation system.

“We created this digital one-stop-shop Teacher Application, Approval, and Allocation Portal (TAAAP) to help streamline how schools receive the teaching staff they need,” said Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, Chief Innovation Officer.

The portal decentralizes the teacher recruitment process giving teachers and administrators access to resources for professional development, grant information, school data, and education best practice research and the latest education policies developed by the government of Sierra Leone. It also limits clerical or eligibility errors in the application process which often can be hard to detect thereby improving efficiency.

“Before, if you wanted to hire teachers, each application needed to be reviewed and signed manually by several people. A physical paper application had to be moved across the country between three different agencies. Five copies of each application were signed by both the Minister and Chair of the Teaching Service Commission. This process can often take more than six months. Many applications have been destroyed and lost in past years, leaving thousands of applicants waiting in vain for decisions that will never come,” said Dr. Sengeh.

With TAAAP, teachers can find and apply for jobs online, they can track the status of their applications, and the school administrators can see where there is a need for more teachers and make the necessary allocations. School administrators can post public job openings for all to apply to, and once reviewed and authorized, the Teaching Service Commission (TSC) can then approve the prospective hires automatically linking the records to other systems of the Ministry and TSC. Each listing is live for at least one month, and schools receive all approved hires for final selection.

The Ministry of Basic and SeniorSecondary Education and the Teaching Service Commission will adopt the portal in the implementation of Sierra Leone’s flagship Free Quality School Education Program over the next five years. Since 2018 the government of Sierra Leone has committed 21% of its annual budget to education spending to bolster human capital development. President Bio launched the National Innovation and Digital Strategy (NIDS) in November – a promise to leave no citizen behind, and a commitment to use digitization to improve the delivery of goods and services to citizens. The portal ensures that no prospective teacher applicant is left out of the recruitment process.

Citlali Trigos-Raczkowski demos TAAAP at State House – Freetown – December 2019

“We’re trying to increase transparency. Anyone that saw an application will be able to track its movement from one agency to the next. They can see who reviewed the application and who approved it. Applicants will also be able to see where their applications are at all times, whose dashboard it’s on, who has reviewed it already, and they can see when they’re going to get a response,” says Citlali Trigos-Raczkowski.

Trigos-Raczkowski, an MIT graduate with degrees in Mathematics and Computer Science, led the creation of the portal with other staff at DSTI and the Teaching Service Commission. Trigos-Raczkowski is a full-stack developer, interested in the intersection of social good and technology. As an intern at the Human Capital Development Incubator at DSTI, she worked with the team to develop the portal making it easier for citizens and decision-makers to track otherwise cumbersome recruitment processes.

“Each application leaves a digital footprint, and the portal shortens the process of teacher recruitment,” says Trigos-Raczkowski.

The portal allows for on-the-go tracking for everyone involved, high-scale authorization and authentication, and mobile-first access.

“There is a lot of back and forth and paperwork that takes up much of our time. Imagine having to sign 5000 applications from 5000 applicants each application with a total of five forms, making it 5000 times five; it’s just too much. But now, with this portal, we can take action to improve recruitment with the click of a button,” said Sorie I. Turay, Secretary, Teaching Service Commission.

Staff at Teaching Service Commission and MBSSE are testing the portal which will be made live to the public in 2020.

Blog

Drones for Good Corridor launched as drones take flight to deliver medicine to remote areas in Sierra Leone

FREETOWN; 29 November 2019 — Sierra Leone is a step closer to fast and efficient health care delivery of medical supplies, thanks to the drone corridor launched by H.E. President Julius Maada Bio in Njala today.  

During the launch, test drones were launched from the 250m runway to demonstrate the capability of drones to travel in a 200km square airspace to deliver supplies to health centers, which have traditionally experienced delays due to distances and topography.    

This new way of service provision is supported by UNICEF in partnership with Sierra Leone’s Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI).

“It is time for Sierra Leone and other developing countries to take the lead in solving our developmental challenges, such as maternal mortality. My Government has prioritised technology and innovation as an essential part of our solutions package. Using fourth industrial revolution technologies to accelerate our development goals is not an option–it is the only way we can quickly and most efficiently address the huge problems existing for our people,” said President Bio.

Sierra Leone’s maternal mortality rate is 1,165 per 100,000 live births, which is one of the highest globally. According to the Ministry of Health & Sanitation National Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child, and Adolescent Health Strategy 2017-2021, almost half (46%) of all maternal deaths are due to obstetric hemorrhage or blood loss.   

Women in remote rural communities like the Njala Kori Community Health Centre, which serves a population of 4000 residents, are at the most risk of maternal deaths and would therefore benefit from the speed and efficiency that drone technology will provide to the health sector. 

“The facilities to store blood are not widely available, so mothers die due to a lack of blood. Drones can be used to deliver this life-saving input at a cost and speed to make a real difference as we have seen in other parts of the world.” said Dr. Suleiman Braimoh, UNICEF Representative.

A drone corridor is a segregated area and airspace where drones and drone solutions can be tested for use to support different sectors in the country. With support from UNICEF Sierra Leone and UNICEF’s Office of Innovations in New York, Sierra Leone’s drone corridor will explore using aerial drones for medical deliveries, emergency response activities, agroforestry, and geospatial mapping to start. The Government of Sierra Leone, through the Civil Aviation Authority and the DSTI, is working with partners to develop a regulatory framework for drones to take flight for health service delivery and other use cases for societal impact.

Over the past weeks, DSTI has held engagements with Njala University, who signed a Memorandum of Understanding to provide the land for the corridor. Njala has committed 73 acres in total of its property to the corridor to support the drone ecosystem. Researchers and students will gain experience and new skills in drone technology as they work with DSTI and UNICEF to test use cases for drones in Sierra Leone. 

DSTI provided the technical leadership from the Government that fast tracked the construction of the corridor–their oversight will continue with the collection of data for research and decision making. 

Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, Chief Innovation Officer, said the partnership with UNICEF has made it possible for Sierra Leone to explore the use of drones for development.  He noted that DSTI and UNICEF would collect data on all drone deliveries beyond today’s test launch to gain insights to inform decision making in health service delivery for women and children. 

“Drone blood deliveries in Ghana and Rwanda are saving lives; we want to do the same,” he said.  “Sierra Leone and its partners are developing a national innovation ecosystem where problem solvers can test and scale solutions to improve health outcomes for all citizens.” 

Blog

DSTI strengthens local tech ecosystem with data science seminar

The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) has just concluded a series of data science seminars on data collection, analysis, and visualization.

Fifty-five students, researchers, scientists, and professors participated in Dr. Vukosi Marivate’s lecture for professionals interested in data science at the University of Sierra Leone-Fourah Bay College, on 7 Nov 2019. Dr. Marivate conducted a similar workshop at Njala University- Njala Campus Bo, earlier in that same week.

Data science is the study of data – involving methods of recording, storing, and analyzing data. The science of data allows for insights from both structured and unstructured data. Dr. Vukosi said the training covered data science in general, with a specific focus on data visualization and natural language processing.

“I taught data visualization today because it is straightforward to look at data in a picture and understand what it represents,” said Dr. Marivate.

“Writing long paragraphs can be confusing to understand because it takes a lot to understand written words, but single pictures can carry a thousand words.”

Data scientists are people who simplify complex data problems with their expertise in mathematics, statistics, and computer science. The development of data processing techniques in Sierra Leone is critical for all. Iye Mary Brimah-Sallu, a health worker who attended the seminar, said it was meaningful for her work.

“I am going to use the content of the teaching for my profession as a health worker and see how I can expand my knowledge on the use of Technology in the healthcare system. There is a lot of unused health care data that is just waiting to be gathered, and I know I can be that person to collate and bring them to the notice of decision-makers,” said Brimah-Sallu.

DSTI’s mission is to help Sierra Leone become an innovation and entrepreneurial hub where data supports decisions made in business and government. Over the past 12 months the Directorate has held several workshops on machine learning, DNA sequencing, and scientific writing for academics, civil servants, youth and start-up leaders.

“For many years, the country has lacked the value and appreciation of data. It is high time we caught up with the rest of the world in the use of data to make decisions and to make sure the population is data literate,” said Jasper Sembi, Operations Lead, DSTI.

Blog

DSTI and two engineers from Facebook host two-day hackathon for Sierra Leonean students

Abdoul-Kader Keita and Patrick Taylor, two West African developers at Facebook in consultation with the Chief Innovation Officer of DSTI, Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, held a two-day hands-on-learning hackathon at the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation on Nov 9-10 in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Hackathons are events in which programmers, designers, those involved in computer software development, and problem-solvers come together to solve problems with innovative ideas.
Before the hackathon could get underway, participants were taught the basics of data structures, algorithms, and modern web server development with python. Teaching was necessary because very few were able to complete the online test setup to measure participants’ programming skills.

The hackathon brought together 25 young people, including students from Limkokwing, Fourah Bay College, Njala University, and the University of Makeni–most of them first-time developers to solve the problem of student registration at universities. Every year during the first couple weeks of the new semester, thousands of students across Sierra Leone spend hours in queues waiting to register for classes. The hackathon tried to develop alternative ways to register to ease student strain.

Coding at DSTI

“More than one hundred software developers in Sierra Leone took the test, but only 12 were able to pass,” said Mahmoud Javombo, Ecosystem Manager at the Directorate of Science Technology and Innovation. With a population of more than 7 million, that has just 25 developers means that more needs to be done to promote coding skills.

Those who gained entry to participate in the two-day workshop, and hackathon were able to develop the knowledge they needed but did not have to perform the functions required to attempt to solve the problem of registration.

“Technology is not complicated with the right guidance, right structures, everybody can make significant progress in a short time,” said Abdul Kader, an Ivorian software engineer at Facebook.

Mary Sia Konoyema, a third-year student of the Limkokwing University of Creative Technology, said she had learned a lot in these two days.

“I had done two programs, but I just did it out of obligation, but now I know a better way of doing things.”

She said she was introduced to APIs during the workshop, and she learned how to create and work using the API system.

API stands for Application Programming Interface. An API is a software intermediary that allows two applications to talk to each other. In other words, an API is a messenger that delivers your request to the provider that you’re requesting it from and then responds to you.

Hackers at the student registration hackathon at DSTI – Nov 9, 2019

“Their output was great. We were amazed at the brilliance of students that they gave high-quality output in terms of their progression from day one to day two. This shows that a lot of them were able to pick up a new understanding of the new programming language,” said Kader.

The top 3 performers at the hackathon will intern with DSTI to work with software developers, data engineers, and scientists. The hackathon was the fifth held by DSTI in just 12 months. Hackathons and workshops are part of DSTI’s broader mission to create and transfer knowledge locally to strengthen the local ecosystems for technology and innovation.

Kader and Taylor will head over to Ivory Coast, where they’ll hold the same event for developers there in a bid to get local developers on the continent focused on problem-solving.

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DSTI signs MoU with Purposeful Organisation to bring innovation to grassroots programs for girls 

The Directorate of Science Technology and Innovations (DSTI) and Purposeful have signed an agreement that will support the latter’s work to deliver data-driven girl-centered development programs.  

The Memorandum of Understanding signed at State House last week allows the two institutions to collaborate for Sierra Leone’s achievement of SDG 5–gender equality of all women and girls. 

Purposeful mobilizes resources to support grassroots organizations and movements that amplify girls’ voices and challenge the structures that hamper girls’ achievement in Sierra Leone.

“This unique partnership will yield multiple innovative solutions for the girls of Sierra Leone and for the country as a whole, ” said Ms. Michealla George, Policy Lead, and Acting Director, DSTI.

Through this MoU, the Directorate will share data on issues affecting the human capital development of girls available through its IGIS Portal (www.gis.dsti.gov.sl) and the Education Data Hub (www.educationdatahub.dsti.gov.sl) that Purposeful will use to inform service delivery and program design. 

“It gives us and our partners the opportunity to access and use the most up to date, customised data for our strategic and programme decisions,” said Chernor Bah, CEO of Purposeful.

“We will innovate the way work and how to measure the impact of our work as we press for progress for girls inSierra Leone.”

DSTI has an open-door policy for knowledge sharing to support the work of organizations in the public and private sectors seeking to use technology for development. 

Blog, NIDS

DSTI Sierra Leone’s Integrated GIS Portal launched at NIDS wins $773,000 grant from the Gates Foundation

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded a $773,476 grant to the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) to develop an Integrated GIS Portal that will utilize technology, software and devices to collect, label and model data to inform real-time government and development partner decision making. The grant will also seek to strengthen the local ecosystem around human capacity development. This grant for expanding the GIS Portal is in addition to the support already provided by the Foundation to Sierra Leone’s Innovation in Government Human Capacity Development Incubator launched by H.E. President Julius Maada Bio in December 2018 at GoalKeepers South Africa. 

 “This generous support provided by the Bill & Melinda Foundation will enable DSTI to use low-cost technology solutions like SMS, USSD, interactive voice response, and mobile Apps to provide citizens with real-time information for timely access and receipt of services, and optimize service delivery specifically in the provision of maternal healthcare services,” said Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, Chief Innovation Officer.

 “We will further be able to collect and analyze data that will be provided to government service providers to optimize and improve their services both for supply chain and resource allocation.”

The Integrated Geographic Information System (iGIS) Portal 1.0 (www.gis.dsti.gov.sl) is a cross-sectoral spatial data infrastructure and geodatabase. The portal links diverse geographic information datasets from the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) and its partners. It supports GoSL in implementing policies and interventions towards the National Development Plan and the Sustainable Development Goals. H.E. President Bio has prioritized Human Capital Development as a central focus for Sierra Leone (SDG Goals 2, 3, 4 representing Food Security, Healthcare, and Quality Education, respectively). The iGIS portal, designed and implemented by DSTI in collaboration with Statistics Sierra Leone, brings together the data to support this national and Presidential vision. 

“The Foundation’s support will serve as the seed funding for the scaling of the Integrated GIS Portal and will support the collection of critical data and develop analyses to promote health, agriculture, environmental, and education outcomes,” said Glenna Wilson, Data Engineer, and GIS Portal Project Lead.

“By the project’s completion, the government will have the evidence to efficiently target HCD investment resources towards the most impactful interventions and to effectively coordinate investments by government, development partners, NGOs, and the private sector.”

In August 2018, Dr. Sengeh met with Bill Gates as they discussed issues on the intersections of technology and global health service delivery in the lead up to the second edition of Goalkeepers. A month later, President Bio joined the two innovators at Goalkeepers in New York, where he shared his bold vision to set Sierra Leone in the right direction with a focus on human capital development. 

At the launch of the National Innovation and Digital Strategy (NIDS) in Freetown two weeks ago, President Bio thanked the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for their continued support of technology for development in Sierra Leone.

Blog

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

“We the citizens – the designers, scientists, artists, and civic leaders – are the problem-solvers who will transform Sierra Leone into a prosperous innovation nation.”

The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) announces that Chief Innovation Officer Dr. Moinina David Sengeh has been appointed by H.E. President Julius Maada Bio to lead the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE). 

Dr. Sengeh will serve as Chief Innovation Officer and Minister of MBSSE concurrently.

DSTI remains ever committed to its mission to use science, and technology to support the effective and efficient delivery of Sierra Leone’s national development plan. We would like to use this opportunity to encourage citizens to continue to SMS to *468# (*GOV#) to find and locate services nearest to them. Feedback on this service primarily for every citizen could be sent to info@dsti.gov.sl

Our team of data scientists, policy analysts, and technology enthusiasts will continue their work on the education datahub (http://education.dsti.gov.sl), the GIS portal (www.gis.dsti.gov.sl), the USSD project (*468#), and digital governance.

Dr. Sengeh, as Minister, and Chief Innovation Officer will continue to provide technical leadership and stewardship to DSTI. His appointment strengthens the already great existing working relationship between MBSSE and DSTI as the two institutions innovate to put quality into education.

DSTI will continue it’s work to support MDAs with technology and data for decision making as the Government aspires to make Sierra Leone into an innovation hub.

Blog

No citizen left behind – Sierra Leone develops a smart new direction towards innovation

FREETOWN – Sierra Leone’s Directorate for Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) has unveiled a national vision to digitize the way the government manages its resources and how citizens receive services.

Dr. Moinina David Sengeh , chief innovation officer checks the 3D printer on stage for the launch of Sierra Leone’s National Innovation and Digital Strategy – 1 November 2019 at Bintumani Conference Centre in Aberdeen, Freetown.

President Julius Maada Bio officially launched the National Digital and Innovation Strategy (NIDS) in Freetown on Friday, 1 November. He hopes it will boost and quicken Sierra Leone’s human capital development.

DSTI, which celebrated its first anniversary this week, is the agency that provided the technical know-how for Sierra Leone’s plan to go from analog to digital over the next 3 to 10 years. The foundation for digitization under NIDS comes after eight months of consultation with government and civil society leaders, donors, international actors, and citizens. A delegation from Sierra Leone also took a learning tour to Estonia-recognized global leaders for state-led digitization and e-governance. 

“What I have learned in engagement with innovators, and technologists from MIT, TED and here within Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation is that if we are open to exploring new ideas, and innovatively doing things, we not only gain a better understanding of our development challenges but we also solve the problems affecting our people,” said President Bio. 

Sierra Leone has a population of 7 million, with 57% living in poverty. Out of 188 countries, it is ranked 184 on the United Nations 2018 Human Development Index. Other countries with the same GDP per capita rank better on the HCD Index. The country’s medium-term development plan notes that public service delivery does not meet the population’s basic needs for developing human capital. 

Over 55% of households in Sierra Leone own a mobile phone, and it is this fact that makes digitization plausible. Citizens can already access a DSTI Integrated Geographical Information System (iGIS) to retrieve information about public service infrastructure. With the iGIS Portal, citizens can use Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) to send an SMS to the shortcode *468# to locate government services-‘find my nearest school,’ ‘hospital,’ or ‘local court,’ saving time and in cases of emergency facilitating life-saving interventions.

Sierra Leone is embracing digitization so that no citizen gets left behind. It hopes to have every national own a digital ID. All government employees, ministries, departments and agencies, and national assets will also be digitized. Banking and financial services will also be digitized-the latter already underway as of August when Sierra Leone became the first country to deploy blockchain digital ID platform to make financial services accessible to the unbanked. 

With NIDS, the government will better understand when, how, and where to provide services, and more importantly, which services will deliver the most impact towards the HCD. 

For the vision to become a reality, the government’s leaders must embrace the change, said the Chief Innovation Officer. 

One government agency already leading the way is Statistics SL – the agency that collects, stores, and analyzes demographic data to inform decision making. NIDS enables researchers at Stats to launch a Comprehensive Health and Epidemiological Surveillance System (CHESS)-a longitudinal study that will follow participants throughout their life. CHESS relies on e-ID to link data from health facilities to community-level information.

“We struggled to create the electronic identification system in other countries like Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Burkina Faso, India and Vietnam where we implemented CHESS for research,” said 

Sierra Leone’s Statistician-General, Professor Mallam O. Sankoh, a global expert on development research and data for decision making.

Sierra Leone’s government aims to be fully underway on its digitization journey by 2023. Over five million citizens already have a digital ID that unlocks with their thumbprint. DSTI has developed a fleet management system that tracks and manages government vehicles to stop the kind of loss that occurred in 2018 when thousands of cars belonging to the state went missing.

25-year-old Jane Williams from Cole Farm, who works at a local media company, said that to her digitization matters because of accountability.

“This will also give citizens peace of mind knowing we can use digital data to monitor officials in terms of corruption,” said Williams at Bintumani Conference Centre after the launch of NIDS.

“Sierra Leone doesn’t lead in many things, but today with DSTI and the launch of NIDS, we can say we lead with technology for development.”

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