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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.

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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

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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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Njala University in Sierra Leone leads the way in preparing students for 21st Century jobs

Njala University is taking a new approach to learning with a focus on technology and innovation in Sierra Leone. Leaders at the university say that if graduates do not have the skills to match emerging job market opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, the institution would be failing its students and not be fit for purpose.   

At an academic seminar at the University’s Mokonde campus, Dr. Maurice Sesay, Acting Head of Physics & Computer Science laid out a plan for how computational thinking, connectivity, and coding can be used to prepare students for 21st Century jobs. According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Sierra Leone’s youth unemployment rate is 70% with some 800,000 young people looking for jobs at any given time.  

Dr. Maurice Sesay, Acting Head of Physics & Computer Science (l) and Professor Abdullah Mansaray, Vice-Chancellor & Principal, Nuala University hold up official membership certification to the Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab (JWEL)

“We need to bridge the gap between the university and the workforce so that the curriculum can be designed to make students more marketable,” said Dr. Sesay.

Dr. Sesay who recently returned from a week-long hands-on workshop in April at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston is the focal point for Njala’s membership at the Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab (J-WEL) at MIT. The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) at the Office of the President appointed Njala University to be Sierra Leone’s beneficiary into the J-WEL program because it is the nation’s leading educational institution for STEM with a robust research program in Computer Science and technical postgraduate education.  DSTI, whose mandate is to transform Sierra Leone into an innovation nation, has an ongoing research and knowledge-sharing relationship with MIT that includes forging partnerships between academic institutions in Sierra Leone and MIT.

J-WEL is an incubator for change which “aims to spark a global renaissance in education for all learners, by leveraging MIT’s resources to convene a global community of collaborators for sustainable, high-impact transformation in education through research, policy, pedagogy, and practice.” J-WEL membership includes other higher and technical institutions from Asia, South America, Europe, and Africa.

Njala’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor Dr. Joseph Sherman-Kamara said that DSTI’s support through J-WEL would allow the institution to harness the tools needed to make graduates more employable.

“Higher education systems around the world are undergoing a tremendous transformation in the face of unpredictable circumstances in the job market due to rapid advancements,” said Dr. Sherman-Kamara.

The 21st Century technological revolution, also known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, means that mechanized jobs are giving way to automation; creating a demand for STEM skills,  computing, and data science. Rapid prototyping, Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, and social media marketing are some of the 20 fastest growing skills in the world. Those who cannot learn the language of computing will be left behind.

“Coding is just a language; everyone can code. The best students, the most marketable, will be those who can speak spoken languages as well as computer languages like python,” said Dr. Sesay.

In attendance at the Seminar were higher education administrators from across Sierra Leone including the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Njala University, the Vice Chancellor of the Ernest Bai Koroma University of Science and Technology, and other representatives from Eastern Polytechnic in Kenema, and Milton Margai College of Education and Technology.  

At the end of the Seminar by Dr. Maurice Sesay, Njala and DSTI signed a Memorandum of Understanding. Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, Sierra Leone’s Chief Innovation Officer, said that Njala has demonstrated tremendous leadership in the manner in which it had embraced technology. The school has not only made ICT compulsory for all incoming students, but Njala also offers free open WIFI on campus (a first in the nation), allowing instant connectivity and public access.

Dr. Sengeh, Chief Innovation Officer, DSTI and Professor Abdullah Mansaray, Vice-Chancellor & Principal, Njala University sign MoU to solidify collaboration. 

“In terms of the Fourth Industrial Revolution; digital biology, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, you’re talking about the right things to make Njala not just a leader in Sierra Leone, or the continent, but for Njala to compete globally,” said Dr. Sengeh.

He challenged the university’s administration to go beyond making computer science compulsory to making coding as essential a part of the curriculum as English and Mathematics. Moreover, to the students, he encouraged each one to make it a priority to solve the problems with technology affecting students on campus.

“It is our responsibility as students, as learners, to create the solutions that we need,” said Dr. Sengeh during a roundtable with a cross section of students.

To further support learning, and problem-solving at Njala University, Dr. Sengeh on behalf of the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation donated a 3D Printer and materials to the university- making it the first institution in Sierra Leone outside of the Office of the President to own 3D printing technology.

At the launch of DSTI last year, President Bio challenged Sierra Leoneans to think big, to be innovative, and to change to meet the demands of the world; a message which resonated with the faculty at Njala, who are led by Vice-Chancellor, Professor Abdullah Mansaray.

“If we are to make meaningful contributions to national development, we have to innovate, we have to redesign and restructure the entire higher education sector,” said Professor Mansaray.

Njala University is re-engineering itself from the top down to create an academic ecosystem where research, problem-solving, and innovation can thrive.

“We plan to establish an innovation laboratory, and for that, we need material and financial support,” said Professor Mansaray.

“But the most important of what we need is the intellectual backstopping that Dr. Sengeh and his team {DSTI} will be providing us.”

 

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Sierra Leone takes serious steps towards e-Governance and Digitization

When the Government of Sierra Leone launched the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) last year, it started its journey to transform Sierra Leone into a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. DSTI has since developed credible partnerships with global leaders in academia, advanced research organizations, and international government entities towards that vision. In February 2019, DSTI signed a three-year Memorandum of Understanding with eGovernment Academy to establish technical collaboration on e-governance for public service delivery and administration.

This week (May 6-10th, 2019), a team of senior officials from the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) has completed a week-long study tour at the e-Governance Academy (eGA) of Estonia to learn best practices that will inform and shape Sierra Leone’s e-governance and digitization strategy.  Estonia began its journey to digital transformation over two decades ago and are today a world leader for e-governance, e-democracy, and national cybersecurity. It is where government decision-makers go to experience “smart, sustainable, and effective” governance programmes at work.

The Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Dr. Priscilla Schwartz led Sierra Leone’s delegation to the eGA along with Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, Chief Innovation Officer, Office of the President. Also on the study tour was the Head of ICT Committee of the Sierra Leone Parliament; Deputy Commissioner General, National Revenue Authority; Deputy Governor, Bank of Sierra Leone, and senior representatives from the Ministry of Information and Communication, National Telecommunications Commission, and the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation.

Senior Members of Sierra Leone’s delegation to Estonia’s eGA

The officials from Sierra Leone met their counterparts in Estonia to see digitization and e-governance first-hand and successfully implemented to scale. Dr. Schwartz and Dr. Sengeh engaged with the Minister of Justice and Estonia’s Chief Information Officer respectively. The study tour also included working sessions at the Office of the Prime Minister, the Parliament of Estonia, the Tax and Customs bureau and a visit to the Tallinn Technical University. These interactive engagements showed how laws, policies and technological infrastructure lay the framework for effective e-Governance.

A year ago President Julius Maada Bio established DSTI to harness science, technology, and innovation to effectively and efficiently deliver on its national development plan. This visit demonstrates GoSL’s commitment to harnessing technology for effective and efficient service delivery to its citizens.

Some key e-governance activities so far at DSTI include;  a National Financial Data Architecture with Ministry of Finance, and an integrated geographic information system that maps government services and infrastructure. DSTI has also created an interactive visualization tool to support decision makers in exploring the Annual School Survey data in collaboration with the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education and UNICEF.

This study tour will enhance the ongoing partnership between various Ministries, Departments, Agencies, Academic Institutions, private sector, donors and bilateral partners.

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DSTI Sierra Leone to open Innovation Hub thanks to new MoU with IPAM

The University of Sierra Leone’s Institute of Public Administration & Management (IPAM) and the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) have agreed to create an InnovationHub. Representatives of the two institutions signed a five-year Memorandum of Understanding to shared knowledge, and support local innovation and entrepreneurship in Sierra Leone. IPAM has allocated the fifth floor of its new building for the purposes of the innovation hub. Under the agreement, DSTI will organize educational and social programs and activities that will strengthen the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Sierra Leone. Speaking at the signing of the MoU Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Prof Nonie said that DSTI and IPAM had already begun to share knowledge and resources as of last year. Through the relationship with DSTI, IPAM has been able to send faculty to MIT, a global leader for academic research and innovation. “It is a dream come true,” said the acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Nonie. Noting that the Hub will offer new opportunities for learning and growth for IPAM students and Faculty. He thanked Dr. David Sengeh for initiating the partnership between DSTI and IPAM. “We hope this starts as an innovation hub, for IPAM, and university students but also for people within the ecosystem, ” said Dr. Sengeh, Chief Innovation Officer, DSTI.

Students at IPAM’s Library (c) Facebook (U-SL IPAM)

“This will be a space for people to learn state-of-the-art tools like Human-centered design (HCD), business models, business process mapping, and hands-on learning. It is to take the curriculum, that’s at IPAM, the excellence in entrepreneurship and business and Administration and put it into practice.” With this partnership, DSTI will bring hands-on learning back to students and create a space for students to seed ideas and develop prototypes. The hub is novel because it fosters collaboration between government, academia, the private sector, and local and international partners. Students from MIT and researchers from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will be learning and developing technological solutions in partnership with students and entrepreneurs in Sierra Leone. “In a couple of years, people will be talking about IPAM, as a place where technology, computer science, hands-on learning happens with business management and entrepreneurship in the same way that they talk about MIT, ” said Dr. Sengeh.  
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Njala University student writes code for his country: how an intern’s grit earned him a role in the Office of the President

Sierra Leone’s Office of the President (OtP) will soon launch a new online invitation platform that will help the government manage and respond to invitations for President Maada Bio. The development of this OtP Event Invitation system was led by Foday S.N. Kamara, a 25-year-old intern at the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI).

Foday, a final year Njala University student was the first intern to join DSTI when the office was commissioned last year. He says that it was the 2003 film, “The Italian Job”, that sparked his interest in coding and algorithms. In one epic scene in the movie, Actor Seth Green’s character Lyle writes code to develop a new algorithm to override the traffic light system in LA to allow his crew to make a getaway after a major heist. This scene made Foday wonder what else he could do with algorithms. He borrowed books from a relative and taught himself to code. That was 16 years ago. Today, he is a final year Computer Science & Information Technology student at Njala passionate about writing code to support his country’s digitization efforts.

Before he joined DSTI, Foday had been developing an early warning SMS disaster response system to alert citizens of emergencies. In 2017 a mudslide, caused by heavy rains, and deforestation killed over 1000 Sierra Leoneans in just one day. That catastrophe inspired him to develop a solution that would reduce casualties during emergencies. Data for decision making, effective service delivery and citizen engagement are part of DSTI’s key strategic pillars.  Citizens need digital services that will enhance their lives and improve interaction with government.

When given the opportunity, he immersed himself and made a home at DSTI. Although just an intern, his commitment and attitude to problem-solving made him the Directorate’s first ever employee of the month in January. He was part of a team of scientists that are developing a prototype fleet management system that will allow the government to keep better manage its vehicles. Last year DSTI scientists revealed that illegal transfers of vehicles cost the state over $1 million dollars.

DSTI staff often play football, make music and dance #ShakuShaku together in the office. Yet Foday reflects that problem-solving sessions with Dr. David Sengeh, DSTI’s Chief Innovation Officer will be most memorable of his time at DSTI;  

“Most times when we have difficulties we complain. We say, ‘doc I’ve tried everything but its not working’. He’ll just tell you that you need to fix it, you should fix it. Several times we asked the same questions and get the same response. It’s fun. I thought why should we be asking , why can’t we get it done before we complain.”

Over the last six months since its launch, DSTI has trained several interns from Sierra Leone’s universities and high schools. Monjama Alpha, the top Physics and Engineering first year student at Fourah Bay College; Joseph Jawa Kebbie, a high school graduate from Christ the King’s College in Bo, and several students from Institute of Public Administration (IPAM) have learned to code and build systems alongside full time staff. DSTI offers these kinds of internships, fellowships, and externships for students, post-grads, and professionals who want to build the solutions that will transform Sierra Leone into an innovation nation.

For more information about opportunities at DSTI please contact us.

Check out Foday’s story in our first podcast from the lab.

 

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