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Scientists at DSTI Sierra Leone fight corruption with code

Sierra Leone just took a giant technological leap. Scientists working at a new agency for innovation launched within the Office of the President are using code to fight corruption. Only 3 out of every 100 citizens in this West African nation of 7 million have access to the internet according to 2016 data from the International Telecommunications Union. Although internet access is limited, scientists say one of their ultimate goals is to develop the world’s first government quantum network for data encryption. Code against Corruption The first challenge that scientists at the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) took on involved the government’s fleet of vehicles. In March 2018, a new government was elected into office. During the transition period, an estimated 4000 cars were reportedly missing. The President asked scientists at DSTI to solve the problem of the missing vehicles. The team analyzed data from the Sierra Leone Road Safety Authority (SLRSA) and found that 38 vehicles belonging to the government were re-registered to new owners without authorization. While the majority of these illegal transfers were intra-government, 17 high-end cars were transferred for private and for commercial use. They also discovered that 75% of all such transactions both authorized and unauthorized occurred in the three years leading up to the 2018 elections. The SLRSA has a register of 281, 762 vehicles of which 4,694 belong to the government spanning the last ten years. Despite having all this big data, SLRSA did not have the tools for analysis. To explore exciting questions and develop hypotheses, like what could have happened to 4000 vehicles it requires more big data analytics.  Analysis of big data (big data involves large volumes of datasets that generally need complex analyses) goes beyond the capacity of Excel and summary statistics. Using the existing SLRSA data, the data scientists’ code found that there was a 600% increase in authorized transfers from 2014 to 2015.  Moreover, an additional 560 vehicles changed ownership in the two years before the 2018 elections. These discoveries have been sent to the Anti Corruption Commission to determine what to do next. While the Anti Corruption boss Mr. Francis Ben Kaifala says it is too soon to know what they will do once they have an opportunity to evaluate the SLRSA vehicle data further, DSTI’s work has given his investigators a leg up. “With data like this we know what to request from the target institutions or persons, and with whom to speak,” said Mr. Ben Kaifala. Data means quicker turnaround on investigations. The Anti Corruption Commission now knows the names of individuals both within and outside of the government who have transferred government vehicles. Technology for national development   At the official launch of the Directorate at State House earlier this week, President Bio said that his vision is for the team at DSTI to harness technology for national development. He believes that Sierra Leone can join the likes of Kenya, Mauritius, and Rwanda who have created thriving ecosystems for innovation and technology. “My strategic vision for Science, Technology, and Innovation is not to start producing microchips and competing with the likes of Intel and Samsung just yet,” said President Bio. “We are looking to cultivate science, technology and innovation tools that will be successfully applied to solve our national development problems and improve the quality of life in Sierra Leone.” The President recognized the need for technical capacity thus sort to recruit “the best and brightest” to deliver this vision.  They have been recruited both within Sierra Leone and its diaspora. Guiding the team is Dr. Sengeh who recently engaged with President Bio, and Bill Gates at GoalKeepers 2018 in New York. Dr. Sengeh is Sierra Leone’s first ever Chief Innovation Officer. He was appointed by the President to lead this Directorate. Quantum ambitions “We have everything. Sierra Leone has the enabling environment for tech and innovation to thrive because the President has made it a priority”, said Dr. Sengeh. He says that people need to believe that Sierra Leone with all its problems and stories of gore can produce innovative technological solutions. Those who think that developing countries like Sierra Leone cannot lead the world on innovation need to think again. DSTI scientists already have their sights on doing what no other government has done. The Directorate has announced that it will be the first government agency in the world, to develop an impenetrable quantum encrypted network that will keep state data secure. Quantum is the future of computing; it is next-generation technology for data protection. “We have the technical know-how; our scientists are the best and brightest in their fields. In just four months we’ve worked on solutions from financial data mapping to developing a national education dashboard with UNICEF so that policymakers and donors can identify indicators that affect learning outcomes, performance, and quality education,” said Dr. Sengeh. “We did this with the 2018 national school census that the government recently concluded. We create tools to make the data useful for decision making. So it is not a question of if we are going to transform Sierra Leone into an innovation nation, it is a question of how soon”.

My Experience at 2018 UN Innovation Bootcamp

I recently returned from the 2018 UN Innovation Bootcamp which took place from 24-27 July, 2018 in Beirut, Lebanon. The Bootcamp was organized by the UN Development Operations Coordination Office and it brought together cross sectorial teams working in data innovation, collective intelligence, behavioral insight and foresight/futures, and innovative finance from 21 countries. I attended as one of the mentors from Sierra Leone. As a mentor, I was matched with teams to help them think about their project design and implementation at country level. However, I was also an active peer learner and I connected with experts and novices who all had a similar interest in improving lives through data and innovation. This was pretty neat. I also learned about how the United Nation embraces data and innovation in their country operations and explored opportunities of doing more. UNSDG – A brief introduction The United Nations Sustainable Development Group unites 40 UN funds, programmes, specialized agencies, departments, and offices that play a role in development. The UN Development Operations Coordination Office- the secretariat of the UNSDG, supports 131 UN country teams serving 165 countries and territories to work together to increase the impact of the UN system. Several  country teams use innovation in their country programming including human centered design, foresight/alternative futures, big data, real-time monitoring, crowdsourcing, innovation lab/camp, mobile feedback mechanism, micro-narratives, and behavioral insights. Examples of projects by participants at the Bootcamp are: SDGs Real-time monitoring to enhance participatory planning in Colombia-Data Collective intelligence to engage Iraqi youth in mapping their cultural heritage devastated by the war in Iraq Data accountability framework based on collective intelligence in Lesotho Combining UAV and Satellite Imagery for Improved Crop Monitoring in Malawi Using AI to automate the Rapid Integrated Assessment mechanism and to nationalize SDGs in Serbia Block-chain for Public Services (Land Registry) An effective solution to enhanced transparency, accountability, and inclusivity in Uzbekistan I grew significantly through the experience of engaging with participants on a daily basis learning about their projects and actions, sharing cutting-edge innovation practices and the introduction of new skills, tools, and innovative concepts in a peer-learning environment. Upon my return back to the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation, I have continued my normal projects and have dug deeper into applied machine learning and technology design as related to the SDGs.

Transforming Government through Science, Technology, and Innovation in Sierra Leone

It is with great pleasure that I share the news that H.E. President Julius Maada Bio has appointed me as the Chief Innovation Officer for the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI). DSTI is situated within the Office of the President and in my role, I will also serve as an Advisor to both President Bio and the Chief Minister Prof. David Francis. A new body of government, the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI) has a simple vision: to help transform Sierra Leone into a prosperous nation through science, technology and innovation. The Directorate seeks to facilitate and support a vibrant national innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem for the public and private sectors of Sierra Leone through:
  • Active technical research and development activities with government and other partners;
  • Development of innovative enhancements to  government service delivery and citizen engagement;
  • Policy innovation in support of science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship; and
  • Building a pipeline of talented technologists and innovators in service to the people of Sierra Leone.
The President’s New Direction Agenda presents a unique opportunity for the growth of Sierra Leone,  and I will invest all my resources, networks and experiences toward ensuring that DSTI supports Sierra Leone to become an innovation nation. We are in it together!
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