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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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