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Sierra Leone goes live with SMS and USSD COVID-19 self-assessment mobile services

Sierra Leone has recorded its tenth case of COVID-19, less than a week after it ended a 72-hour mandatory stay at home to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. During the three-day lockdown, a team of local computer scientists and data engineers from the public and private sectors collaborated to develop technological solutions to enhance the nation’s COVID-19 preparedness and response efforts. 

The COVID-19 emergency tech response team made up of experts from the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI), UNICEF, the Emergency Operations Center, Ministry of Information and Communication, Ministry of Health and Sanitation, other government agencies and private sector partners developed and incorporated COVID-19 public health information into the Government of Sierra Leone’s *468# (*GOV#) Public Information System. 

They expanded the existing *468# (*GOV#) Government Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) platform to allow citizens to conduct a self-check against their symptoms; learn prevention tips; and get updates on Sierra Leone’s COVID-19 situation, including the number of cases, deaths, and the quarantine status. A complimentary SMS mobile application that offers users the same functionalities was also developed. 

Today DSTI and its partners are announcing that the *468# (*GOV#) Government USSD platform and its accompanying 468 SMS Service have been activated to make it easier for citizens’ self-assessment of their coronavirus risk and to access accurate and correct information on COVID-19 on any mobile phone device.

Fix Solution is the lead private sector partner on USSD mobile service delivery. Their Chief Executive Officer, Sorieba Daffae, was one of the first private sector partners to sign up to the national tech response. 

Sorieba Daffae – CEO – Fix Solution SL

“What the crisis has shown us is that we are on our own. While we have some external support, this is the time to mobilize local expertise. I reached out to DSTI to volunteer towards the COVID-19 tech response to ensure that we could speed up the national effort by leveraging our local market knowledge. Our core competencies are specifically around technology solutions for public service delivery. With the USSD and SMS self-assessment tools, we’ve been able to collaborate with epidemiologists and DSTI to assist with the telecommunications integrations,” said Daffae. 

In November 2019, President Julius Maada Bio launched the National Innovation and Digitization Strategy (NIDS) and the USSD Portal to engage citizens and to improve government service delivery. A central principle in NIDS is the development of hybrid technologies that work for everyone. 

“We are collaborating with partners across government and the private sector to deliver Sierra Leone’s unified technological response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The SMS and USSD systems work with or without the internet, meaning that we reduce barriers to citizens’  access to information,” said Michala Mackay, Director and Chief Operating Officer, DSTI.

“We have also seen an increase in fake news across social media, which is causing anxiety and fear. Citizens can now use the USSD portal to verify news and get the most up to date information on the national COVID-19 situation.” 

According to the 2018 Sierra Leone Integrated Household Survey, two out of every three Sierra Leonean households (77%) have access to a mobile phone, meaning that SMS and USSD-based solutions will reach both citizens in the urban centers and rural communities. 

The USSD and SMS solutions offer flexibility to ensure that citizens have access to accurate information, whether or not they are using a smartphone. For now, the USSD code *468# and SMS to 468 are only available to users on Orange, and Africell. Even as the USSD and SMS solutions for COVID-19 go live, citizens are reminded to report any and all emergencies to 117 the national helpline.

Sierra Leone has started a two-week partial lockdown that limits travel between districts and a national daily curfew that starts from 9 pm-6 am. During this period, in addition to the COVID-19 services, citizens can use *468# to access information on government facilities and services within their districts including ‘find my nearest hospital’, and others. The COVID-19 tech response team will continue to develop technology for crisis response.


SMS USSD Activation Tools & Frequently Asked Questions

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DSTI Sierra Leone announces new Director and Chief Operating Officer

Michala Mackay has been appointed as the new Director and Chief Operating Officer of the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI).

Michala Mackay addresses the team at DSTI as Chief Operating Officer for the first time on 30 March 2020 at DSTI Office at State House in Freetown

Before joining DSTI, Mackay was CEO and Registrar of the Corporate Affairs Commission. Prior to that, she served as Director of Legal and Licensing Affairs at the National Telecommunications Commission. Her responsibilities amongst others included leading the legal team in negotiating  Sierra Leone’s agreement for the landing of its first fibre optic cable, a segment of the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) cable.

Earlier in her career, she was the Legal Counsel and Regulatory Specialist at Celtel,  now Orange Sierra Leone. 

“It is such a critical time to be joining DSTI. Last year, Sierra Leone launched a medium-term national strategic plan. Although that plan is very broad in perspective and looks at eight clusters in total, the silver lining for all those clusters to be achievable within the desired time frame is to use science technology and innovation. DSTI is central to achieving our national goals and objectives,” said Mackay.

“Over the past year, as CEO of the Corporate Affairs Commission, I’ve had several engagements with the DSTI as we work to develop the framework to improve Sierra Leone’s ranking in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report. I’ve been impressed with the talent here, and the culture of openness and excellence. I am eager to join this dynamic team to deliver H.E.’s vision to transform Sierra Leone into an innovative hub for technology and entrepreneurship.”

Chief Innovation Officer Dr. Moinina David Sengeh commented: “Michala brings 15 years of policy and management expertise from the ICT private sector, government and high-level partner engagement to DSTI. Her understanding of the global and local ICT landscape and her commitment to excellence aligns with the culture here at DSTI.

“She has led the Corporate Affairs Commission from its inception to where it is today–an efficient, technical and service-driven institution. Under her leadership, Sierra Leone’s Starting a Business Indicator improved significantly from 99 to 58 out of 190 countries in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Report – all in just 3 years. With Michala at the helm, DSTI will also continue its mission to support our youthful, technical and energetic staff. She has an excellent rapport with the team already and this is critical for me. She will take DSTI to another level.”

The Directorate of Science Technology and Innovation, established in October 2018, has supported the inclusion and growth of women both in leadership and technical expertise. DSTI commits to at least half of its senior staff being female. It supports the government of Sierra Leone with accurate real-time data, analysis, and research to enhance decision making, technological solutions to improve service delivery and citizen service engagement, and mobilizes resources to build and strengthen the local ecosystem for entrepreneurship and innovation. 

DSTI collaborates with local and international leaders on technology and innovation, including MIT, Statistics Sierra Leone, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, eGovernance Academy, UNICEF Sierra Leone,  UNDP, and Dimagi to deliver on its objectives.

The new Director and COO of DSTI has an MBA in Leadership and Sustainability from the University of Cumbria. She is a Barrister and Solicitor with a post-graduate diploma in I.T. and Telecommunications Law.

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DSTI and Dimagi partner to create cutting edge tech solutions for COVID 19 Response

As Sierra Leone scales up its national response to COVID-19, the Directorate of Science Technology and Innovation (DSTI) has announced that it will develop digital solutions with local and global partners to support frontline workers. 

The first of these collaborations will be between DSTI and Dimagi, Inc. – creators of CommCare, a powerful mobile data collection and service delivery platform. DSTI and Dimagi will develop digital solutions for contact tracing to contain the spread of COVID-19 and the distribution of public health messages for community education.

“The contagious nature of COVID-19 means that technology has a crucial role to play in breaking the chain of transmission. Furthermore, governments can use technology to remove redundant and inefficient processes to strengthen the wider healthcare system. DSTI is working on a host of other digital solutions and partnerships to support Sierra Leone’s efforts, including the use of USSD for communications with citizens,” said Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, Chief Innovation Officer, DSTI.

Sierra Leone currently has zero reported cases due to swift emergency measures put in place by President Julius Maada Bio. However, the government will continue to increase its preparedness by leveraging mobile technology for social impact. During the 2014 Ebola Outbreak, Sierra Leone used mobile money to disburse payments to frontline health workers nationwide, and a Public Health National Emergency 117 Call Centre served as a tool to document, track and provide follow-up on suspected EVD cases and deaths.

Using lessons learned from the Ebola response, DSTI and Dimagi will create a joint team to support the ongoing rapid development of a contact tracing mobile application specifically for COVID-19. This solution will decentralize contact tracing, and increase efficiency in resource mobilization, information dissemination, and comprehensive data collection. 

“As we saw during the previous Ebola outbreak in West Africa, digital technology can play a critical role in improving the impact of the outbreak response. Through this partnership with DSTI, we will leverage leading best practices in developing critical technology to rapidly respond to and curtail the impact of COVID-19 in Sierra Leone,” said Jonathan Jackson, CEO, Dimagi. 

This latest partnership with Dimagi along with others including MIT, Statistics Sierra Leone, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, eGovernance Academy, UNICEF Sierra Leone, and UNDP underscores DSTI’s commitment to strengthen the local ecosystem for technology and innovation in collaboration with local and global leaders. 

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How Sierra Leone’s tech agency is getting it right on gender equality

Lessons on inclusive leadership from the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation – International Women’s Day

Women at Sierra Leone’s agency for science and technology say policies implemented there have created a gender-inclusive workplace where they are empowered to lead.

29-year-old Glenna Wilson studied computer science at Njala University. She got her first big break in her final year when a local bank in Freetown offered her an internship in its IT Department. When she started work, however, the all-male team treated her differently.

“Instead of teaching me what I was there to learn, they would ask me to make coffee, bring them food, and told me that as the woman, I had to be their mother. While the other male intern was easily accepted as part of the team.”

(L) Bineta Diop (Business Analyst) and (r) Glenna Wilson (Data Scientist) at the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation in Freetown – March 6, 2020

Wilson says she had to work hard to prove herself. She was motivated to show colleagues who doubted her abilities because of her gender that they were wrong.

“I would go downstairs and carry a system unit, bring it up to my office, open it up myself, get on my hands and knees and get dirty, to find solutions. In this way, I learned faster and in the end, I was asked to come and work after completing my dissertation.”

That was four years ago. Wilson joined the bank full time, and in a short while, she rose through the ranks to become the Database Administrator responsible for managing and administering the bank’s core banking system and database and support for all staff, and branches across the entire country. That’s where she was when the call came from the Chief Innovation Officer of the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) asking if she would like to join other talented young Sierra Leoneans to support the country’s drive to become a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. Wilson says the working conditions for women at DSTI are miles apart from where she once worked.

“DSTI has created a platform that encourages women more, pushes women more; and gives women opportunities for leadership roles. One of the best feelings is to come to work at DSTI, where I know I’m going to show that I’m a leader. I’m going to take charge,” says Wilson. 

She is a data scientist and technical lead for DSTI’s Integrated Geographic Information System (GIS) Portal, an interactive platform that links disparate GIS datasets from the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) and its partners.

24-year-old Bineta Diop, who also joined DSTI in 2018, says that she was pleasantly surprised at the level of support and encouragement she received when she joined DSTI as an intern. This is her first job since she finished university.

“As a young woman, every day, I come to work in a place where my voice is heard. I’ve been encouraged to trust my voice and myself more. I went from being an intern to being absorbed full time and then actually being promoted to technical lead of one of the projects, and it’s just because I’ve been pushed to grow here.”

She went to the University of Westminster in the United Kingdom, where she studied Business Economics. When she returned to Sierra Leone in 2018, she wanted to work in government, so she applied for an internship at DSTI. Diop says that much of her work is engaging with local DSTI partners, and it is at those engagements; intra-government meetings that she’s reminded that the culture of inclusion and empowerment at DSTI is not the status quo.

In Sierra Leone, gender-based inequalities are most pronounced in reproductive health, empowerment, and economic activity according to the UNDP 2018 Human Development Report. When the country’s Human Development Index is adjusted to reflect gender inequality Sierra Leone’s HDI falls from 0.438 to 0.282. The 35.7 percent loss in HDI shows that urgent improvements are needed towards women’s capital development.

“DSTI is a bubble. Sometimes I go to a meeting, and I’m the lead, but someone would doubt it and treat me as though I don’t belong. I’ve been asked if I wasn’t too young to be in a meeting. Other times I’m not given room to participate in a technical conversation, but because I remember that David believes in me. Even though it can be difficult sometimes, the encouragement I get at DSTI gives me the confidence to say no; I know what I’m talking about, and you’re going to have to listen to me,” says Diop.

She says that making the workplace more inclusive starts at the top. Change has to come from the people in leading positions.

“If David hadn’t made sure that women were data scientists, and in leadership, none of this would be possible. He has made it such a priority, so everybody else has to fall in line; everybody else knows that gender equality has to be guaranteed.”

Diop is a business analyst and the technical lead on the National Financial Digital Architecture Project, while she also supports the Ease of Doing Business Project at the Directorate.

DSTI Sierra Leone came into existence in May 2018 when President Julius Maada Bio appointed Dr. David Moinina Sengeh as the country’s Chief Innovation Officer. Dr. Sengeh says that right from inception he knew that for DSTI to achieve its mission it needed to be gender inclusive.  Now in its second-year, DSTI’s 41 person team is gender-balanced starting from its leadership, a startling accomplishment for a tech organization anywhere in the world. Half of the organization’s workforce is made up of women.

“We have evidence that more inclusive environments produce better results, so if you want to produce better results, you need inclusion in the workplace and all activities.”

“From day one, I had the opportunity to shape DSTI in policy statements. One of the most important of these was to say I want half of my leadership to be female,” says Dr. Sengeh.

“I made that so by then implementing the policy, and developing the strategy to get more women in top leadership. I made sure we expanded our reach and engagements, to get the quality women applicants. And when there were no women who applied, I knew it meant we didn’t work hard enough, so we would start the process over again.”

Such high-level commitment to inclusive leadership is what Human Resource Expert and Managing Partner of JobSearch Sierra Leone Edleen Elba agrees is needed to make the workplace gender-balanced. 

“Gender inclusion strategies should be part of Organizations’ wider diversity programs. These should include policies, training, discussions, and reporting mechanisms in the areas of recruitment, retention, performance management, learning and development, procurement, and workplace behavior. But don’t stop there. Guidance must also be provided that pushes for gender-neutral language, e.g., ‘they’ instead of ‘he’ or ‘she,’ ‘person’ instead of ‘man’ and make the use of sexually offensive or sexist language a disciplinary offense.”

Dr. Sengeh says that to ensure that DSTI’s women thrive he looks beyond the number of women on the roster. 

“For lasting impact, we have to change the culture both internally and externally in society but especially, internally at work.”

“It means making sure that when women are at the table and in the room that we pass the mic for them to speak. Sometimes yes, as the leader, you may have to fight for this, but you must. In meetings, I have no problem stepping in if someone speaks over a female colleague or uses gendered endearments in the workplace. I fight for the women on my team, so they know we are in this together.”

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Africa’s master connector is in Sierra Leone to develop the entrepreneurship ecosystem

Emeka Okafor is a leader in the African maker and entrepreneurship space. For over two decades, he has connected innovators with the resources they need to access local, regional, and global markets. He has taken on a new challenge as Ecosystem Accelerator Lead working with the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation at the Office of the President in Sierra Leone.

The ecosystem strengthening is made possible by a grant from the UNICEF Innovation Fund in New York as part of the ongoing partnership between DSTI and UNICEF in Sierra Leone. The Innovation Fund invests in problem solvers, increases open source intellectual property and grows solutions that can bring results for children. 

Emeka Okafor
Ecosystems Accelerator Lead, DSTI Sierra Leone

Okafor is a venture strategist and entrepreneur from Nigeria by way of New York. He is co-founder of the TED Fellows Program and the lead curator of TED Global in Africa.  He has advised governments and world leaders on innovation and entrepreneurship systems and policy for Africa, including President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) and the U.S. State Department.

Okafor works with DSTI’s team to plan, promote, manage, and support the development of a collaborative and enabling ecosystem for the growth of entrepreneurial activity.

In the most recent Global Entrepreneurship Index released in 2019, Sierra Leone ranked 131 of 137 countries, scoring just 12% on product innovation, startup skills, technology absorption, human capital and other indicators used to measure the health of the entrepreneurship ecosystem-a network of self-regulating attitudes, resources, actors and infrastructure in any given country. Understanding the importance of innovation and enterprise to value creation and economic development, H.E. President Julius Maada Bio launched DSTI with a mandate to transform one of Africa’s least developing countries into a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship.

“We hope that this work will impact those who are most disadvantaged; young people and children as much as it would be of advantage to those who are more privileged.  If you look at it as the components that make up the human body, nothing works if everything isn’t working well,” said Okafor.

“If you want to make improvements for those who are more vulnerable, like children, improve the ecosystem to allow incomes to rise, allow for the creation of wealth, which ultimately leads to greater revenues for the government that they’re able to reinvest into key public needs.”

Okafor and DSTI’s ecosystems team will work to strengthen Sierra Leone’s ecosystem across industry, manufacturing, agro-processing, tourism, and technology. The objective is to focus on reducing inefficiencies while bringing together different stakeholders and components that work together. So far, the team has engaged with government agencies, SME organizations, and entrepreneurs to listen and learn. The output of these engagements will be used to build a framework that will form the backbone of the ecosystem map.

“Once this is done, the next phase is local, regional, and global resource mobilization,” said Okafor.

“When you bring the right kind of people together, and the right kind of people could be just as much a market woman who is exceptional at selling palm oil in a rural district, as it could be someone who’s coding in Freetown. I don’t make that distinction. For me, it’s about finding producers and creators to knit together productive networks.  And when you have government backing as you do here to create the policies and regulations to remove impediments, then acceleration can and does happen quickly.”

The mapped ecosystem will be a dynamic tool that will increase and facilitate the connection of producers to resources and give policymakers the data they need to improve service delivery.  Furthermore, it will place local entrepreneurs and investors in a better position to identify opportunities in Sierra Leone.


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DSTI Sierra Leone at the first African Drone Forum #ADF2020 in Kigali, Rwanda

The National Drone Project Lead, David Manley, represented the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation at the African Drone Forum (ADF) recently held in Kigali, Rwanda (February 5 -7, 2020).

The Forum was organized in collaboration with the Government of Rwanda, the World Bank Group, and partners including UK AID and the World Economic Forum. The first of its kind event explored how Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies like drones can improve citizen service delivery. The ADF focused on emerging transport technologies that can leapfrog the continent’s infrastructure deficit and address its public health and mobility challenges.

At the grand opening ceremony, H.E. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda encouraged Africans to design and manufacture drones with a focus on the continent’s needs and challenges and not just focus on its use. 

The Government of Sierra Leone is at the forefront of Africa’s emerging drone industry. In November 2019, H.E. President Maada Bio launched West Africa’s first Drones for Good Corridor in Sierra Leone (only the second drone corridor on the continent). And earlier this year, a nurse at the campus clinic at Njala University in Southern Sierra Leone received the nation’s first medical drone delivery

“What drives our work at DSTI is the belief that we can use technology to improve the lives of our citizens. Chief amongst the test cases being explored at the Corridor is blood delivery to health centers. Sierra Leone has one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world, an estimated 1,165 women die each year primarily because medical practitioners do not have the life-saving blood they need for high-risk pregnancies. Drones offer us the opportunity to solve these challenges,” said David Manley, DSTI’s National Drone Project Lead.

He presented Sierra Leone’s plan to expand the Drones for Good Corridor to include crisis response, data, and digital connectivity and aerial imaging for education. As well as the government’s efforts to support private sector involvement in the ecosystem for the development, deployment, and use of drones.  

“Sierra Leone is taking leadership to work with partners including the World Economic Forum to develop the appropriate regulatory environment. We are committed to finding the right balance; technological advancements go hand in hand with safety and security,” said Manley.

On the sidelines of the ADF, Manley held meetings with two of the continent’s leading providers of medical supply deliveries; Zipline-a California based drone medical deliveries company with operations in Ghana and Rwanda, and Lifebank a digital blood bank saving lives in Nigeria. DSTI will continue to build relationships with local and global leaders as it fulfills its mission to make Sierra Leone a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship.

Sierra Leone’s Drone Corridor is under the technical leadership of the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation in partnership with UNICEF Sierra Leone, Njala University, and the National Civil Aviation Authority.

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Scientists at DSTI go the extra mile to make it easier for children to get to school

Mike Fabrikant, a software developer from Washington D.C., is embedded within the data science team at the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) to support systems delivery. His work with DSTI is made possible through an ongoing partnership between DSTI and UNICEF Sierra Leone’s Technology for Development program. This collaboration between DSTI and UNICEF Sierra Leone strives to improve the quality of life for children in Sierra Leone with the use of technology and innovation.

“I’ve been focusing on two kinds of software: applications that provide insight around mapping vulnerability, and open-source data analytics tools for non-technical people,” said Fabrikant.

Scientists and developers at DSTI built a school bus stop visualization tool to support decision making in education policy for the Government of Sierra Leone. Geo-data was collected to make it easier for local government officials to decide how best to meet the transportation needs of students using newly allocated school buses.

To map out the bus routes, Fabrikant, Kumba Musa, and Ibrahim Bayoh went on a six-hour drive at night to 89 proposed bus stops and plotted their geo-coordinates. Geo-coordinates are a set of numbers and symbols that show the latitudes, longitudes, and directions of every location on earth.

The outcome is this interactive visualization that shows every school and every school bus stop in the Western Area Urban and Rural districts of Sierra Leone. Each school is a point where its size represents the total number of students enrolled, and the color represents the distance between it and the nearest bus stop. The data that supported this was provided by the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education from the 2018 Annual School Census.

“If we can bring open data sets, like the locations of communities, health facilities, and schools, along with private sector data, like cell tower coverage, into decision making, then there’s powerful potential to make an impact through improving how the government allocates resources,” said Fabrikant.

The School Optimization Tool is just one of many ways that DSTI continues to support decision making and service delivery to citizens. DSTI Sierra Leone and UNICEF’s Technology for Development program will continue to collaborate to develop technological solutions to address the most significant challenges faced by children in Sierra Leone.

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Sierra Leone adopts electronic public financial management system – no more lost PETS forms!

Ministry of Finance adopts a new Electronic Expenditure Management System developed by DSTI Sierra Leone

In a memo sent to all government institutions on 6 January, Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Finance announced it had replaced its heavily paper-based public financial management system, Public Expense Tracking Survey (PETS) and the Payment Voucher and Commitment Control Forms with a new Electronic Expenditure Management System (EEMS) developed by technologists at the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI). 

The Directorate is developing Sierra Leone’s first national financial data architecture with embedded automated financial tools to be deployed within all MDAs and government-funded institutions. The goal is to consolidate all government spending into one seamless, transparent digital system. The current roll out features implementation in all government ministries. DSTI is working with the Ministry of Finance to roll out EEMS to all departments and agencies by 1st April 2020.

PETS were initially put in place to improve accountability and service delivery; however, the previous paper-based system was inefficient. The EEMS will improve the Ministry of Finance’s drive to strengthen and improve Public Financial Management (PFM). Although initially commissioned to digitize only the PETS system, DSTI’s approach to delivery: ideation, design, prototyping, testing, and evaluation – expanded the scope of the work to include other related components such as Vouchers and Commitments and Control Forms at the Accountant General’s Department. 

The words ”financial management” appear in 2018 and 2017 Auditor General Reports a total of 76 times, underscoring its importance to government operations. In the last eight years, Sierra Leone’s Auditor General Reports said that the government’s PFM was ”weak.” Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) rarely adhered to the recommendations made in the annual audit. Each year they made the same mistakes, further eroding public and donor trust in state institutions.

According to the Audit Service, Sierra Leone will improve its PFM when it makes “value-for-money” investments, and implements “sound systems and processes for internal control, and asset management.”

Furthermore, donor partners place a high premium on PFM for effective and sustainable economic management and public service delivery.

Before the adoption of EEMS, the Ministry of Finance and DSTI trained all ICT and finance personnel from across all of the government on the use of the EEMS tool, all the budget officers, senior budget officers and budget directors, all the Permanent Secretaries, all the Ministers, and the Deputy Ministers.  Additionally, the DSTI team developed a User Manual, Instruction Video, and a Standard Operating Procedure with the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Justice.

“The system allows for tracking, which is the one major constraint public servants at MDAs face when making budget requests, ” said Bineta Diop, Business Analyst, DSTI Sierra Leone.

”The EEMS that we have developed in partnership with the Ministry of Finance tracks where the PETS forms are at every stage of the approval process. We will know when a budget request has been reviewed and where the form is at any given time in the approval system.” 

The EEMS which automates the generation, submission, and processing of PETS forms, Vouchers and Commitment and Control forms is one part of the National Financial Data Architecture project  at DSTI. 

“In the past, MDAs have made PETS requests that disappeared. This means that critical project funds could not be allocated in time, ” said Anthony Maada Sallieu, Budget Officer, Budget Bureau, Ministry of Finance.  

”With this new electronically generated form, there will be no more lost PETS. It will be easy to keep track of them, and we will save time. This system also creates more accountability.”

The electronic payment and expense systems were developed in partnership with the Ministry of Finance Finance, National Telecommunications Commission, Ministry of Works (including the Sierra Leone Roads Authority), Ministry of Technical and Higher Education, Accountant General’s Department and the Ministry of Information and Communication. 

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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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Sierra Leone’s Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation marks first anniversary – #DSTIatONE

FREETOWN — The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation is celebrating its first anniversary today.

On October 29th, 2018, President Julius Maada Bio officially launched the nation’s first and only agency primarily focused on science, technology and innovation. DSTI’s mission is to harness the power of technology for good – use big data, computer science, and design to bolster development for Sierra Leone’s 7 million citizens. 

“My strategic vision is developed around questions. Can we plan our economy for long term sustainable growth by deploying innovation? Can we collect reliable data over time that we can use to our advantage in economic planning in the delivery of government services?” 

These were some of the questions posed by President Bio last year, that drives the scientific research and experiments at DSTI led by Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, chief innovation officer, of Sierra Leone. His team of over 20 scientists, researchers, and technical policy experts drive the President’s vision to transform Sierra Leone into an innovation nation.

DSTI has deployed numerous cutting edge solutions.  Most noteworthy amongst these are the GoSL Integrated GIS Platform, the Free Quality Education Data Hub, and ePets, which is part of a larger national financial data services mapping platform to integrate and track government spending. 

While its key function is to support Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs), as well as the local tech and innovation ecosystem, DSTI has developed relationships with leading institutions for technology and research globally. DSTI international partners include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, UNICEF Innovations, TED, eGovernance Academy of Estonia, Kiva, Tony Blair Institute, and the World Bank

On October 31, 2019, the Directorate will launch the National Innovation and Digital Strategy (NIDS), which is Sierra Leone’s framework for using technology and science to accelerate national development. 

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