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Sierra Leone Organises First Mining Community Innovation Challenge Hackathon 

Freetown, September 27th, 2022—With the goal of creating innovative opportunities and driving sustainable skills development for youth, the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI), in collaboration with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the BHP Foundation, the National Minerals Agency (NMA), and Sensi Tech Hub, will host Sierra Leone’s first-ever Mining Community Innovation Challenge (MCIC) Hackathon. The event, part of the IFC’s From Disclosure to Development (D2D) Program, will be held September 27th–29th 2022, from 8:30 am to 6:00 pm GMT at  Sensi Tech Innovation Hub in Freetown. 

The focus of the three-day hackathon aligns with the theme of this year’s International Youth Day, “Intergenerational Solidarity; Creating a World for All Ages.” United Nations Secretary-General António- Guterres has highlighted the importance of action across all generations to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), leaving no one behind.

Specifically, the MCIC hackathon targets innovators who will develop sustainable and data-informed solutions for challenges facing Sierra Leone’s mining communities. Participants will identify solutions in several key areas, including:

  • Community engagement and social responsibility
  • Financial transparency and economic advantage 
  • Youth employment
  • Health and safety 
  • Land management and regulatory compliance 
  • Equal opportunity for women and girls in mining communities 

“IFC is delighted to support the government of Sierra Leone through the From Disclosure to Development program to strengthen the digital entrepreneurship ecosystem, with a focus on mining communities,” said Alexandra Celestin, IFC’s resident representative for Sierra Leone. “In line with IFC’s strong commitment to supporting sustainable mining, as well as the country’s youth and entrepreneurs, we hope that the Mining Community Innovation Challenge will support the development of innovative, data-driven solutions that will improve the well-being of people in mining communities.”

The event is open to community representatives, stakeholders, NGOs, development partners, and industry professionals, including tech developers, data analysts, media content creators, and entrepreneurs. The format is designed to encourage dialogue and collaboration to collectively map out ideas and development solutions to mitigate key challenges. 

The hackathon also presents an opportunity for the government of Sierra Leone and mining industry stakeholders to promote best global practices and enhance transparency by improving mining communities’ understanding of the industry’s contributions to local economic development and to the strengthening of the overall mining ecosystem.

Morris Marrah, Country Director for Sensi Tech Innovation Hub, said, “One of our key objectives is to build a technology innovation community in Sierra Leone that drives economic and social development by creating an enabling and stimulating community hub for technologists, creative thinkers, entrepreneurs, and stakeholders.” The hackathon is a way to bring everyone together to develop their ideas and access cutting-edge tech, grants funding, events, incubation and acceleration programs, networking, training, and job opportunities, he added.

Noted DSTI data scientist Glenna Wilson, “Such initiatives that leverage skills, engage the creative minds of the youths, and promote the importance of data in innovation in Sierra Leone are welcomed.” 

The top five teams to emerge from the hackathon will have the opportunity to work with industry- leading experts and receive mentorship in a robust, post-event boot camp program, which will help them scale up their concepts. The boot camp program will also teach participants how to pitch their solutions and interface with potential investors, public-private partners, and the press. A panel of esteemed judges will select the two top teams, which will win the equivalent of cash prizes: first prize, $2,000; second prize, $1,000.

Sponsors and organisers

The International Finance Corporation (IFC) — a member of the World Bank Group—is the largest global development institution focused on the private sector in emerging markets. We work in more than 100 countries, using our capital, expertise, and influence to create markets and opportunities in developing countries. In fiscal year 2022, IFC committed a record $32.8 billion to private companies and financial institutions in developing countries, leveraging the power of the private sector to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity as economies grapple with the impacts of global compounding crises. For more information, visit www.ifc.org.

The BHP Foundation  works to address some of the world’s most critical sustainable development challenges. It is a charitable foundation funded by BHP and through its programs, the Foundation addresses challenges that are directly relevant to the resources sector. (https://www.bhp.com/sustainability/communities/bhp-foundation

  

The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) sits in the Office of the President and executes its functions through the Office of the Chief Minister. The Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) serves as an Advisor to the President and Chief Minister of Sierra Leone. DSTI’s vision is to use science, technology, and innovation to support the Government of Sierra Leone to deliver on its national development plan effectively and efficiently; and to help transform Sierra Leone into an innovation and entrepreneurship hub. (https://www.dsti.gov.sl) 

Sensi Tech Innovation Hub  is the first hub of its kind to be established in Sierra Leone since the country gained its independence in 1961. Its main objective is to build a technology innovation community in Sierra Leone that drives economic and social development by providing an open and stimulating community hub for technologists, entrepreneurs, and creatives to come together, develop their ideas, and access cutting-edge tech, grants funding, events, incubation and acceleration programs, networking, training and jobs opportunities. (http://sensi-sl.org/)   

The National Mineral Agency (NMA)  was established by an act of parliament in 2012, The National Minerals Agency Act (2012), and on 7th March 2013 by His Excellency the President of Sierra Leone, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma. The creation of the National Minerals Agency (NMA) was based on Government approval of a transformation plan to restructure the institutional governance of the mining sector so that the governance role is separated from the operational role.  The NMA is responsible for the day-to-day implementation of the Mines and Minerals Act (2009) and other mining acts and related regulations. This includes responsibility for mineral rights management, collecting and disseminating geological information, and regulating the trading of precious minerals. (https://www.nma.gov.sl) 

Media Contact

If you would like to get in touch or speak to any of our spokespeople for an interview, please contact: 

Mariama Rogers

Communications Lead 

The Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation 

E: mariama.rogers@dsti.gov.sl 

P: +(232) 75709963

Or 

Mohamed Hemoh

MCIC Hackathon Challenge Project Manager

Sensi Tech Innovation Hub

E: mohamedhemoh@sensi-sl.org

P: + (232) 79030735

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Sierra Leone Launches $18 million USD Education Innovation Challenge with Global Partners

September 1, 2022 Freetown, Sierra Leone – The Ministry of Basic, Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE), in partnership with the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI), and the Education Outcomes Fund (EOF), a hosted trust fund at UNICEF, have officially launched the largest ever national outcomes fund for education in the world. This program will help a target 134,000 children in 325 public primary schools in Sierra Leone over the next three years. The Sierra Leone Education Innovation Challenge (SLEIC) is a scale up from the Education Innovation Challenge (EIC). In 2018, President Bio had a vision to increase access to quality and inclusive education with the launch of the Free Quality School Education Program (FQSE), and in an effort to create sustainable and impactful outcomes of FQSE, the Human Capital Development Incubator embedded at DSTI, designed the EIC to test, seed and scale up interventions that improve literacy and numeracy learning outcomes of students at the primary level. 

On June 24, 2019, the EIC was officially launched, inviting organizations and key stakeholders in the education sector to submit innovative ideas for working with students, teachers, and head teachers in government and government supported primary schools across 15 out of 16 districts in Sierra Leone. 

The EIC Service Providers have collaborated with government and schools to design, test, and implement creative and novel teaching approaches, as well as introducing teaching and learning resources, to improve numeracy and literacy levels in chosen schools. Data from the  baseline and midterm evaluations, as well as qualitative data from the  termly Monitoring and Evaluation  assessments, reveal that there has been progress and growth in learning as well as behavioral changes among students, teachers, headteachers, parents, and community elders. 

The EIC, which was seeded with $1.5M USD is now scaling up with the $18M USD SLEIC program, co-financed by the government of Sierra Leone and international donors. The program will fund five organizations to improve children’s literacy and numeracy outcomes in government-assisted primary schools, with a particular focus on improving girls education outcomes.

This is a testament to the use of data for informed decision making and sustainable interventions as echoed by Minister Sengeh, who said that: “the EIC has empowered students with access to opportunities that invariably improve learning outcomes through targeted and transformative  basic education strategies. Now that we have scaled to country level, we hope the new lessons will be taken globally.

The program has sustainability at its core. The interventions are designed to be both affordable and scalable so that the government can incorporate them into future education policy and scale up the most impactful approaches to a national and globam levels after the program finishes in 2025.

Amel Karboul, CEO of EOF said:

We face an unprecedented global learning crisis that requires a different approach to funding education programs and measuring their impact. Access to quality education improves lives and livelihoods. Education equals opportunity. We are working with the Sierra Leonean government to develop programs that are evidence-driven, enable innovation, and most importantly, measurably improve the quality of education for children and young people in the country.”

Joined by Emma Spicer of the Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), at the launch,  Minister Sengeh said,

“The Government of Sierra Leone is excited about partnering with EOF to launch the Sierra Leone Education Innovation Challenge. The program will directly support children across the country and generate important evidence on which innovative education interventions can help drive foundational learning outcomes for all children. It is a perfect example of how we leverage innovation to transform our education service delivery and financing to deliver on the government’s promise of free quality school education for all.”

How will the SLEIC work?

  • Using an outcomes-based approach, organizations involved will be paid once their interventions have shown improvements in children’s literacy and numeracy. They are a mix of local and global providers, including National Youth Awareness Forum, Rising Academies, Street Child, EducAID and Save the Children. The program will be rigorously evaluated to understand their impact on learning, enabling evaluators to identify the approaches that are most effective.
  • The approach utilizes social impact bonds whose model has been successfully implemented in other sectors on a smaller scale. EOF has taken the steps in its programmatic approach to help scale up the output of impact bonds for its program

Who is funding the programme:

  • The Government of Sierra Leone – $1.5M USD
  • The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office of the United Kingdom (FCDO) – $14M USD
  • Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) – $1M US
  • Bank of America – $0.5M USD
  • Waterloo Foundation – $0.210 USD
  • Hempel Foundation – $1.179M USD 

About the Education Outcomes Fund: There are few greater challenges faced by the global community than the twin crises of learning poverty and youth unemployment. In response, the Education Commission (chaired by Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister and UN Special Envoy for Global Education) and the Global Steering Group for Impact Investment (chaired by Sir Ronald Cohen) came together with our founding CEO (Her Excellency Dr.) Amel Karboul to create EOF end of 2017. EOF aims to improve the education and employment outcomes of 10 million children and youth, by supporting governments to utilize a range of innovative finance instruments at scale. EOF is the first outcomes fund hosted by the United Nations within UNICEF, as a scalable platform to partner with governments, donors, implementing partners, and investors around the world. EOF pays primarily on the basis of the results achieved, ensuring that taxpayer-funded domestic resources, aid, and philanthropic funds are only used to pay for what works. This is a game-changing way to finance results in education, focusing attention and realigning systems on the most challenging but most important measure of a program’s performance: whether it is improving lives.

About the programs partner organizations

National Youths Awareness Forum Sierra Leone (NYAFSL) is a local NGO engaged in educational, socio-economic, and sustainable development activities in Sierra Leone. They aim to integrate the community and Government into their educational program and ensure the holistic development of all people involved. They will provide training for teachers and headteachers, and supplementary materials and create a culture of joy and inclusion throughout the schools.

Rising Academies

Founded in Sierra Leone in 2014, Rising Academy Network is a growing network of inspiring schools in West Africa. Their mission is to unleash the full potential of every student, equipping them with the knowledge, skills and character to succeed in further study, work, and day-to-day life.

Street Child

Street Child works across 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Europe. They work with an expanding network of 95+ local organizations to harness the power and purpose of local-level organizations. Street Child aims to improve learning opportunities for students through a Transformation Model. This model utilizes multiple core components including individualized student support; student-centered instruction; strong school leadership; and shared school ownership, reinforced through a focus on data driven structures and strategies.

EducAid

EducAid has been working to strengthen education in Sierra Leone for more than 25 years, running free, high quality schools and sustainable school improvement projects. EducAid’s intervention focuses on teacher and school leader training with ongoing in-school and community support to implementation to build a common understanding of what excellence in respect-focused effective education looks like and how we can hold each other accountable and support each other to achieve this vision.

Save the Children

Save the Children have been in Sierra Leone since 1999, at first working in Kailahun to support children who were displaced during the civil war. They have since expanded their operations to four more districts.

Save the Children will build teacher capacity in literacy and numeracy teaching techniques, increase children’s access to reading and math materials, and provide support to communities and caregivers for supplementary learning that will enable children to practice math and reading at home. They will also train teachers in child protection and positive discipline strategies to create a safer environment for children in school. Their Community Learning Facilitators will support school communities to conduct sessions with parents and caregivers on children’s right to education, the value of education (particularly for girls), and the protection needs of girls and boys.

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DSTI Holds First Public Legislative Consultation with Partners and Stakeholders.

As citizens, partners and stakeholders converged at the Atlantic Lumley Hotel’s conference room, it was evident that inclusive governance and administrative efficiency was the theme at DSTI’s first Public Consultation Workshop; which brought partners together for initial discussions on the drafting of legislation for the establishment and operation of DSTI as a statutory body in Sierra Leone.

Before the discussions opened, DSTI’s CIO and Minister of Basic Education, Dr David Sengeh, encouraged participants to exhibit raw energy and enthusiasm during the deliberations.

The event commenced with discussions, and statements by several DSTI partners such as Tony Blair Institute (TBI), UNICEF, Massachusett Institute of Technology (MIT) Gov Lab, Coursera for Government, and the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE), based on projects that seek to drive national development. This set the tone for meaningful exchange between participants and created a conducive space for sharing views and suggestions on DSTI’s proposed structure, functions and powers to be captured in the draft bill which is considered an integral part of the consultative process.

Director of Innovation at Unicef Sierra Leone, Shane O’ Connor stated that ‘‘UNICEF’s continued partnership and support will always be available for DSTI’s quality service delivery agenda’’.

The consultation included representatives from public and private sector partners and MDAs supported by DSTI, such as Law Reform Commission, National Telecommunication (NATCOM), Sierra Leoneans in Tech, Orange SL, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Tony Blair Institution ( TBI), Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MOHS), Ministry of Justice (MOJ), Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE), Ministry of Finance (MOF), National Commission for Persons with Disability (NCPD), and Human Resource Management Office (HRMO).

During his presentation, the Head of Project Design and Delivery, PJ Cole, described DSTI projects and the different local and international partnerships. He further emphasized the three core methods of delivery (Human-Centred Design, Fractal Problem Solving and Innovative Technical solutions), and the National Innovation and Digital Strategy (NIDS) which continues to cushion DSTI’s work in influencing and redefining governance interventions across multiple sectors. 

Presentations on the projects implemented at DSTI were done by, States Counsel and Project Coordinator, Salima Bah, Project coordinator, Bineta Diop, and 4IR Lead, David Manley respectively. 

The highlight of the event was a full hour breakout session, which saw participants divided into two groups charged with the responsibility of making proposals and suggestions on (i) the structure and (ii) the functions/powers & regulations upon which DSTI would be established and operated by law and develop constructive recommendations which will influence and reflect in the contents of the DSTI legislation.

The event ended with presentations from the breakout session group leads and sharing insights on the deliberations from their respective groups. During one of the presentations, Tony Blair Institute Technical Consultant, Nomtha Sithole, expressed that “DSTI needs to be the institution that designs and incubates cross-department initiatives and ideas to optimise governance efficiency.” This was also echoed by various groups that DSTI should provide oversight, optimise compliance ratio and set standards for implementation of tech solutions and data systems across all MDAs in Sierra Leone.

Blog, NIDS

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supports Drones in Sierra Leone for medical supply chain innovation

On 20th, October 2020, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded a grant of $131,130 to the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI) to support the proposal for the design of a sustainable and cost-effective drone-delivery model for integration into Sierra Leone’s medical supply chain.

This is a supplement to the grant that was previously awarded for the support of The Integrated Geographic Information System (iGIS)  Portal, a cross-sectoral spatial data infrastructure and geodatabase.

“When DSTI presented their vision to the Interagency Supplies Group on UAS I was determined to support them. I had been aware of the project from a distance, but it was important to hear the clear articulation of how they planned to work across the different departments of the Sierra Leone Government, and with UNICEF and Crown Agents. Supporting and empowering DSTI helps ensure this is Government-led, that partners selection is consistent with Government procurement protocols and that there is a plan to fund implementation in the medium term that donors can get behind.” David Sarley, Senior Program Officer- Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The National Development plan has as one of its strategic objectives, “to transform the health sector from an under-resourced, ill-equipped, and inadequate delivery system into a well resourced and functioning national health-care delivery system that is affordable for everyone and accessible to all.” Consequently, optimizing the speed, responsiveness and efficiency of the existing medical supply chain, through the use of drones to improves access to essential medical supplies, could be a key factor in influencing that outcome.

As an affordable technological device, a drone has the potential to provide increased access to areas in Sierra Leone previously thought too remote or unnavigable. Drones can complete a trip, in under 90 minutes from a single, central location on a drop-and-return basis. This provides leaders and decision-makers in the Ministry of health and Sanitation (MoHS), the following:

  •  a real-time, on-demand delivery strategy for cold chain essential medical supplies  
  •  a cost-effective, timely option for hospitals  and rural community health centres restock rural community health centres to restock 
  •  amplify logistics capabilities by extending the current limited diagnostic coverage 
  •  a rapid-response strategy to pathogen outbreak 

DSTI, in collaboration with the National Medical Supply Agency (NMSA), and their development partners, intend to design a 5-year project to integrate a national drone-based, multi-commodity, medical delivery system in Sierra Leone. This builds on the existing rapport and collaboration with UNICEF Sierra Leone Innovation Office. UNICEF, through the UNICEF Innovation Fund provides resources to quickly assess, fund and scale companies, teams, and ideas that have been developed in new and emerging markets. The Innovation Fund supports the generation of open source, public goods that address the most pressing challenges facing children. It was under this mandate that the collaboration between DSTI and UNICEF SL was forged, leading to the establishment of West Africa’s first Drone / UAV / UAS testing corridor in Sierra Leone in November 2019.  

“In Sierra Leone, innovation is not an option. It is our determination to use fourth industrial revolution technologies to solve our most intractable problems. To see our work in drones, advance from idea, to a drone corridor, and now being projected on a flight path is incredible. The day when lives will be saved because of cost-effective national drone delivery mechanisms is upon us in Sierra Leone. With the partnerships being created and led by government, the impact will be transformational.” Dr David  Moinina Sengeh, CIO 

In line with the objective of developing Sierra Leone’s drone ecosystem organically, the design team will be putting out an expression of interest inviting suppliers to demo multiple use cases and UAV capacity in the corridor to inform the final proposal document. A scholarship would be awarded to the supplier selected using the grant resources.  

The Managing Director of the NMSA, Dr Lawrence Sandy, hopes that the introduction of drone technology will support and enhance the timely delivery of critically needed medical commodities such as blood products, and temperature sensitive drugs like oxytocin to remote and hard to reach communities. He continued by saying, 

“This would save precious lives, empower our health workforce, and strengthen our healthcare systems. A healthcare system is only as good as having the ability to deliver critically needed life-saving products at service delivery points to treat, prevent and reduce disease burden on individuals and communities. As a nation, we’ve made significant strides over the last two years to optimize our drug distribution systems. We are with a strong view that this innovation will reduce our maternal and child mortality and morbidity, improve health outcomes and strengthen our supply chain into a more resilient outfit. We look forward to a fostered partnership and close collaboration on this national drone project.

To make any inquiries, send an email to drones@dsti.gov.sl

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Government is big; but it is small enough for one to have real impact built on vision and values

When you think about government and working for the government, what do you imagine? 

Two years ago, a word cloud of my perceptions read something like this: Governance, Politics, Opaque Systems, Policy, Regulations. At the time, I had just been offered (after a competitive process) the opportunity to work for the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) at the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI). While I had spent the majority of my career in the public sector, I had never worked directly in government (and definitely not close to an Office of the President) and had no idea what this pivot might mean. At the time of the offer, I had built a career and identity focused on studying, deconstructing and organizing against systemic power dynamics in the international development space; designing, running and facilitating adolescent girls programs and movements globally. I am a lawyer but I saw myself as metaphorical David, the small and powerful antidote to Goliath and his excesses.

Substituting the government for Goliath in my imagination and experiences, I struggled with this cognitive gap and had difficulty imagining how I would fit in and what value I would bring. Nonetheless, I was deeply inspired and compelled by H.E. President Bio’s desire to center science and evidence in his government’s decision making and by Dr. David Sengeh’s vision and values for DSTI. I saw the magic and wanted to be part of it. I wanted to help build and resource it. I stood a chance, I thought, to broaden my experience, lending it more grit and a more balanced perspective, deepen my humility and desire to serve as I heard that working in government can be a thankless job. At the very least, I would update my word cloud and perspective on government. 

Turns out, I could not have chosen a better landing and transition into government. Whereas I expected big government and the attendant bureaucracies and inefficiencies, DSTI was an enabling oasis that allowed my colleagues and I the privilege of exercising unbounded intellectual and creative freedoms in effectively crafting our mission, our team and work environment. Under those conditions, we set out “to use science, technology and innovation to support the Government of Sierra Leone to deliver on its national development plan effectively and efficiently; and to help transform Sierra Leone into an innovation and entrepreneurship hub”. We would aim to build a culture that was rooted in the ethos of collaboration, openness, agility and one that focused on the future, problem-solving and humility to unlearn and learn with and from others. We curated a team and environment where young people (in my late thirties, I am one of the oldest staffers at DSTI) and women were not just equally numbered but equally voiced. DSTI is arguably the most gender equal institution in government I am aware of. For me, this is a high note not only because this outcome was consistent with my feminist values, but our approach to recruitment I believe guaranteed that we were able to curate the best and most capable team to deliver our mission in government.

DSTIWomen

I have worked with brilliant and thoughtful men at DSTI without a doubt, however, it is the young women at DSTI whom I have been privileged to collaborate with, to champion and work with that give me the most hope for our country and its future. In those DSTIWomen, I saw and experienced compassion, empathy, drive, humility, honesty, wisdom and brilliance, all qualities that we desperately need at the top of our government structures. The freedoms that allowed us to act were underwritten by a few factors which were enabling in ways I cannot overstate: the start-up nature of DSTI, the complete endorsement of the executive, and the appointment of solid leadership to DSTI with crystal clear vision. Why at the end of the day do all of these matter when experience in and of the larger government remains different? 

I believe that DSTI and what we have built at DSTI matters not as an aberration in the matrix but as a demonstration of what is possible and beyond within our ecosystem. It is an example of what is possible when we imagine different, when Goliath cedes power, when we have leaders who are driven by values, evidence and empathy.  

As if that wasn’t all enough, I also had the chance to move and influence several systems shifting initiatives while at DSTI- something not often imagined possible in government systems. I did this at a level I could only have dreamt of in my previous roles. Coming from the NGO space, I am attuned to the fact that many best in class ideas from the field never break through the project cocoon to replicate and embed in more scalable and sustainable structures. Government can be the north star for scale and sustainability so in my work I had always eyed and appreciated the possibilities and benefits that could come out of innovating alongside government. I just never thought I would be innovating from within government with the necessary mandate to collaborate, convene, influence and actually witness how my work actively molds and shapes government programs and policy that have direct impact on society. Just last year, a team I led at DSTI, in close collaboration with Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE), Teaching Service Commission (TSC), the Tony Blair Institute and other senior government advisors, launched (through the Human Capital Incubator) its first Education Innovation Challenge– a US$1.5M initiative.

Leveraging the Free Quality School Education Programme launched by the central government, the Education Innovation Challenge is designed to support quality education outcomes in Sierra Leone by working with education service providers to test innovations aimed at radically boosting learning outcomes from Sierra Leonean children at the primary school level. This programme was designed with a learning objective (DSTI was involved in design and implementation to the extent that we were interested in creating a solutions ecosystem with MBSSE) and with an end goal and transition plan to MBSSE, the government body with the education mandate. This means as I now plan my move away from DSTI, the first  Education Innovation Challenge has also grown and entered its next phase. Earlier this year, we brokered a partnership with the Education Outcomes Fund to scale the experiment to a pilot which will find a new implementation home within the MBSSE with significant financial commitments from government and other partners.The speed and efficiency of this adoption is remarkable and I deeply appreciate that it would not have been as seamless working from outside government.

I also anchored GoSL’s relationship with the Digital Public Goods Alliance, where the Republic of Sierra Leone is one of four champions, helping influence and shape policy and facilitate resources for open digital technologies and data models towards the attainment of the sustainable development goals in countries like and including Sierra Leone. I was center in facilitating transformative trips and relationships, including the Harvard-MIT engagements and our grant awards, that birthed many other opportunities and involved pitching and persuading partners to direct investment in government through DSTI to enable us to drive evidence-based policymaking and research. These engagements have measurable, visible and direct impact on the lives of people and this is humbling. 

Lest I start to give the impression that it was all la vie en rose, it is important to note at this point that I also encountered numerous challenges and frustrations in my work and not everything I touched turned to gold. In fact, I did fail at times. Some argue that failure makes learning possible. I agree, with a broad caveat that failure makes learning possible within an institution only when that institution is keen to learn, is flexible and has a built in ability to absorb and bounce back. One failure that does stand out is my inability to successfully establish a physical hub space for the Human Capital Development Incubator.

When I joined DSTI, the team had already brokered an agreement with an academic institution in University of Sierra Leone (IPAM)  to use their penthouse space for DSTI. The ambition at DSTI was to design and create a hub space that would accommodate the HCD Incubator, IPAM student entrepreneurs and a coding school. In fact we had entered into an agreement with a corporate sponsor to establish the coding school. The sponsor had agreed to cover recurring costs of running the school and as owner of the space and school, DSTI would cover the capital and all other costs associated with establishing and running the Incubator space and coding school. Unfortunately, I was not able to mobilize the full funding we needed to kickstart this important project. This delay caused some frustration for our partners and while the project hung in limbo, we had to cede use of the penthouse space back to IPAM and there is a chance our corporate sponsors will move ahead without us.The HCD Incubator, even without an official space, operated and thrived from my tiny office at DSTI. At one time, that space was host to more than 6 staffers at a time! Good times.

A big shout out to every career civil servant who has toiled under a less than ideal and enabling condition as I have during my short time in government. I understand my experience is not representative of the majority and the very outcomes that have made my time so fulfilling are not guaranteed even over the course of a career. This is so because moving big bureaucratic systems can be onerous and systemic changes happen slowly and impact often is not felt until years later, often time after a particular administration has passed. I think of it this way: our lines remain long- our lines for opportunities, ministry lines, recruitment lines, payment systems, even getting paid takes longer than what it should- and for citizens, most interaction with government most likely still feels like a long waiting game.

These challenges are exactly why DSTI should exist and be optimized for: The freedoms and mandate granted DSTI are extraordinary and necessary in our quest to enable an ecosystem that accelerates and leapfrogs our national progress whether it is through solving for our basic literacy and numeracy issues, making it easier to do business in Sierra Leone or designing systems to enable government to do its work faster, optimize service delivery to citizens and reduce the time citizens spend waiting for basic government services in health, education or other social services.

I acknowledge we are far from solving our most critical problems and some of the issues I have worked on and highlighted here are still percolating—as a country, we still have a gender problem, we are still struggling with our education outcomes, many of our compatriots do not have the basic necessities but I am proud that in my time at DSTI, I had the opportunity to be changemaker and part of the solution to help demonstrate, build and show the kind of changes that will drive the President’s vision for a true new direction—a Sierra Leone fit for every child and every woman and every citizen.

Click here to apply for the position of Head of Global Partnerships and Business Development.

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50,000 citizens to gain industry-ready skills as Sierra Leone becomes the first African country to launch Coursera’s Workforce Recovery Initiative

With 60% of the world’s student population impacted by the temporary closing of schools and hundreds of millions of people left without employment due to the on-going socio-economic disruption of COVID-19, many industries including education are relying on digital technologies to curb transmission rates, mitigate the impact on student learning and enhance sectoral resilience. In Sierra Leone, for example, technology including, e-learning, radio, TV and SMS are being used to support remote learning in schools and universities.

There is a pressing need for students, at-risk or displaced industry professionals, and unemployed individuals to upskill, reskill and retool in order to gain a competitive edge or have the necessary skills required for roles in the workforce during and post-COVID. In recognition of this, DSTI in collaboration with the Ministry of Technical and Higher Education and Coursera has launched nationally, the first African Coursera Workforce Recovery Initiative!

The Sierra Leone Coursera Workforce Recovery Initiative will offer learning and certification for Sierra Leoneans in over 3,800 courses and 400 specializations effectively supporting 50,000 Sierra Leoneans build on in-demand and industry-ready skills to accelerate workforce development over the next 6 months (July to December 2020).

Coursera is a leading online learning platform for higher education founded by Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng with a vision of providing life-transforming learning experiences to anyone, anywhere. It is now the world’s largest online learning platform with 65 million learners in nearly every county. In light of COVID-19, Coursera launched the Workforce Recovery Initiative to help governments worldwide provide their workforces with free access to 3,800 online courses. The initiative supports governments to help impacted workers and unemployed citizens to reskill and up-skill to regain employment. 

“The pandemic has affected hundreds of millions of jobs around the world, including the livelihoods of many youths in Sierra Leone, Coursera is honoured to partner with the Government of Sierra Leone and the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation to provide young workers in the country with job-relevant online learning to swiftly enter the workforce”. Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO of Coursera.

In the last 4 days since the initiative was launched nationally on Wednesday, July 1st, 2020,  over 2,000 Sierra Leoneans have registered and clocked in 1,664 learning hours to pursue professional certifications in Google IT Automation with Python, web development, data science cybersecurity, entrepreneurship, accounting, AI etc. 

During the High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation webinar convened by the UN Secretary-General in June 2020, the Government of Sierra Leone’s Chief Innovation Officer, David Moinina Sengeh, highlighted that there has been an increase in internet usage in Sierra Leone in the last one year. Increased internet penetration (8.1% to 25%) during this period demonstrates Sierra Leone’s willingness to adapt to new technologies, digitisation and innovation, and means many more Sierra Leoneans will benefit from this initiative.

While President Bio’s administration continues to support individuals and businesses across all industries during COVID, it is also working on incentivizing more people to apply and gain the necessary skill sets that will make them ready to work in an economy that is increasingly digitally dependent on 21st-century problem-solving skills. To join the programme register online here:  https://www.dsti.gov.sl/coursera/

Blog

Sierra Leone’s COVID-19 lock down and curfew E-Pass for essential travel is here

Over 1000 paper applications were submitted to the Sierra Leone COVID-19 Emergency Operation Center (EOC) during a 72-hour lockdown in early April. When additional interdistrict travel restrictions were put in place, the manual process required additional manpower and time. The Government has now announced an indefinite extension on the lockdown and curfew to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, which has killed 4 Sierra Leoneans this week. 

The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS), Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC), and Niche Solutions created the Electronic Pass (E-PASS) Management System (http://www.epass.eoc.gov.sl) as part of an integrated ICT response to COVID-19. The electronic issuance of passes will now make it easier and faster for the EOC to process requests and authorize the movement of essential goods, and service providers during the COVID lockdown and curfew in a transparent and auditable process.  

“We are mobilizing tech resources from within our existing ecosystem to provide government and citizens with the tools they need to stop the spread of the pandemic while mitigating the impact on essential services,” said Michala Mackay, COO, and Director, DSTI. 

“The public should continue to practice social distancing, wash their hands regularly, and respect all government measures put in place to flatten the curve. In order to support the fight against COVID-19, the E-Pass would only be issued to individuals and organizations who offer essential services and functions that are necessary, during this pandemic.”

Essential services include goods and other supplies that Sierra Leoneans need to survive, such as medical supplies, food, public works (electricity, and water), telecommunications, and gasoline. Essential workers are the personnel needed to maintain essential services such as health care workers, security personnel, social and emergency relief. 

A consortium of public and private technology experts will continue to develop tools that would enhance and strengthen existing systems to support the government efforts in response to COVID-19. Niche Technologies is the lead private sector partner on the COVID-19 Lockdown and Curfew E-Pass. Niche’s Chief Executive Officer was a former Director of Planning and Strategy in Sierra Leone’s National Ebola Response Center. He brings his crisis response experience and technical expertise to the forefront.

Mahmoud Idriss, CEO, Niche Technologies in Sierra Leone

“One of the most notable differences  that I see this time around is that the ICT response has been swift and efficient. When we came in as non-state actors, everyone knew their expected deliverables and we helped put the wheel in motion,” said Mahmoud Idriss, CEO Niche Technologies.

“It is not uncommon for the Government to have many partners around the table trying to get the same thing done. The problem is how quickly you can get everyone to agree on what they’re supposed to do. The leadership at DSTI has been effective in removing the hurdles and the bottlenecks that could have slowed down the tech response.”

The E-Pass is but one of many tech solutions currently in the works.  A COVID-19 Mobile Self-Check and Update tool that was launched earlier this month has over 250,000 USSD responses since its launch.

All E-Pass applications will be processed within 12 hours of submission but within 6 hours for emergency requests. An SMS will be sent to confirm or reject an approval. Applicants would also be informed if applications require further review.  E-Passes can only be used by the individual or vehicle whose name and registration number appear on the pass. Security officials at inter-district and other checkpoints would carry out verifications using USSD and other mobile solutions- the mobile phones used are donated by the two leading telecommunication companies in the country.

DSTI will continue to engage with partners in the public and private sectors to deploy innovative solutions that will improve and enhance the Government of Sierra Leone’s COVID-19 response efforts.

To make inquiries call the COVID-19 Lockdown and Curfew E-Pass Toll Number +232-55-117117. For all health emergencies, please call the 117 National Emergency Helpline.

Blog

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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