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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/

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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.

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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 Ministry of Trade and Industry will use technology to make Sierra Leone better for business

The Directorate of Science Technology and Innovation (DSTI) and the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to develop and implement evidence-driven reforms for efficient public service delivery and to make Sierra Leone better for business and trade.

The MoU signed at the Ministry of Trade and Industry at Youyi Building in Freetown last week provides a framework of cooperation and collaboration for both institutions to improve Sierra Leone’s performance on the World Bank’s Doing Business Index. The Doing Business Index released annually compares quantitative indicators on business regulations and the protection of property rights across 190 economies. The index measures government regulations that enhance business activity and those that constrain it. 

Over the past decade, Sierra Leone’s Ease of Doing Business ranking averaged at 150, placing it amongst the worst performers in the world. When H. E. President Julius Maada Bio assumed office in May 2018, the EODB ranking for that year was where it is now at 163 of 190 countries. Committed to creating an effective and transparent business environment in Sierra Leone, H.E Bio launched the Ease of Doing Business initiative as an integrated and coordinated effort across all Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) engaged in service delivery. 

“When government institutions actively seek to share data, knowledge, capacity, and ideas- citizens win. This relationship will improve service delivery not just for the private sector but also for citizens seeking to access government services like payment of taxes or registering a company. These activities fall within the National Development Plan and the National Innovation and Digital Strategy. We seek to make Sierra Leone a favorable place for innovation, entrepreneurship, and industry,” said Dr. Moinina David Sengeh.

“Within our mandates, DSTI and MTI both represent essential ingredients to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 9 – Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure. The Government of Sierra Leone also has the Office of the President Infrastructural Initiatives. All these show our commitment to achieving the SDGs. With MTI specifically, DSTI worked hand in hand to map entire business processes for improving service delivery. We have also developed trackers for holding champions and government officials accountable in this transformation process.” 

Although the MOU makes the partnership between DSTI and MTI official, both institutions have engaged in knowledge sharing, working to fine-tune regulations over the past 18 months.  Together they proffered policy changes to enable decision-makers to implement the necessary reforms to ensure all EODB interventions are sustainable. At the signing of the MoU, DSTI had completed the research-the first part of a three-phase Ease of Doing Business Reform Methodology. Data analysts produced end-to-end process maps for all Doing Business Indicators that reflect both user and administrative processes. 

“The resources and understanding of technology that DSTI has is one of the greatest treasures that DSTI is bringing to MTI and this collaboration will set the tone for business reform in Sierra Leone,” said Dr. Edward Hinga Sandy, Minister of Trade and Industry. 


DSTI supports MDAs with data and technology design to allow policymakers to make data-driven decisions to deliver on Sierra Leone’s national development plan. Since its inception, DSTI has built partnerships with local and international leaders on technology and innovation, including MIT, Statistics Sierra Leone, The Gates Foundation, eGovernance Academy, UNICEF Sierra Leone, and UNDP.

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Sierra Leone uses big data analytics for national economic research

A new, economic data analytics tool released by the Government of Sierra Leone hosts time series data on national inflation, foreign exchange, imports, and exports. The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation said the Sierra Leone Economic Data Analytics Tool (SLEDAT) ushers in a new age of local research capability driven by the New Direction’s agenda to take Sierra Leone from guesswork policymaking to data-driven decision making.

SLEDAT  (www.edat.dsti.gov.sl) was launched in Freetown today with partners; Ministry of Finance, Statistics Sierra Leone, and the Bank of Sierra Leone. The three institutions provided the datasets that will enable citizens and researchers to use the tool to analyze economic trends. A ten-year economic data report based on the visualizations and analytics garnered from the SLEDAT has also been published to kickstart a national conversation on economic data and research.

The tool was developed as a direct response to citizen demands for answers about the country’s economy. Sierra Leoneans know that foreign exchange rate fluctuations have a direct and real impact on the price of everyday goods. Decision-makers know this too. However, this is the first time that researchers, government leaders, and citizens will be able to access, probe, and analyze economic data across the government’s leading data institutions. For now, SLEDAT shows the relationship between the Consumer Price Index (CPI), Import and Export Values, and Foreign Exchange Rate for foreign currencies against the official Bank of Sierra Leone “buy”/”sell” rates. While the tool doesn’t explain why prices rise “dip” or rise “peak,” it allows users to get a bird’s eye view of the country’s economic outlook in real-time. 

According to Dr. Yakama Manty Jones, Director of Research and Delivery Division, Ministry of Finance this is just the beginning of a massive national effort for government-led research on issues of national development. 

A cross-section of DSTI partners at today’s launch of SLEDAT at the Minister of Finance in Freetown – 30 January 2020

“It is the collaboration with DSTI, Stats-SL, Bank of Sierra Leone that makes the development of tools such as SLEDAT possible.  Continuous engagement with both data producers and users enables us to create comprehensive, accurate and timely data in user-friendly formats,” said Dr. Yakama Jones.

“Across Government, especially at the Ministry of Finance, research uptake is increasing.  We seek to ensure that data and evidence inform our policy formulation and implementation processes but to do so we must collaborate. We are committed to research although big data analytics is only just emerging in Sierra Leone.”

The ability to access and visualize datasets makes the government more open and transparent. While DSTI is committed to supporting ministries, departments, and agencies with technology design, creating tools that increase citizen engagement, and accountability is part of what drove President Julius Maada Bio’s vision when he established the Directorate of Science in the first instance.

“Data is important but only if and when it is used for making critical decisions that affect people’s lives,” said Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, Chief Innovation Officer.

“When the Government is this transparent with its data and invites citizens and researchers to engage openly, it builds our confidence in supporting national development. Everyone matters and every action counts- that’s why we must share, link and analyze data openly.”

Mohamed James – DSTI Data Scientist

DSTI’s lead data scientist for SLEDAT, Mohamed James, said that users should consider the tool as the first model-version 1.0 with improvements already in the pipeline. The more people use and engage with the tool by asking questions the more information DSTI will have to make it better.

“When our team at DSTI created SL Economic Data Analytics Tool as with all of our applications, we thought about the end-users: policymakers, researchers, and citizens. How can we create a solution that will change and improve the way everyone understands the economy? How can we simplify these datasets for them?” said Mohamed James.

The Ministry of Finance just adopted a digital public financial management system developed by DSTI. These efforts move Sierra Leone closer to realizing a digital economy- a major pillar of the National Innovation and Digital Strategy (NIDS)

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DSTI Sierra Leone’s Human Capital Development Incubator awarded 1,050,000 CHF grant to improve quality education

Geneva-based  UBS Optimus Foundation and the Peter Cundill Foundation have awarded a 1,050,000 swiss francs (10,5 billion leones) grant to the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) to support the Education Innovation Challenge (EIC) on its quest to improve learning outcomes at primary schools. The EIC is under the technical supervision of the Human Capital Development (HCD) Incubator at DSTI.  President Bio launched the HCD Incubator in December 2018. 

Human Capital Development Incubator Team at DSTI including (L-R) Wilsona Jalloh, Elizabeth Smith, Aissatou Bah at a community engagement meeting in Makeni, Northern Province at the launch of the Education Innovation Challenge – October 2019

The Peter Cundill Foundation was established in Bermuda in 2012, following the death of its founder, Peter Cundill. In low to middle-income countries like Sierra Leone, PC Foundation supports organizations that are increasing learning adjusted years of schooling (LAYS) through wider access to and/or quality of basic education.  

The UBS Optimus Foundation is a grant-making foundation working to break down barriers that prevent children from reaching their potential by funding leading organizations to improve the health, education, and protection of children. 

“UBS Optimus Foundation has previously supported education work in Sierra Leone through various partners. However, this direct investment in government through DSTI enables us to drive evidence-based policymaking and research in the educational sector,” said Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, Chief Innovation Officer.

“The only way we can transform education- through data, innovation, and policymaking-is to focus on the learning outcomes for the children. This grant will support DSTI and partners to evaluate learners directly and also test new innovations and programs that will support the government’s flagship program in education.”

The government of Sierra Leone launched its Free Quality School Education Program in August 2018; the first year focused on access. Year two, which began in August 2019, is where the Education Innovation Challenge (EIC) comes in.

In October 2019, five organizations in the education sector were chosen through a competitive process to implement their innovative approaches to improve learning outcomes in Sierra Leone. 

Save the Children-Sierra Leone, Rising Academy Networks, EducAid, National Youth Awareness Forum Sierra Leone (NYAFSL), and World Vision International, are working in 170 schools randomly selected across all regions for the 2019-2020 school year. 

The Human Capacity Development Incubator is a hub for local start-ups, private, public, and academic organizations to collaborate on projects that will help citizens access government services and information more efficiently. At the HCD, partners share data, build models, develop hypotheses, and test pilot projects to inform government investments in human capital.

In July 2019,  the HCD Incubator received a $582,626 grant from the New Venture Fund for Global Policy and Advocacy.  In November, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded the HCD Incubator a $773,476 grant for DSTI’s Integrated GIS Portal.

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No citizen left behind – Sierra Leone develops a smart new direction towards innovation

FREETOWN – Sierra Leone’s Directorate for Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) has unveiled a national vision to digitize the way the government manages its resources and how citizens receive services.

Dr. Moinina David Sengeh , chief innovation officer checks the 3D printer on stage for the launch of Sierra Leone’s National Innovation and Digital Strategy – 1 November 2019 at Bintumani Conference Centre in Aberdeen, Freetown.

President Julius Maada Bio officially launched the National Digital and Innovation Strategy (NIDS) in Freetown on Friday, 1 November. He hopes it will boost and quicken Sierra Leone’s human capital development.

DSTI, which celebrated its first anniversary this week, is the agency that provided the technical know-how for Sierra Leone’s plan to go from analog to digital over the next 3 to 10 years. The foundation for digitization under NIDS comes after eight months of consultation with government and civil society leaders, donors, international actors, and citizens. A delegation from Sierra Leone also took a learning tour to Estonia-recognized global leaders for state-led digitization and e-governance. 

“What I have learned in engagement with innovators, and technologists from MIT, TED and here within Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation is that if we are open to exploring new ideas, and innovatively doing things, we not only gain a better understanding of our development challenges but we also solve the problems affecting our people,” said President Bio. 

Sierra Leone has a population of 7 million, with 57% living in poverty. Out of 188 countries, it is ranked 184 on the United Nations 2018 Human Development Index. Other countries with the same GDP per capita rank better on the HCD Index. The country’s medium-term development plan notes that public service delivery does not meet the population’s basic needs for developing human capital. 

Over 55% of households in Sierra Leone own a mobile phone, and it is this fact that makes digitization plausible. Citizens can already access a DSTI Integrated Geographical Information System (iGIS) to retrieve information about public service infrastructure. With the iGIS Portal, citizens can use Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) to send an SMS to the shortcode *468# to locate government services-‘find my nearest school,’ ‘hospital,’ or ‘local court,’ saving time and in cases of emergency facilitating life-saving interventions.

Sierra Leone is embracing digitization so that no citizen gets left behind. It hopes to have every national own a digital ID. All government employees, ministries, departments and agencies, and national assets will also be digitized. Banking and financial services will also be digitized-the latter already underway as of August when Sierra Leone became the first country to deploy blockchain digital ID platform to make financial services accessible to the unbanked. 

With NIDS, the government will better understand when, how, and where to provide services, and more importantly, which services will deliver the most impact towards the HCD. 

For the vision to become a reality, the government’s leaders must embrace the change, said the Chief Innovation Officer. 

One government agency already leading the way is Statistics SL – the agency that collects, stores, and analyzes demographic data to inform decision making. NIDS enables researchers at Stats to launch a Comprehensive Health and Epidemiological Surveillance System (CHESS)-a longitudinal study that will follow participants throughout their life. CHESS relies on e-ID to link data from health facilities to community-level information.

“We struggled to create the electronic identification system in other countries like Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Burkina Faso, India and Vietnam where we implemented CHESS for research,” said 

Sierra Leone’s Statistician-General, Professor Mallam O. Sankoh, a global expert on development research and data for decision making.

Sierra Leone’s government aims to be fully underway on its digitization journey by 2023. Over five million citizens already have a digital ID that unlocks with their thumbprint. DSTI has developed a fleet management system that tracks and manages government vehicles to stop the kind of loss that occurred in 2018 when thousands of cars belonging to the state went missing.

25-year-old Jane Williams from Cole Farm, who works at a local media company, said that to her digitization matters because of accountability.

“This will also give citizens peace of mind knowing we can use digital data to monitor officials in terms of corruption,” said Williams at Bintumani Conference Centre after the launch of NIDS.

“Sierra Leone doesn’t lead in many things, but today with DSTI and the launch of NIDS, we can say we lead with technology for development.”

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