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10 Things to learn from DSTI and UNICEF’s Hackathon

Over the past decade, companies across industries have digitised their operations and processes. Even now, businesses are employing artificial intelligence (AI) to streamline workflows and supply chains. 

As a result, today’s job seekers require specialised skills to help them stand out from the crowd. While some colleges, universities and training providers have modified or expanded their curriculum to meet the growing demand for digital know-how, many educators struggle to provide the essential skills students need.

In an effort to prepare young tech enthusiasts for tomorrow’s fast-paced digital job market; DSTI and UNICEF have staged a Digital Public Goods Hackathon to bring together young people from different backgrounds to collaborate and build digital solutions in relation to improving online public services.

Here Are 10 Key Takeaways From The DPG Hackathon; 

  1. Increase awareness of the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s (4IR) career options for students.
  1. Contribute to human capital development by targeting 700+ students. 
  1. Improve critical thinking skills for young people venturing into the tech space.
  1. Fostering experiential learning among tech enthusiasts.
  1. Expanding the student’s worldview through extended discussions and Q&A sessions.
  1. Conducting Practical training for students with an introduction to 4AIR skills (data science, software development artificial intelligence, communications in tech, etc.) 
  1. Foster a stronger bond between student DPG champions and DSTI by increasing the awareness of open-sourced environments in Sierra Leone.
  1. Collect data that helps DSTI understand aspects of local culture that stereotype gender roles and prevent young girls from embarking on a career in STEM. 
  1. Encourage students to practicalize theories and engage in brainstorming sessions.  
  1. Help students develop a critical intellect for creative problem-solving.

Digital transformation is already gradually coming into all spheres of life. Every day we feel the importance of remotely accessible and community-friendly public services, which are critical to providing seamless, convenient and transparent services to people, especially for the most vulnerable groups of population.” David Manley, Lead Project Coordinator, DSTI.

What Are DPG’s?

Digital public goods are public goods in the form of open-source software, data sets, AI models, standards or content that are generally free and contribute to sustainable national and international digital development to tackle real-world challenges.

Learn More Here 

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Sierra Leone’s Team Lorem emerge as 1 of 20 country teams to win Generation Unlimited ImaGen Ventures Global Youth Challenge

The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI), in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Sierra Leone, and the  Ministry of Youth Affairs (MoYA) is pleased to officially celebrate the young innovators who represented Sierra Leone at the Generation Unlimited imaGen Ventures Global Youth Challenge. Team Lorem competed against 10,000 global submissions from 37 countries and won 15,000 USD in seed money and mentorship for their e-Learning intervention.

The team of three (L-R Abdul Rahim Jalloh, Emmanuel Kamanda & Lovetta Bangura) comprising of 3rd Year students from Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, pitched the intervention of the “EASY S.T.E.M (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) SERVER’‘. 

The easy stem server is a database server which gives college students access to massive S.T.E.M learning content offline. The intervention received high commendation for its unique business model which laid premium on affordability, reliability, and personalised content curation as its enduring hallmarks.

The announcement which took place at the COP27 Climate Summit in Egypt on the 10th November 2022 was live-streamed at a well-attended event in Freetown. The star-studded audience featured Government Ministers, Students, Civil Society Activists, Private Sector Executives, Representatives from Non- Governmental Organisations,  Journalists and many more.

Speaking on this amazing feat, Mohamed Orman Bangura, Minister of Youth Affairs, commended the participants for making the nation proud on the world stage. He also pledged the government’s commitment to building youth capacity and cementing hard-won gains in youth affairs. He continued by saying that this win is a testament to the fact that the government’s youth-centred agenda is bearing fruits. 

“It is a joy to see young people embracing the wave of opportunity, growth, and progress that technology offers. Interventions of this nature set the tone for a more extensive and robust youth agenda. Congratulations to Team LOREM. We are proud of you.” – Dr. Sulaiman Braimoh, UNICEF Representative In Sierra Leone.

“DSTI is grateful for the continued collaboration with UNICEF and the Ministry of Youth Affairs. The Generation Unlimited project aligns with the Government’s flagship Human Capital Development agenda. The success of these young people shows our relenting commitment to transmit the message of hope and development through education for every child in Sierra Leone” – Dr. David Moinina Sengeh, Chief Innovation Officer,  DSTI & Minister of Basic Education.

After an exciting event, Team Captain, Abdul Rahim Jalloh, was overjoyed;

“I am thrilled to have been part of this transformative experience, especially at a time when Africa longs and thirsts for a generation of creatives. I am very proud of our team, and all we have been able to achieve thus far. Big Thanks To DSTI, UNICEF, GenU, and MoYA. We are very excited for our next chapter.” – said Abdul Rahim Jalloh, Team Lead, LOREM.

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Sierra Leone Launches Three (3)  Digital Learning Hubs (DLH) to Boost Digital Skills Acquisition.

The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI), in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Sierra Leone, has launched and officially announced the opening of  3 Digital Learning Hub locations; at Fourah Bay College (FBC), Freetown, Ernest Bai Koroma University, Makeni, and the Eastern Polytechnic in Kenema. The opening of the hubs comes as a sequel to the opening of the first hub at Institute of Public Administration and Management (IPAM)  in November 2021.  

The establishment of the hubs aims to address existing challenges of skills gap for young people within the workforce by providing more digital learning opportunities. It also aims to boost the acquisition and retention of in-demand skills for young people intending to enter the job market and cultivate improved learning outcomes for the current workforce.

The Learning Hub will provide a conducive workspace with free access to computers and reliable internet connection. The hub’s registered users will also have access to a wide range of digital learning content via the Learning Passport platform to help learners fully capitalise on available opportunities. 

The Hub will function on a day-to-day management procedure, and operations will be facilitated by Big Bang World, an organisation with experience in the establishment, management and operation of digital learning centers.

The roll-out of these hubs is set to optimise and redefine existing notions about digital education in Sierra Leone meaningfully. The course content of this initiative is tailored to reflect a viable alternative to traditional learning methods and aligns with the broader objective of advancing the Human Capital Development Agenda of the Government of Sierra Leone and its partners. 

The hub at FBC will initially have the eUPSHIFT course available, but will later feature content from HP Life and other organisations.

UNICEF Sierra Leone’s Innovation officer, Janice Williams highlighted the progress made on Digital Innovation.

With the launch of these Digital Learning Hubs, we are making progress to deliver on UNICEF’s ReImagine Education agenda. Making digital platforms, like the Learning Passport, and digital content, such as the eUPSHIFT, available in Sierra Leone, we are taking a step towards making digital learning as one of the essential services for every child and young person.”

Echoing the promise of the hub in transforming skills acquisition and overall professional development of citizens is Vice Chancellor of USL, Professor Foday Sahr, 

We salute the efforts of DSTI and Unicef for breathing life into the aspirations of increased workforce development designed to foster job market competitiveness and reduce skills deficit. We are thrilled to host the digital learning hub and we are certain that its use will be maximised to its fullest potential” – Professor Foday Sahr.

Want to know more about the Learning Hub or how to be a member? Go to [https://www.dsti.gov.sl/portfolio/dlh/

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Project Giga; Redefining Digital Education for every school in Sierra Leone.

It’s a hot Friday afternoon, and lunch break at the Dr. S M Broderick Municipal school is set to begin. Within seconds, after the bell tolls, the air is buzzing with throngs of excited school children rushing to annex the most coveted spots on the playground. 

Children At Play During Lunch Break

Whether this excitement is in anticipation of the thrills of life at home on weekends or whether they were just happy to be out in the open enjoying their favorite pastimes is anyone’s guess. 

Our team, however, comprising UNICEF and DSTI staff, had a different reason for being excited. The project to connect 11,000+ schools to the internet across Sierra Leone had begun, and here we were finding out how this intervention is amplifying EdTech and improving learning outcomes in the first three connected schools; Dr. S. M Broderick Junior Secondary School at Ferguson Street, Saint John’s Primary School at Savage Street, and Mabella Municipal Primary School at Sani Abacha Street.

Children In Class 3 At The Dr. S. M Broderick Junior Secondary School

Project Giga is a global initiative launched in 2019 by UNICEF and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to connect every school worldwide to the Internet by 2030. With 2.9 billion people still offline and 96% of these people living in developing countries, such an intervention comes as welcomed news, noting that the lack of connectivity could significantly diminish learning opportunities for children in underprivileged communities and limit the ability to fulfill their potential in the coming years.

Children In Class At The Dr. S. M Broderick Junior Secondary School

The Government of Sierra Leone, as part of its Medium Term National Development Plan (2019-2023), seeks to not only address traditional challenges in the education sector but equip young learners with the skills and tools needed to be productive in the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). This objective perfectly dovetails with the larger agenda of achieving its Human Capital Development aspirations, especially in skills acquisition and enhancing the overall quality of education in the country. 

Computer Lab At Saint John’s Primary School Provided By Bridge The Digital Divide Also Known As ST Foundation

“Connecting schools allows children to develop digital skills and enhance access to online learning content. In the process, schools can also become anchor points for surrounding communities: if you can connect the school, you can also connect local businesses and essential services.  This creates opportunities for service providers to generate revenue from paying users, making connectivity more sustainable and enriching the local digital economy” – Norman Muhwezi, Innovation Specialist, UNICEF.

A Child In Class At Saint John’s Primary School 

Speaking to the children at Saint John’s school, one recurring theme is that the internet represents more than screens and keyboards; for these children,  the internet literally translates to information, choice, opportunity and most importantly hope for a brighter future. When asked what they’ll do now that they are connected to the internet, one kid excitedly exclaimed “EVERYTHING”.

Mrs. Florence Collier in charge of Class Three (3) Red at the Dr. S. M Broderick Nursery, Preparatory, and Junior Secondary School stated:

“As one of the first beneficiaries, I am deeply moved and strongly in support of this initiative to provide free internet to every school across the country. This will bridge the digital divide with access to teaching and learning materials, particularly for teachers to keep up with contemporary techniques. For instance, young children learn better in fun and exciting settings, so with the installation of this internet, I can download nursery rhymes and play them in class for the children. This initiative will spark creativity in young children for years to come”. 

Mrs. Florence Collier, Class 3 teacher, S.M. Broderick  

Following the successful connection of these three initial schools, Project Lead for Giga at DSTI, Hafsatu Rakie Sesay, indicated that the project’s next phase would involve connecting 39 schools, particularly in the provinces.

DSTI prioritizes human capital development as one of the key pathways for achieving the goal of transforming Sierra Leone into an innovation and entrepreneurial hub. Our approach to digital education is based on the core principles of Universal Access, Radical Inclusion, Accelerated Service Delivery, and Quality Learning.  Our entire team feels incredibly passionate about this, and there’s much enthusiasm, energy, and hard work currently being invested in making sure the project makes the desired impact”, she concluded. 

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DSTI, UNICEF and MBSSE Train 84 Education Stakeholders across 4 Districts on the use and Benefits of the Learning Passport

The Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI) in collaboration with the Ministry of Basic & Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE) and the  United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)   delivered a four (4) day training to 84 senior education stakeholders on the use of the – MBSSE Learning Passport (MBSSE-LP). The training took place across four districts; Port Loko,  Makeni, Bo and Kenema from the 26th – 30th of August 2022.

(DSTI’s LP Project Lead, Bani Forster Gives LP Overview Before Live Demo)

This training of education stakeholders promises to enhance examination preparedness amongst school children and improve general learning outcomes nationwide. This is one of those rare occasions where the promise of practical solutions is being shared with those who need it most.

(Training Participants With Staff From UNICEF, DSTI & MBSSE In Port Loko)

From the very start, the training which featured presentations on varied use cases and practical breakout sessions on the use of the platform held the promise of exploring a new frontier in digital education and dispel myths about leveraging tech for public education in Sierra Leone.

(Janice Williams, UNICEF’s LP Coordinator, Aiding Participants With The Mobile LP During Breakout Session In Port Loko)

The Learning Passport (LP) is a UNICEF and Microsoft-supported digital education platform that provides online, offline and mobile access to educational resources via technology devices. Learning Passport (LP) forms part of UNICEF’s ReImagine Education agenda under the flagship program Generation Unlimited

(UNICEF’s Innovation Officer, Janice Williams, Making The Opening Statement In Port Loko)

“Projects that advance digital learning like the Learning Passport, Digital Learning Hubs (DLH) and Giga provide the unique opportunity for Sierra Leone to adopt a dynamic, fluid and progressive approach towards innovation and digitization’’. – Janice Kaday Williams, Innovation Officer, UNICEF.

In line with the Government’s Free Quality School Education (FQSE) Programme, the MBSSE LP looks to make learning opportunities accessible, equitable and available on a large scale. The platform was launched in February 2022 and has recorded a consistent increase in its use with over 10,000 registered users. 

(Training Participants With Staff From UNICEF’s, DSTI & MBSSE In Bo District)

‘‘Building sustainable solutions to address critical skills deficits and prepare young people for a fast-paced digital future remains one of our compelling priorities at DSTI. The MBSSE-Learning Passport seeks to equip learners with digitized learning materials, past questions and most importantly mock exams with automated results.’’ – Jasper Sembie, Head of Operations & Finance, DSTI.

The training brought together personnel from the Teaching Service commission (TSC) and senior education staff from the respective districts for extended discussions on how this platform can be integrated into the learning process and used by school children for improved performance in public examinations. This will particularly provide access to quality learning resources for children in less privileged communities and help parents save money previously used to purchase past exam questions.

(Training Participant From TSC in Makeni Making A Contribution)

Speaking on the outcome of the trainings, Regional Coordinator (North) FSQE, Mr. Allieu Dausy Wurie and Director of Curriculum & Research MBSSE, Mr. Osman Kamara jointly emphasised that the training ‘is testament to the shared will and unsullied commitment between government and its development partners to increase access to quality learning opportunities in Sierra Leone. We will ensure that the knowledge acquired from this training trickles down into communities’’.

(Director of Curriculum & Research at MBSSE, Mr. Osman Kamara, Outlining The Goals of The Training in Port Loko)

NEXT STEPS

When asked “What’s Next ?”,  LP & DLH Project Coordinator at DSTI, Bani Forster,  confirmed that the wider team is currently holding consultations on the possibility of upscaling the training to include teachers and cover more provincial areas for targeted impact.  

He further explained that three (3) new learning hubs are set to be opened and these centres will provide users with access to the internet and computers where the LP can be used with ease and convenience.

“Learning Passport has the latent potential to redefine existing notions about the role of tech in accelerating learning outcomes. Our goal is to provide every child with choice, opportunities and quality education. These training sessions revealed so much excitement, positive energy and avenues for development; digital learning in Sierra Leone can only get better from here onward.” – Bani Forster, LP Project Lead, DSTI.

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Generation Unlimited Sierra Leone; A Blueprint for stumulating creativity and Upscaling Opportunities for young people in Sierra Leone

Youths across the globe stand on the brink of creating a revolution that will usher in the dawn of a new era. An era marked by resourcefulness, positive change, and sustainable development. Hence, an overarching need exists to create platforms that guarantee exposure, opportunities for creative problem-solving, and skills acquisition for young people.

(Young People at The Exhibition)

Through the Generation Unlimited Sierra Leone (GenU SL) initiative, the Ministry of Youth Affairs (MoYa), in partnership with the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF SL), hosted an exhibition and Bootcamp to showcase the impacts of various projects designed to expand opportunities for career development, entrepreneurship and sustainable livelihoods for young people between the ages of 10 and 24 years.

GENERATION UNLIMITED EXHIBITION

The exhibition, which took place on the 5th of March, 2022, at the Occasions Villa, Lakka, in Freetown, brought together over 150 participants from government agencies, UN Agencies, development partners, the private sector, and young people, who demonstrated some of their on-going projects and how these interventions are poised to positively impact the lives of children and young people in Sierra Leone.

(Young People At The Exhibition)

The quest to be part of this impactful process commenced 5 months earlier for these participants. On October 28th, 2021, the GenU SL National Partnership Committee put out a nationwide call for applications inviting young innovators across the country to submit solutions in a Youth Challenge that aims to address social challenges and improve the quality of life in their communities.

(Young People At The Exhibition)

15 teams were selected from over 400 team applications. On March 5th, 2022, an eager crop of young innovators began the week-long journey through workshops and team-building exercises designed to sculpt their ideas into practical products and solutions that can be taken to scale.

(Kids From Saint Joseph’s School For The Hearing Impaired)

“I am thrilled to be part of this transformative experience, especially when Africa longs and thirsts for a generation full of creative and innovative youth who show passion in everything they do. If we choose to develop in the best way possible, investing in our youth is the right course of action.” – Eliza Gloria Wilson, Exhibition & Bootcamp Participant.

The exhibition was a well-attended opening event that brought together leading experts from the professional spectrum. The star-studded audience featured Government Ministers, Civil Society Activists, Private Sector Executives, Representatives from Non- Governmental Organisations such as Plan International, Restless Development, One Family People, Journalists, and many more.

(UNICEF Country Representative Dr. Suleiman Braimoh & Hon. Min of Youth Affairs Mohamed Orman Bangura)

The exhibition’s central theme sought to promote public awareness about existing skills acquisition programs, shared learning, networking, and employment opportunities for young people in the public-private-youth partnership. In addition, young people could interact and engage with stakeholders on models for optimising large-scale investment opportunities, programmes, and innovations that could help young people become productive in life.

Making their respective statements at the exhibition, several speakers notably underscored the importance of young people acting and building the future they deserve. 

(Reps From DSTI, UNICEF & MOYA)

“Every old man was once a young man but not every young man will become an old man if they don’t make use of today. As a young person, you will have yourself to blame tomorrow if you do not make the best use of today.” – Mohamed Orman Bangura, Minister of Youth Affairs.

“Young people must embrace the wave of opportunity, growth, and progress that technology offers. Initiatives of this nature set the tone for a more extensive discourse on the role and evolution of tomorrow’s leaders.” – Michala Mackay, Chief Operating Officer and Director of DSTI.

“Young people constitute a significant proportion of the population in Sierra Leone and are pivotal to the country’s development. The GenU initiative provides an opportunity for all young people to network, showcase their talents, and harness existing opportunities to realise their potential to the fullest possible extent,” said Dr. Suleiman Braimoh, UNICEF Representative in Sierra Leone.

THE GENU IMAGEN VENTURES BOOTCAMP

The buzz and momentum from the exhibition day activities set the stage for the BootCamp.  The Bootcamp was designed as a 5-day workshop training that utilised UPSHIFT modular curriculum to instruct young people on developing social innovation skills in response to issues affecting their communities.

(Lead Consultant at Afriqia HR Solutions; Maryam Darwich Facilitates Bootcamp Session)

(Young People Engaged Team Building Exercise At Bootcamp)

THE GENU IMAGEN VENTURES PITCH COMPETITION 1.0

The Bootcamp culminated in a pitch competition where 5 of the most promising ideas were awarded USD 1,000 each in seed funding and technical support. The five winning teams were selected, representing Makeni, Western Area, and Kenema regions whose solutions centered around solving critical issues concerning Environmental Health, Climate Change, Disabilities inclusion, Digital skills, and Online learning tools.

(Participants From Team Normalnet At Pitch Competition 1.0)

MENTORSHIP & ACCELERATION PHASE

Following a successful first pitch, the five winning teams engaged in pitch training sessions with Innovation SL designed as diagnostic exercises to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the participant’s pitch skills and the feasibility of their business plans.

(Head of Innovations SL Francis Stevens George facilitating a pitch training session)

THE GENU IMAGEN VENTURES PITCH COMPETITION 2.0

These sessions ended with a final pitch competition at Mamba Point Hotel to determine the two most promising solutions to represent Sierra Leone at the GenU global youth innovation competition.

(Judges at the Pitch Competition 2.0)

“DSTI is grateful for the continued collaboration with UNICEF and the Ministry of Youth Affairs. The Generation Unlimited project aligns with the Government’s flagship Human Capital Development agenda. Being that the youth accounts for over 60% of the country’s population, projects like GenU awaken their entrepreneurial ingenuity and reaffirms our commitment to delivering on the National Development Plan” – Jasper Sembie, Head of Finance & Operations, DSTI.

(DSTI’s Head of Finance & Operations, Jasper Sembie, Delivering The Keynote Address)

After a heated battle of wits, teams LOREM AND TOMDACT won the pitch and will represent Sierra Leone at the global competition.

(TEAM LOREM – Pitched the idea of developing an e-learning intervention in STEM)

(TEAM TOMDACT – Pitched the idea of developing a skills training initiative for persons living with disability)

Watch the Official Live Announcement here

Tanya Phiri, Youth Innovation Specialist at UNICEF SL, speaking on the benefits and true goal of the initiative, emphasised that “As part of our robust big picture strategy, the young people will further receive mentorship opportunities to support the implementation of their projects. Ultimately, the aim is to inspire young people who possess brilliant ideas but lack the resources to actualize their dreams and make a difference in their communities”.

(Winning Teams from Pitch Competition 1.0)

NEXT STEPS

Following the completion and success of the Exhibition and Bootcamp, GenU project coordinator at DSTI, Fatmata Bangura, indicated that the project will continue with a 6-month Mentorship and  Acceleration phase. “Invariably, these are all geared towards ensuring that we adequately prepare the two most promising solutions to represent Sierra Leone at the ImaGen Ventures global youth innovation challenge,” she concluded.

About  Generation Unlimited Global

Generation Unlimited is a global multi-sector partnership designed to meet the urgent needs for expanded education, training, and employment opportunities for young people. Gen U, which prioritises young people in the development agenda, creates global public-private-youth partnerships to co-create and support large-scale investment opportunities, programmes, and innovations to become productive in life.

https://www.generationunlimited.org

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Sierra Leone joins Africa’s tech nations to deploy drones for COVID-19 Response

Drones flew over the capital city of Freetown during a three-day lock-down in March as part of Sierra Leone’s COVID-19 Response. The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) collaborated with a local drone company to capture images to understand citizen compliance in the Western Urban and Western Rural districts during the lock-down.

In West Africa, Sierra Leone has the sub-region’s only national government drone corridor which was launched in November 2019, by H.E. Julius Maada Bio in partnership with UNICEF, and Njala University. Since then, the nation’s first certified female drone pilot graduated from the Africa Data and Drone Academy’s (ADDA) drone certification program at Malawi University of Science and Technology, aerial drones have been used in medical deliveries, and now for COVID-19 emergency response activities.

Countries in Africa that have embraced innovation are integrating technological solutions in their COVID-19 Response. This week Rwanda used drones to spread public health awareness messages. In South Africa, Artificial Intelligence and drones are collecting data on citizen movement and lockdown measures. Similarly, in Tunisia, police robots equipped with AI capabilities are manning the streets as part of their compliance monitoring strategies.

Sierra Leone’s DSTI has the vision to use science, technology, and innovation to support government service delivery and strengthen the entrepreneurial ecosystem. DSTI is currently deploying its scientists and technologists to support the Government’s integrated COVID-19 Response.

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

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

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

Emeka Okafor
Ecosystems Accelerator Lead, DSTI Sierra Leone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Building the workforce of the future – Sierra Leone sends a woman to master drones in Malawi

Rakie Sesay, a 24-year-old mechanical engineer from Freetown is the first person from Sierra Leone to attend the Africa Data and Drone Academy’s (ADDA) drone certification program at Malawi University of Science and Technology.  

UNICEF Sierra Leone and the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) made a joint call for application to the ADDA program after the launch of the Drone Corridor at Njala University, Sesay answered that call. 

She and others from the continent have enrolled at the UNICEF-sponsored African Drone and Data Academy operated in partnership with the Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST), and Virginia Tech University. Located in Lilongwe, the academy is hosting the selected applicants for three months. Upon completion of the course, graduates will receive a Certificate of Drone Technology (CDT). The course covers aircraft fundamentals, operations, regulations, and data analytics for drones-Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV).

Graduates of the program will be licensed as drone pilots under the Malawi government and will possess valuable skills to enter the drone workforce.

“The future is here and we need to build our human resources as governments so that our citizens can compete globally.”  Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, Sierra Leone’s Chief Innovation Officer. 

“Among the critical fourth industrial revolution technologies that will shape the economic and social development of Africa is drones. It gives us a lot of confidence that young people in Sierra Leone are acquiring the skill sets needed locally and internationally to prepare us for that future,” Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, Sierra Leone’s Chief Innovation Officer. 

Drone technology is an emerging field in Africa. There are only two drone corridors on the continent; in Sierra Leone and Malawi. A drone corridor is an airspace designated and defined by aviation authorities to keep private drone operations out of the non-segregated airspace in which manned aircrafts operate. Drones provide instant telecommunications infrastructure to perform quick deliveries for equipment, drugs, and patients; they also enhance search and rescue efforts to assess damage and map disaster zones. 

By participating in the Africa Drone and Data Academy, Sesay will become Sierra Leone’s first certified female drone pilot.

“There are but a few drone pilots in Sierra Leone so what this opportunity to study in Malawi gives me is the chance to not only perfect my flying skills but also learn how to build drones,” said Sesay.

When she returns home, Sesay will join a community of drone researchers and enthusiasts currently testing use cases for medical deliveries and drones for social good at Sierra Leone’s drone corridor. 

Rakie Sesay at the launch of Sierra Leone’s Drones for Good Corridor – 29 November 2019 at Njala University.

“Seeing a dynamic, young Sierra Leonean furthering her skills at the African Drone and Data Academy is exciting. We see that the opportunities for people to make a difference for children in Sierra Leone through the technology and innovation sectors are accelerating. For example, with Sierra Leone’s Drone Corridor, someone like Rakie will have space and support to contribute in a positive way to Sierra Leone,” said Shane O’Connor, T4D Specialist, UNICEF Sierra Leone.

In November 2019, the President of Sierra Leone launched a 25-acre drone corridor in Moyamba District, Southern Province. The corridor, which includes two drop-off sites in Bo and Ernest Bai Koroma University, in the Northern Province, was set up by the Directorate of Science Technology and Innovation in partnership with UNICEF-Sierra Leone, Njala University, and Korri Chiefdom.

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