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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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Drones for Good Corridor launched as drones take flight to deliver medicine to remote areas in Sierra Leone

FREETOWN; 29 November 2019 — Sierra Leone is a step closer to fast and efficient health care delivery of medical supplies, thanks to the drone corridor launched by H.E. President Julius Maada Bio in Njala today.  

During the launch, test drones were launched from the 250m runway to demonstrate the capability of drones to travel in a 200km square airspace to deliver supplies to health centers, which have traditionally experienced delays due to distances and topography.    

This new way of service provision is supported by UNICEF in partnership with Sierra Leone’s Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI).

“It is time for Sierra Leone and other developing countries to take the lead in solving our developmental challenges, such as maternal mortality. My Government has prioritised technology and innovation as an essential part of our solutions package. Using fourth industrial revolution technologies to accelerate our development goals is not an option–it is the only way we can quickly and most efficiently address the huge problems existing for our people,” said President Bio.

Sierra Leone’s maternal mortality rate is 1,165 per 100,000 live births, which is one of the highest globally. According to the Ministry of Health & Sanitation National Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child, and Adolescent Health Strategy 2017-2021, almost half (46%) of all maternal deaths are due to obstetric hemorrhage or blood loss.   

Women in remote rural communities like the Njala Kori Community Health Centre, which serves a population of 4000 residents, are at the most risk of maternal deaths and would therefore benefit from the speed and efficiency that drone technology will provide to the health sector. 

“The facilities to store blood are not widely available, so mothers die due to a lack of blood. Drones can be used to deliver this life-saving input at a cost and speed to make a real difference as we have seen in other parts of the world.” said Dr. Suleiman Braimoh, UNICEF Representative.

A drone corridor is a segregated area and airspace where drones and drone solutions can be tested for use to support different sectors in the country. With support from UNICEF Sierra Leone and UNICEF’s Office of Innovations in New York, Sierra Leone’s drone corridor will explore using aerial drones for medical deliveries, emergency response activities, agroforestry, and geospatial mapping to start. The Government of Sierra Leone, through the Civil Aviation Authority and the DSTI, is working with partners to develop a regulatory framework for drones to take flight for health service delivery and other use cases for societal impact.

Over the past weeks, DSTI has held engagements with Njala University, who signed a Memorandum of Understanding to provide the land for the corridor. Njala has committed 73 acres in total of its property to the corridor to support the drone ecosystem. Researchers and students will gain experience and new skills in drone technology as they work with DSTI and UNICEF to test use cases for drones in Sierra Leone. 

DSTI provided the technical leadership from the Government that fast tracked the construction of the corridor–their oversight will continue with the collection of data for research and decision making. 

Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, Chief Innovation Officer, said the partnership with UNICEF has made it possible for Sierra Leone to explore the use of drones for development.  He noted that DSTI and UNICEF would collect data on all drone deliveries beyond today’s test launch to gain insights to inform decision making in health service delivery for women and children. 

“Drone blood deliveries in Ghana and Rwanda are saving lives; we want to do the same,” he said.  “Sierra Leone and its partners are developing a national innovation ecosystem where problem solvers can test and scale solutions to improve health outcomes for all citizens.” 

Blog

DSTI announces project coordinator for Sierra Leone’s drone corridor

Edmond Nonie, a mechanical engineer from the Eastern Province, has been appointed as project coordinator for the national Drone Corridor under the technical leadership of UNICEF Sierra Leone’s Technology for Development (T4D) program and the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) at Njala University.  

As the Drone Corridor Project Coordinator, Nonie will provide high-level technical input and project management support for the drone corridor in Sierra Leone.

The 25-acre drone corridor in Korri Chiefdom was secured last month with the signing of a Memorandum of Action between UNICEF Sierra Leone, DSTI, Njala, and the Chiefdom. It will be one of six supported by UNICEF in the world

Nonie will develop the Standard Operating Procedure for the drone corridor, including site assessment, logistical arrangements, protocols, partnerships, data collection, and usage. He will engage partners to increase access to the corridor and skills transfer. Furthermore, he will publish open results of tests and develop best practices for the management of the corridor to inform future projects in other countries.

The project coordinator will work with the multi-sectoral T4D team at UNICEF Sierra Leone Country Office, Officer of Innovations in New York, and the DSTI at Statehouse. 

Nonie is a mechanical engineer with regional expertise in haulage, logistics, and project management. He is the founder of Track Your Build, a drone mapping, and data science firm in West Africa. 

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