The Sierra Leone Fintech Challenge 2017 was announced at an event on June 15th. The challenge is a jointly funded initiative by the Bank of Sierra Leone (BSL), the Financial Sector Deepening in Africa (FSDA) and the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF). Salton Massally, the CTO of iDT Labs and representative of the Fintech Association of Sierra Leone, was also present at the launch to highlight the importance of this challenge and encourage participation.

The idea behind the Fintech Challenge is to invite local Sierra Leonean businesses, particularly banks, microfinance service providers, and technology companies, to come up with fresh and innovative ways as to how technology can be used to make financial services more inclusive and accessible for the unbanked segment of the country. This segment makes up about 87% of the population and comprises of agriculture workers, small business owners, women, the youth and marginalized communities.

The challenge will proceed in 3 rounds. In the first round, 3 entries will be selected and provided $13,000 to test and strengthen their proposed solutions. In the second round, 2 of the entries will be selected to present their solutions to UNCDF and FSDA. In the final round, the successful team will be awarded an investment of $100,000 to pilot test and scale their solution. According to Joe Abbas Bangura, country director of FSDA and Chairman of iDT Labs, the winning solution must be for the benefit of and operated mostly by Sierra Leoneans, but strategic partnerships with other parties are permissible.

Speaking on behalf of the Fintech Association of Sierra Leone, Salton Massally said:

“As an association, we see this challenge as not only a chance for us to further innovate along our value chain but also as a means to promote awareness and attract new stakeholders to this impactful and profitable sector. We exist to give the sector a voice amongst policy makers, support our members, and raise awareness of the sector.

I challenge all fintech organizations to set aside the common practice of working in islands and join forces to promote common goals.”

In lieu of the Fintech Challenge, Massally and the Fintech Association plan to engage all members of the fintech sector in dialogue, conduct sessions with the SLAMFI and Association of Commercial Banks to identify and partner on common interests and goals, and work with policy makers to ensure that they have a say in legislation regarding financial developments in the country.

If you are interested in learning more about this challenge, read this detailed concept description by BSL and FSDA here. You can also read about the Financial Inclusion Strategy 2017-2020 here.


It gives us immense pride to announce that our co-founder and Chief Technology Officer, Salton Massally, has been selected as a Queen’s Young Leader for 2017!

The Queen’s Young Leader Award recognises and celebrates exceptional people aged 18-29 from across the Commonwealth, who are taking the lead in their communities and using their skills to transform lives. Winners of this prestigious Award receive a unique package of training, mentoring and networking, including a one-week residential programme in the UK during which they will collect their Award from Her Majesty the Queen. With this support, Award winners will be expected to continue and develop the amazing work they are already doing in their communities.

Salton is recognised as a business leader and tech innovator in the West African region, for his exemplary work at the intersection of technology and social impact in Sierra Leone.  At 21 and a self-taught programmer, he rejected lucrative job offers from well-known multinationals to co-found iDT Labs, a startup that leverages technology to address challenges of inclusion and service delivery to the under and un-served majority of the population of Sierra Leone.

He is the brain behind the job search platform Careers.sl; using his own money to build and run the service because he believed that people in the rural areas and those who could not afford to buy daily newspapers for job ads were at a disadvantage. With Careers.sl, everyone country-wide in Sierra Leone can now easily search for jobs using not only computers but easily accessible mobile SMS.

Salton employs young techies from local universities and pairs them with techies in Pakistan and Nairobi as a way of facilitating peer-to-peer learning to develop the human capital of Sierra Leone. To promising techies, he helps finance their education while providing them with an opportunity to work part-time and gain practical experience. He also runs a hub where those without access to computers and the internet can come to be tech literate. Recently, Salton partnered with the Aurora foundation to distribute free laptops to young promising youth, and focused primarily on training women techies. To date, he has helped in training and equipping hundreds of youths.

What most underlines Salton’s commitment to making a difference in his community was during the height of the Ebola crisis, when the problem of delay in the distribution of hazard payment had led to continuous strikes by the Ebola Response Workers that was threatening to derail the national response to the epidemic. With treatment centres being left unmanned and dead bodies piling up on the roads, Salton and his team worked on an innovative solution which combined inclusive finance, public health, and governance expertise to solve this crisis. At that time unsure of  any form of reimbursement and compensation for his work, Salton froze all of his existing paid projects and shifted all the resources of his young startup to developing a tech-based solution to the problem. Notwithstanding the risk to his health, he also led his team into Ebola hot zones and treatment centres to ensure that all health workers and volunteers risking their lives were being included in the hazard payment scheme. The impact of his work was detailed in a case study by the Better than Cash Alliance, UNCDF which showed that the government saved 10.7 million dollars (the equal of Sierra Leonean’s annual free health care budget), thousands of lives by preventing the strikes of Ebola Response workers, shortened hazard payment times by a least a month, and saved workers approximately 80,000 USD in travelling costs.

Commenting on the award, Salton had this to say:

It is a source of great honour to me to be selected as one of the Queen’s Young Leaders for 2017. The exposure, mentorship and networks that this programme provides would help me and my amazing team at iDT Labs to further fuel and grow the nascent ecosystem of technology and innovation that we are driving in Sierra Leone. Our main focus has always been to create solutions that address some of the most pressing needs that our country faces, and this programme would help us immensely in realising our dream.   

Being selected as a Queen’s Young Lead will go a long way in helping me to realise my dream of seeing Sierra Leone as a 21st century success story on the immense potential of tech as a tool for social and economic development.

 


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We are thrilled to announce that iDT Labs has been declared the winner of the International Disaster Relief (Small Company) category at the Business in the Community’s 2016 Annual Responsible Business Gala in London on the 11th of July 2016!

Driven by the UK based charity Business in the Community (BITC), HRH The Prince of Wales’ Responsible Business Network, the Responsible Business Award recognises the few companies in the world that are creating a profound positive impact in society.

We were recognised for our work in creating a mobile based hazard payment and issue redressal system for 30,000 Ebola Response Workers, a solution that helped prevent the collapse of the healthcare system in Sierra Leone at the height of the Ebola crisis in 2014.

A recently commissioned report[1] by the UNCDF showed that our work helped achieve an impact of :

  • Cost savings of US $10.7 million for the government, taxpayers, development partners and response workers – the equivalent of funding Sierra Leone’s Free Health Care Program catering for 1.4 million children and 250,000 pregnant women annually.
  • Reducing payment times from over one month on average to one week.
  • Preventing the loss of around 800 working days per month from the Ebola response workforce, helping save lives during this critical time.
  • Saving response workers around $80,000 per month in travel costs by avoiding lengthy journeys to cash payment centers.

Our Co-Founder & Chief Technology Officer, Salton Arthur Massally, when asked for a response to this achievement remarked that,

“what began as a dream to help alleviate societal and developmental challenges in my community using technology is fast growing into a reality and I am lucky to have been in a position from which I could help when my country needed me the most. For us it surpassed being a job of delivering on our baseline targets and was a fight for the future of our country. However, in the midst of our celebrations as a young company that our work is being recognised, let us not forget who the real heroes of the fight against Ebola were. Those brave men and women who risked all, many did lose all, to serve as frontline workers during the response when they could have more understandably looked the other way; they cared for the infected, traced chains of transmissions, and ensured safe burial for the dead and formed the backbone of what was the Ebola Response.”

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Salton Massally, CTO iDT Labs

At iDT Labs, we are passionate about using tech based solutions to solve some of the most pressing challenges that developing countries currently face. At the same time, we are aware that a lot of supposedly ‘well-meaning’ projects in the ICT4D space fall way short from their intended impact. While this failure is often due to challenges with implementing tech based solutions in difficult and often conflict-ridden environments, unfortunately, quite a number of individuals are also guilty of befuddling their investors with lofty ideas about just how far pure tech-based solutions can go in solving complex, multi-faceted issues.

We strongly believe that more than using the latest tech stacks and buzz-words, often, the most effective solutions are the ones that rely on simple technology integrated properly with the existing structures on the ground and a fundamental understanding of the local context. During the Ebola crisis, we were tasked with rolling out a payment processing and biometric verification system for the 30,000 Ebola Response Workers (ERWs) across the country. Having not been paid for several months, and with rampant corruption being reported across the disaster relief efforts on the ground, the payment crisis with the ERWs was threatening to derail the entire international relief efforts of preventing Ebola from turning into a global epidemic. While heavily leveraging existing open source solutions in our solutions, a bigger contributing factor to our success was our deep understanding of the local context and our constant communication with all the stakeholders and beneficiary groups involved.

If leveraged properly, technology can truly usher West Africa in a new state of economic progress, serving as an important economic driver. However, while it is natural to get excited at an upcoming “West African IT Renaissance”, it is equally important to not lose focus of the bigger picture, and to ground our lofty plans with the realities of the sub-region. Tech is not the “one-all” solution to all of the continent’s problems and should only be seen as a means to an end. Fixing issues like poverty alleviation and youth unemployment will take decades, yet there is ample reason to believe that with the proper guidance, support and intentions, technology can play a vital role in improving the lives of billions of people around the world. Our young team at iDT Labs is excited at playing its small role in pushing the needle forward in eradicating one of the most pressing issues that have faced humanity in recent times and we will continue to champion both the adoption of open source technology by West African governments and the role ICT can play is societal and developmental progress.

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https://www.betterthancash.org/news/media-releases/new-united-nations-study-finds-digital-payments-to-ebola-response-workers-saved-lives-and-10-million


Sign-up now to secure a seat at the d|Bootcamp in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Seats are limited, and are being awarded on a first come, first served basis for all qualifying applicants.

The d|Bootcamp will expect participants from Sierra Leone to work in multidisciplinary teams consisting of journalists / civic activists / technologists / designers to learn new skills for using open data to tell evidence-based stories, run civic engagement campaigns, or even build data-driven public services.

Participants at the d|Bootcamp will learn how to access and use the data for their own projects, and will meet like-minded people from the media, civil society, development agency, and government spaces who are interested in cross-sector collaboration.

The d|Bootcamp is being underwritten by World Bank Sierra Leone and Open Aid Partnership, with support from Code for Africa, the Right to Access Information Commission, IDT Labs, Sensi Tech Hub, Hacks/Hackers Africa and the African Network of Centers for Investigative Reporting (ANCIR).

The best projects will win $25,000 in seed grants and technology support in this d|Bootcamp’s six-month aftercare programme.

Applications will be accepted through to 8th June 2016. Feel free to contact us with any questions you may have on info@codeforafrica.org


The tech industry has ushered a completely new level of growth and potential all over the world. However, one of the major sticking points of the sector has been the meagre representation of women in it.

It is an unfortunate reality that women have historically been underrepresented in sectors that are the main engines of growth in the economy. However, given the astronomical steps that feminism has accomplished in recent decades, along with the greater awareness level on gender rights that now exists, there should be no excuse for the systematic underrepresentation of women in tech. Even the Silicon Valley giants aren’t immune to gender disparity amongst their ranks: in 2014, Microsoft reported that only 16 percent of their technical positions were occupied by women. Twitter has only 10 percent of its tech jobs occupied by women, whereas Google has a slightly better representation of women in tech positions at 17 percent.

The situation in Sierra Leone is no different. Last year’s freshmen class at the Institute of Public Administration and Management (IPAM) had only 6 females out of the total class size of 38, while the male/female ratio in the Computer Science department at Njala University is a mere 70/30.

The underrepresentation of women in tech also directly affects the bottom line of businesses. Researchers at the University of Castilla de Mancha, Spain, have reported that Fortune 500 companies that have the highest representation of female board directors have a 42% higher return on sales.

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The International Girls in ICT Day initiative is a global effort on encouraging young women to consider studies and careers in Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). Since 2011, it has been celebrated on the fourth Thursday of April in 150 countries around the world, with more than 5,300 events held up to date and a combined participation of around 177,000 girls. Last year, 66,000 young girls were reached out via 1,800 events held all over the world.

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On Thursday, the 28th of April 2016, iDT Labs, in partnership with Girl Child Network Sierra Leone, GirlUp Vine Club and the Population Council hosted the very first Girls in ICT Day in Sierra Leone at iDT Labs’ Careers Garage workshop. Secondary school female students from Freetown participated in the celebrations. The all-day event included discussions around the digital divide that exists in the country, the unfortunate lack of gender diversity in the still-nascent tech sector of Sierra Leone, and the immense opportunities that are available for girls to pursue a successful career in the sector. The speakers at the event included the Co-Founder and CTO of iDT Labs Salton Massally, the Executive Director of GirlUp Vine Club Yasmin Ibrahim, and representatives from the World Bank, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Social Welfare.

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We at iDT Labs are strong believers in the potential that ICT has for improving the social and economic fortunes of Sierra Leone. Since we ourselves are a young team of developers and designers that has already received numerous laurels for the work that we are doing in the ICT4D space in West Africa, we are always supportive of initiatives which encourage the participation of youth in the tech space. It is important to address the issue of female underrepresentation in the tech sector in Sierra Leone, and we intend to continue organising such workshops as well as to work with organisations that are actively providing more opportunities in tech to young Sierra Leonean girls.


We are extremely excited to announce that we have been shortlisted for the 2016 Responsible Business Award in the International Disaster Relief category! Our work with the National Ebola Response Centre (NERC) and the UNDP in developing and implementing an automated worker registration and payroll distribution system for over 27,000 Ebola Response Workers during the Ebola epidemic in 2014 has been recognised as one of the few initiatives in the world that had a profound positive impact on the local economy.

Driven by the UK based charity Business in the Community (BITC), HRH The Prince of Wales’ Responsible Business Network, the 2016 Responsible Business Awards celebrate inspiring examples of businesses that are making a significant difference by taking action to improve their local communities, create more inclusive workplaces and tackle environmental challenges.

Business in the Community received 297 entries for the Responsible Business Awards, shortlisted 103 and re-accredited a further 82 entries for demonstrating continual impact in their responsible business programme.

Commenting on this monumental achievement, Salton Arthur Massally, our Chief Technology Officer, had this to say:

“It is a great honour for us to be one of the few companies in the world shortlisted for the prestigious Responsible Business Awards. The award is a testament to the relentless work that my young team and I had put into developing and deploying a nation wide biometric verification and payment distribution system to address the issue of hazard pay. Digitising hazard pay is amongst the most challenging tasks that we’ve had to do. Fuelled by caffeine and love of the country, our team often had to work for 48 hours at a stretch on numerous occasions. It is very encouraging to note that we have been recognised for spearheading one of the fastest deployment of a digital payment processing and biometric verification system in the world.

We are firm believers in the power of ICT and the role it can play in scaling solutions to critical development challenges in West Africa. This project, along with our series of free computer literacy courses, market exchange platforms and work in the health, financial inclusion and  the agriculture sectors of Sierra Leone are continual demonstration of not only our believe in ICT for development, but they also showcase the active steps being taken by the board,  the directors and  the team at iDT Labs to ensure that we play a role in enabling socio-economic development in the communities we operate in.

Although we are extremely excited at being shortlisted for the award, we would like everybody to remember that the true heroes of the Ebola Response were the doctors, nurses and volunteers on the ground who selflessly risked their lives to ensure that the health infrastructure did not implode and the virus was contained.”

For more information on the awards and on iDT Labs’ shortlisted entry, visit http://www.bitc.org.uk/our-resources/case-studies/idt-labs-automated-worker-registration-and-payroll-database-ebola .


Author: Abass Shaw, Research & Development Lead, iDT Labs

Do you know that there is a big gender divide in the use of ICT? Could it be a surprise that a substantial number of students and business owners do not own a personal computer? How about the fact that a lot of students go through tertiary education without having to struck a single computer key board?

Ok see how so true this is. This article will tell how a Free Computer Training Sessions for Women, University students and SMEs Folded Up.

The curtain of a “Five Days Free ICT Training Program” for 40 women, 10 Small & Medium Sized Enterprises, and 35 university students was drawn down on the 15th March 2016. The program was thrilled with inspiring statements and anxiety among beneficiaries to receive certificates of merits and a surprise package.

Starting the ball rolling Joe Abass Bangura, Chief Executive Officer IDT Labs gave s picture on the importance of complementing academic programmes with relevant ICT skills to match the demands required by the current day market. On behalf of Samskips, Mrs. Regina revealed in her statement “For us, this particular program is important, because when you look at the statistics there is a big gender divide in the world of ICT. And when you look at the way ICT is relevant in all sectors and beginning to take over the way things are done in everything, that gender divide in ICT means that women will be left further behind if we don’t encourage them to embrace ICTs”. Salton Massally Chief Technology Officer iDT Labs, cited that “we are in the world of technology where computing skills is relevant. He broadens that the training exercise was crucial in bridging the digital divide between the haves and the haves not apparent in our society.

Representing the beneficiaries, a male trainee reiterates the words of our CTO and calls for the expansion of the training exercise nationally to have others benefit from this initiative. A succinct elucidation of the current challenges faced by Sierra Leone university students was made by a female beneficiary who advanced that’ “we have a lot of students who go through the university without having to struck a single key board”. She pleaded that more training courses are organized in advance office tools like Outlook to consolidate the already skills they have bagged.

At the tail end, certificates of merit were awarded to all 85 participants coupled with each participant given a free computer. The effects of this segment of the exercise was not premeditated as we came to realize these computers gave the opportunity to most participants to own their first personal computers. Mr. Tanu, a student of IPAM, University of Sierra Leone testifies that “this computer has taken away my worries about how can I access a computer to write my dissertation”.

Words and literary songs of praises were echoed about IDT Labs and Samskips with some singing “God bless IDT Labs and Samskips”. As the balloons were mounted in the sky so this memorable event lapsed.


Do you know that ICT skills power 21st century businesses and workplace processes? How about the fact that a substantial number of university students lack rudimentary ICT skills? often besieged to fit in the modern work place. Will it be a surprise to know that most SMEs use smoky methods in managing daily processes? with the few using Microsoft Applications like Excel always vulnerable to duplicated data and error.  So what do you do? This post will tell you how IDT Labs is bridging this gap.

Fanning this smoke, iDT Labs is accelerating a “Five Days Free ICT Training” (Monday 14th – Friday 18th March) targeting SMEs and University students. After weeks of invitations to applications, over 300 applications were tendered. Consequently, 85 candidates met the threshold of which almost half constitutes women the balance being filled by SMEs and students

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Training in progress

With the exercise having kicked off on the 14th March 2016, on the first day participants were oriented on the essence of the entire exercise, expectations and delivered course overview. Statements by partners, trainers and relevant incubations like Carreers.sl were made.

I am very happy to be here. The first day of the exercise gave me a broad understanding what the training will provide me Mariam Bah, female participant.

The second day (15th March 2016) commences the actual training. Participants were taught computer basics; focusing on types of desktop applications, setting up a computer, using a computer, handling files and folders, protecting PC, connecting to wireless and safely shut down.

Really amazing learning a lot” Ejata Barrie

This exercise is expected to empower business people and students with new skills, deliver them authentic certification and a surprise package that will be unleashed.

 

We will provide you updates as the exercise continues

 Courtesy of iDT Labs, the team behind IDT Cloud Software (ICSS); a cost effective and high quality mission critical software for businesses and NGOs.

 

Author: Abass Shaw, R&D Lead IDT Labs


The Government of Sierra Leone through the National Ebola Response Centre (NERC) has this week launched a national exercise to implement the revised Hazard Policy aimed at re-classifying Ebola Response Workers (ERWs) based on real risks and further ensuring fiduciary sustainability and compliance.

The exercise which will run for a month (until l February 26) is implemented in collaboration with the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Our assistance has established electronic payment as a reliable payment method, with an innovative payroll system supporting timely payments to all ERWs,” said UNDP Sierra Leone’s Country Director, Sudipto Mukerjee. The NERC Payroll System, funded by UNDP, is now working with all pay partners to verify all hazard pay recipients to ensure that there is no duplication of payments among all partner agencies involved in funding hazard payments.

Mr. Mukerjee added

This is an important step towards building resilient and transparent Government to People Payment Programs in the country.

This national exercise, in which the Anti- Corruption Commission is participating to enhance transparency, will allow Government of Sierra Leone and its partners to detect ghost workers and those receiving Hazard Pay from more than one source.

 


UNDP takes the Social Good Summit around the world to over 60 countries making it a truly global conversation.

As the three-day Social Good Summit ended on 24 September, UNDP’s global network of country offices held an unprecedented number of meet-ups around the world.

From Bangladesh to Ukraine, Japan to Nicaragua, Kazakhstan to Colombia, people met up in more than 60 countries to discuss how new technology, innovation and social media can address the greatest challenges the world will face over the next generation.