It is no doubt that impactful innovation is not done in isolation of the problems it solves, surrounding processes and accompanying open space for exhibiting and building partnerships. Filling in these gaps that have existed in Sierra Leone, the UNDP Sierra Leone, led by Country Director Sudipto Mukherjee has been driving such innovative space for young people with different backgrounds, interests, ideas and initiatives for social good. This unique space UNDP leads, continues to drive young entrepreneurs and innovators all around the country. Not surprising, the impact of the innovative space being created by UNDP was acknowledged by Salton Massally, iDT Labs Chief Technology Officer and first winner of the award in 2013: “This award played a pivotal role in helping me develop. The youth innovation award organized by UNDP showed me the way and provided me with a platform to drive boundaries. Winning the first award was a turning point in my life.”

Sierra Leone’s population of 6 million people – 70 percent of whom are young — presents source of innovation, hope, resilience and power to transform communities. This sums up the transformative efforts of UNDP, its shrewd leadership Sudipto Mukherjee, iDT Lab’s Salton Massally, Deputy Vice Chancellor FBC and panelists in this year’s Social Good 2015 Summit held at the Mary Kinsley Auditorium, Fourah Bay College. This one day summit convened by the UNDP under the theme “Post Ebola Recovery and Sustainable Development: – brought together 12 participants and over 200 members of the audience.

In the words of Sudipto Mukherjee, in his welcoming note “Information Communication Technology is the combination of youth power and technology is extremely potent and if used for social good can be transformative”. He called on young people to innovate and solve problems in their communities. He reminded young people of their potential and how they could champion Sustainable Development Goals that Sierra Leone, an emerging nation, profoundly needs. Mr. Mukerjee noted that technology and new media plays a central role in young people’s lives, giving them voice where there was none before. He added that “‘while the good news is that they are using technology and new media – the challenge is to inspire them to use it to change their world in a positive way. In other words, using technology and new media to unleash the power and creative spirit of young girls and boys for Social Good.”

“Before we came in, the management of ERWs was in its simplest terms a challenging one. The management of ERWs and payroll was defined by weak access, delays, corruption, and general dissatisfaction. The system we developed automated every related ERWs record, contracts, previously manually managed and stored in shelves” were the words of Leslie Gordon Browne Project Manager, iDT Labs– sharing the role that iDT Labs played in digitizing the payroll of over 30,000 Ebola Response workers.

The climax of the summit woke up the innovative genius in young people from all over Sierra Leone presenting innovative ideas and inventions for a star prize of $2,000. Innovative solutions on energy, e-learning, techhubs, and alternative healthcare delivery were unleashed by energetic young people with an amputee Archippus T. Sesay from Makeni emerging as winner with his artificial low cost limbs for amputees using local materials.

The programme was splendid and indeed UNDP Sierra Leone with its astute Country Director Sudipto Mukherjee, is awaking the innovative genius in young people. We hope to see other actors in the International system emulating the impactful work of UNDP Sierra Leone.

Author: Abass Shaw, Lead Researcher, iDT Labs

Going through published healthcare literature, it is evident that the Common West African Person accesses one of the weakest health care systems in the world. The Common West African travels miles, crossing rivers and streams to access healthcare services that are often flawed. There is a far obvious divide between healthcare, facilities, practitioners available and persons in need (Sierra Leone 3 doctors- 100,000 persons, World Health Organization, 2013).

This challenging scenario we realized does not just require a readymade solution but one that is reflective of the needs of end users. Using the Human Centered Design Approach, we set ourselves the task of recording experiences of Common West African Persons, Medical Practitioners and Healthcare data users. This task drove us to visit slums, strolling streets and knocking on the door of offices in order to harvest a holistic view of all stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem, prototyping the solution, whilst understanding preferred delivery methods, and expectations of clients.

On the 26th August 2015, the sun rose shining on survey officers in the Slums of Kroobay and Susan’s bay thought to be ideal for locating representative of Common West African Persons earning less than $100. Going through the biggest slums in Sierra Leone, we interviewed 25 persons constituting street traders, tailors, and teachers. Amidst the low level of education of respondents, Survey officers were greeted with the challenge in harvesting required data even with the simplest form of explanation. The next day, we hopped through government offices, police stations, strolling in banks, business enterprises reaching Common West African Persons earning $200 and those above $500 respectively. Climbing steers and waiting in receptions, we were able to record the perspectives of 35 Common West African Persons earning $200 and $500 respectively.

A week after, we navigated the wheels of the exercise to reach medical practitioners on their professional perspectives. Going through several hospitals and pharmacies, we were able to record the participation of 25 medical practitioners who diagnosed the current state of the healthcare service delivery, presenting their views on delivery method, payment and expectations on the alternative that Welbodi brings.

Summary from key findings….

  • Generally, West African Persons are not satisfied with current healthcare mainly because of cost for those less than $100 and accessibility & quality issues for those earning $200 and above $500 respectively
  • Voice Calls was by far the chosen delivery methods with SMS, web and video being chosen based on literacy level, thus income.
  • A number of Common West African Persons visit Pharmacies as main source of medical care; they do visit medical doctors but rarely.
  • Network failure, wrong prescription and astronomical charges were the main criticisms levied against the solution.
  • Almost all respondents mentioned the prototype to be good with responses on simplicity and complexity of the solution depending on their income levels

As the Ebola recovery efforts are ramped up in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, cash transfers to citizens is going to be a major component of programs that need to either remunerate health workers or provide social security for affected groups. It is vital for the different cash transfer programs to collaborate amongst themselves to clamp down on the number of duplicate records of people that results in a substantial number of people receiving multiple payments. However, this process is currently carried out via manually cross-checking the excel-based payment records, which is a time-consuming and error prone process.

To solve this issue,we are working on the creation of an open cash transfer data platform that development sector organisations in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia can use to automatically identify duplicate payment records within both their own datasets as well as across datasets of other organisations and programs.

Our solution shall leverage a number of open source technologies.

  • The web portal shall be based on CKAN, a powerful open source data management system that would provide tools for streamlining the publishing,sharing,finding and using of datasets of the organizations.
  • This web portal would be integrated with Dedupe, a Python based machine learning system for performing similarity analysis and entity resolution on the structured datasets.
  • The web portal would also be integrated with ElasticSearch, an enterprise-scaled distributed, multi tenant capable for providing full-text search capabilities and advanced search features.

Using the functionalities of both Dedupe and ElasticSearch, our web based portal would enable the development sector organizations to upload their beneficiary datasets and to automatically detect duplicates and double dippers both within their own datasets as well as the shared datasets of other development organizations.