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Key messages from the Sierra Leone Innovation Event

The Sierra Leone Innovation Event was held at the Royal Academy of Engineering on Monday 29th October 2018.  The theme was delivering innovation through research, education and entrepreneurial ventures. The event was held in the Al Qasimi room with over 70 attendees from various sectors including professionals from the Sierra Leone diaspora community, UK companies and NGOs with operations in Sierra Leone.

Trudy Morgan, the Vice President of the Sierra Leone Institution of Engineers highlighted in her opening remarks some of the key messages from the previous week’s Global Engineering Congress at the ICE.  Which dealt with some of the big challenges facing the continent such as delivering the UN’s sustainable development goals and the need for positive action to deal with the causes of climate change. She summarised the new skills required from engineers to take on these global challenges.

David Thomlinson FRAEng,  representing the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) outlined their aim as addressing the global engineering skills crisis, positioning engineering at the heart of society and leading the profession.

He stated that Africa Catalyst Programme (ACP2) currently in its second phase is funded from the Global Challenges Research Fund which is managed by the RAE.  The Sierra Leone Institution of Engineers’ programme is one of the major projects in the ACP2 programme. He stressed the high expectation that the UK government has on ACP2 and would like to see signs of real, sustainable positive change by the period running up to 2021.

Christina Thomas, a management consultant specialising in innovation helped the mixed audience group to appreciate the pathway to innovation which was useful in the group discussions as it set the context and gave us a common understanding of what is generally considered as innovation.  She defined innovation: as placing a product or tool in a new context, or an improvement on a current tool- making it cheaper, faster, better.

Professor Jonas Redwood-Sawyerr delivered a presentation on behalf of the Minister of Works and Public Assets of Sierra Leone which highlighted some of the government’s key policy priorities and projects in the current administration.

Dr Mike Templeton of Imperial College raised the importance of nations like Sierra Leone meeting their sustainable development goals by 2030 by providing safe drinking water and sanitation for all. Mike shared some of his multi-disciplinary research work in developing countries. He defined innovation as providing “a combination of rigorous, high-quality science, combined with practical thinking and an awareness of the end users’ preferences and constraints, to develop truly sustainable solutions”.  This was illustrated from his applied research on an alternative solution to the pit latrine which was an affordable, longer lasting, and locally available alternative. This work has already been trialled in countries in Asia and Mike was convinced that it was a solution that could be delivered in Sierra Leone.

The keynote speaker, Mansoor Hamayun caught the audience’s attention when started his presentation by highlighting the moral injustice against the poorer countries in Africa and Asia paying considerably more for their energy supply which was less efficient and sustainable than the more developed countries.  The scale of the energy crisis is stark, with over 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa having no access to electricity.

His company Bboxx’s aim is to make a significant contribution to eradicating this problem in a sustainable way. They intend to achieve this through their distribution product range which is used to monitor consumption patterns and provide flexible and affordable payment systems for end users. Through improved monitoring and data management they have been able to provide improved connectivity and affordable charging systems for their customers in Africa.

Georgette Greene who is leading on the incubator project in Sierra Leone introduced a video that was filmed in Sierra Leone on the activities already happening to promote innovation in the country in different areas across the country.

The second session of the afternoon was chaired by Modupe Williams.  This was open with a group discussion around some of the key themes related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, such as water, energy, sustainable cities and housing, industrialisation and innovation.

This was followed by three presentations by a leading banker and private investment specialists that outlined the different positions taken by a private investor, venture capitalists and banks when faced with providing financial support to innovation projects and startups in Africa.  The overriding message was that there was limited financing capital available for new innovation projects in Africa. Therefore, entrepreneurs and startups needed to explore innovative collaboration arrangements with regard to raising finance. The SL diaspora could be a route for many startups into international financial markets or provide access to private investors.

The slide presentations can be found through the link here.