Two Sierra Leonean innovation enthusiasts, one in the diaspora, the other at home, have launched the country’s first youth-owned and youth-led innovation center in Freetown. The Kamara-Yokie Innovation Center (KYIC) opened its doors last week to make Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) more accessible to students.
KYIC is the brainchild of Sierra Leonean-American entrepreneur and CEO Abu Kamara and award-winning innovator Hawa Yokie. Kamara is financing the project through his foundation, while Yokie will lead operations.
The center is free for innovators and creatives looking for a community of problem solvers.
“We’ve created a safe space where young people can create solutions to better Sierra Leone. We’re providing free robotics tools, computers, support, and resources to do great things,” said Hawa Yokie.
They will use 21st-century entrepreneurial leadership and STEM education concepts to harness the untapped potential of young people.
Yokie knows firsthand how innovation can solve social problems. Before joining forces with Abu Kamara to launch the KYIC, she had built a solar and wind-powered turbine to electrify 50 homes in Kenema District. The girls there had told her that one of the reasons they dropped out of school––no light to study at night.
“I’ve always wanted to be able to create change in my community, so I’ve always been so eager to learn and to explore the sciences, and this center will be a place for young people to make an impact in their communities,” said Yokie.
At the KYIC launch, Innovation ecosystem expert Francis Stevens George, Managing Director of GEN SL, said that young people could and will bring change if there is an ecosystem to support growth.
“One thing is clear; it is not the men and women in their 50s that are going to fix this country; it is the young people that are in their 20s and 30s that are going to fix it. What we can do is support them in all areas so that they can work,” said George.
Petroleum Engineer and keynote Sebay Janet Bintu Koroma, encouraged parents and teachers to take advantage of KYIC’s learning tools so teens and adolescents can access technology early.
Koroma and Yokie belong to a small but growing group of Sierra Leonean women in STEM. She said that more women in STEM would have far-reaching consequences for national development.
“Educating, training, and hiring more women in STEM can lead to better scientific and financial outcomes, which can affect children and the future of our country,” said Koroma.
The KYIC is not the first STEM collaboration between Abu Kamara and Hawa Yokie. In December 2021, the pair hosted a two-day national robotics competition and conference. Teams from five secondary schools in Freetown faced off in robotics, with the all-girls St. Joseph’s Secondary School winning the grand prize of 15 million leones. Winners from that team represented Sierra Leone at the First Global Robotics Challenge Competition held from 13 – 16 October 2022 in Geneva.
Yokie said that her vision for the Kamara Yokie Innovation Center is to be one of the leading innovation hubs in Africa.
“Ideas will come to life at the Kamara Yokie Innovation Center.”
The center is located at 48 Spur Road.
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