Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr — The political will to transform a city

The Innovation Dividend explores how innovation in society and government are paying off. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be exploring how ‘policy frontliners’ are innovating in real time in the COVID-19 pandemic and asking which of these changes and “raw learnings” might become part of our new normal. You can see the backstory by Kal Joffres here, Podcast EP 1, Podcast EP2, Podcast EP3, Podcast EP4, Podcast EP5, Podcast EP6, Podcast EP7, Podcast EP8, and Podcast EP9

Freetown, Sierra Leone has put in place an ambitious transformation plan that increases property tax revenues five-fold while reducing the tax burden on the poor, increases vegetation coverage by 50%, and much more. We hear from Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr about how these ambitious goals were set, how the tough political decisions behind them were made, and what COVID-19 pandemic has done to the city’s transformation plan.

[00:00:00] Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr: The first COVID case was recorded on the 31st of March and we hadn’t yet finished collecting all the data. So there was this conversation of what do we do, do we stop? Property rates accounted for previously roughly 60% of our revenue. And this was now March coming into April and we hadn’t issued any property rate notices for the year because we’re in the process of doing this reform. So we were really in a position where we would have had no revenue or very little revenue.

[00:00:35] Kal Joffres: Hi, I’m Kal Joffres.

[00:00:37] Milica Begovic: And my name is Millie Begovic.

[00:00:39] Kal Joffres: Welcome to The Innovation Dividend, the podcast that explores how innovation in society and government is unleashing new solutions and approaches to stubborn development problems.

[00:00:47] Milica Begovic: Today we speak with Freetown Sierra Leone Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr.

[00:00:52] Kal Joffres: We hear about how Freetown has put in place a plan that increases its tax revenue by five-fold while reducing the tax burden on the poor, how that revenue’s being invested in a set of ambitious changes from increasing the city’s vegetation coverage by 50% to the humane relocation of slum dwellers, living in mangrove areas and where the political will to undertake these changes comes from.

[00:01:14] Milica Begovic: Mayor Aki-Sawyerr was elected mayor of Freetown in 2018 with a near 30-point margin after campaigning on raising taxes. Aki-Sawyerr doesn’t come from politics. She’s a finance professional with over 25 years of experience in strategic planning, regulatory and corporate governance and risk management.

[00:01:34] She campaigned against the blood diamond trade, advocated for the ending of the civil war, and co-founded Sierra Leone War Trust, which supports disadvantaged children and young people.

[00:01:44] Mayor Aki-Sawyerr, thank you so much for your time and welcome to the innovation dividend podcast.

[00:01:50] Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr: Thank you so much for having me.

[00:01:52] Milica Begovic: We’d like to start this conversation with the question about the property tax, one that you’ve designed pre-COVID times. Could you walk us through the mechanisms of how the policy actually works and why is it so unique?

[00:02:06] Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr: I don’t think it’s unique. It’s systematic and it’s efficient and it’s equitable. And it really builds on where, what progressive taxation looks like, and which, you know, is, is found in other parts of the world. Even other parts of our region.

[00:02:24] I think what the, the elements of uniqueness, if there is one is the determination to bring it in within a very short space of time. So when I campaigned for mayor in 2018, I already had in my sight, you know, the, the need for a significant increase in service delivery. At the time I was campaigning, I knew that that year, the revenue of the, of the city, the own tax revenue, source revenue was only about $1.25 cents per person. and you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that that’s not going to go very far. At the same time, I was campaigning on a platform of environmental rescue and sanitation improvements, none of which can be done without cash.

[00:03:14] And other things like improving, you know, the, the state of schools in the municipality, as well as markets and making opportunities available to improve skills and create jobs.

[00:03:27] I’m a fiercely, fiercely passionate nationalist. And I, I mean that in the nicest possible way, particularly in current, current times. I just mean means that I really believe that we should be independent and not be donor-dependent, as, as a city and as a nation.

[00:03:45] So, in addition to wanting service delivery to happen and that driving everything, there’s also an appreciation that, that, that state of affairs with such a low, own source revenue collection, would mean that you know, there wouldn’t be an opportunity to have sustained improvements in service delivery and an official running of the city, unless we actually were able to increase taxes. So I campaigned and said I would increase taxes. I said as I would [unintelligible] the city, and I would increase taxes.

[00:04:20] Clearly nobody anticipated COVID and we didn’t anticipate the economic impacts of that would have. And yet in the midst of COVID, In the midst of these challenges, there is still a need to spend. There’s still a need to deliver and the inability to do so would create yet another crisis. So it’d be building on, on the crisis situation. So coming back to your question about, the, the, the why, this is the why, and in terms of the how, the, the system that I inherited, is, is an area-based system and the system, which looks particularly the size of the property. That’s the key determinant of value.

And we all know that, you know, size isn’t everything. And then there could be a lot more in terms of features, than are, that aren’t captured by size, which should be reflected in order for that to be more equity in the assessment of the property rate. The other really significant point of course, was fairness from the perspective of universality. And by this, I mean, when I came into office, we had 57,000 properties on our books, and a very simple calculation for a city of 1.2 million people tells you that there were a lot of properties that were not being captured.

[00:05:40] So an unfair burden on a small number of properties to provide very necessary funding in order for all residents to have us provide services. So that’s, that’s the how and the why was the widening of the net. And in terms of the digital element, the system that was being used previously was a manual one where literally, valuers from the office would go out to communities where they saw a new building going up, you know, use a tape measure, measure.

[00:06:11] I mean, you don’t really going to get very far with that. So what we did with this was to introduce technology to make sure we captured everything.

[00:06:21] So, the, there was some resistance for a number of reasons. The valuers were very wedded to the idea of the building footprint and needing to actually get that measurement exactly, and our challenge that we placed to them or put to them was, look, this is about relativity, okay.

[00:06:41] So if you take a system, it may not be perfect in terms of you may not have the perfect dimensions of the building but if we’re using the same measurement framework, then relatively, everybody is okay.

[00:06:56] So we used satellite images and did the rooftops. You actually were able to use the rooftop as a proxy. So a multiplication of the rooftop measurements which you can get from the satellite, and then the numbers of floors in the property.

[00:07:14] And you, we, we, we then, so that gives you your base. We then added or considered 20 features and in the case of commercial properties, 21 features, which gave us much more of a nuance about the value of the property. So things like construction material, amount of land left available, the type of access, you know, sort of, the water availability, all of this speaks to the value of that property.

[00:07:51] And as a sense check, we had 5,000 properties selected at random and had valuers. So your estate agents effectively give us a valuation of those properties.

[00:08:03] And then we compared those values in relative terms to the values that were coming out of the algorithms which have been built using those, well, using those features across this, what ended up being 160,000 properties. So that helped us to fine tune and we also sat with evaluation departments, sat with various other technical people and, and just, just went through that.

[00:08:30] Does this makes sense? Should we, for example, one of the pieces of data that was collected was swimming pools. You know, were there swimming pools in the, in the, on the property. But we found that they were, there was such a small number. It was statistically insignificant so we remove that from the algorithm.

[00:08:48] So this was a process which started initially with a pilot back in February, March of 2019. We piloted properties in two wars. I think we came up to about 12,000 properties.

[00:09:03] And then we went into a fundraise to get the finance to be able to do this on scale, at scale across the city. And having started that, done that, the process of going house to house literally across the entire city with 760 or so enumerators started about October.

[00:09:27] They have to be trained. The apps have to be built and we had to have, you know, I had, we have to engage the, the city. People needed to know why someone was going to be turning up at their house, and bearing in mind that about over 50% of our residents had never been paid, have never been, you know, sort of brought into the system. So this was new to them.

[00:09:50] The first COVID case was recorded on the 31st of March and we hadn’t yet finished collecting all the data. So there was this conversation of what do we do, do we stop? Property rates accounted for previously roughly 60% of our revenue. And this was now March coming into April and we hadn’t issued any property rate notices for the year because we’re in the process of doing this reform. So we were really in a position where we would have had no revenue or very little revenue.

[00:10:30] We have streets that needs to be cleaned. We have, you know, markets that need to be maintained. We have cemeteries, you know, burials is obviously something where at a time of an outbreak, you just don’t want to get those things wrong. And then you’re coming into the rainy season. And over the course of the last two years, we had instituted this flood mitigation program.

[00:10:52] We have, we have a whole, whole pipeline of initiatives, many of which are funded by our international partners currently. But even if you’ve got a big piece of the capital investment coming from external funding because, you know, we were at the slope funding base. Even if you’ve got a big piece coming from external funding, you still need to have those bits around the edges that you as a city are paying for.

[00:11:20] But again it’s most significantly, as I mentioned at the beginning, you want to be able to sustain.

[00:11:25] You don’t want a situation where, you know, you get investments externally, you do something and then next year you can’t keep it going because you don’t have the revenue. And so we decided to go ahead. Social distancing as we continued in the field for the last two weeks of the process.

[00:11:45] And then careful messaging was the plan for how we introduced it to our residents. But life happens and an article had been written by our partners. IGC, International Gold Center, and ICTD (International Centre for Tax and Development), and it was published on Twitter before any of us. We didn’t get a heads up.

[00:12:10] And to make it more complicated, the editor changed the title to city council increases revenue, taxes five times. And if there was a storm! There was a storm of social media went up in arms — what does the mayor think she’s doing? Is she crazy, this is so uncaring? It couldn’t have been worse, and I was sitting in my living room, we were having a meeting, thankfully.

[00:12:38] So my, head of my delivery team was actually here at home, it was a weekend, was a Saturday. And she’s, you know, she was like straight away, she called a video company. She’s like, we need to do an interview, the mayor needs to do an interview. She needs to do a message right now. Right now! And within an hour you know, they were here, and I came on and did a video explaining that, no, it’s not that we’ve increased taxes five times.

[00:13:03] It’s that we’ve increased the universe of those paying taxes. And this change will mean that because there’s more equity, some rates will go down. But yes, other rates will go up and rightly so.

[00:13:15] Because there have been people who have not been paying their fair share, given their footprint in the city, and the benefits that, you know, proportionally, they need to have.

[00:13:27] We were able to go from the video, to me being on radio 7:30 on the Monday morning, and really have the opportunity to explain that this was about equity.

[00:13:39] And there were specific things that we were doing with COVID in mind, we were allowing payment by installment. The due date, where in previous years due date for property rate was 31st of March for your first installment. We were pushing that to the 30th of September.

[00:13:55] We were also reducing the penalty charge from 15% to 5%. And if you weren’t able to pay by the 31st of July, you were getting a 5% credit towards next year’s bill. So, so that was the message and continues to be the message.

[00:14:14] But demand notices actually started going out to households on Thursdays. So that was what, four days ago?

[00:14:20] Three days ago. Yes. It was very exciting. ’Cause this is, you know, two years of work and to see, see that happen. And then to have two people come in to pay their rates on the very same day was hugely encouraging. I’ve had a number of calls, WhatsApp messages, there have been people who’ve gone, “Oh my goodness, why are you charging so much?”

[00:14:41] Why and, and in both instances, there are people that I knew fairly well, and they also know, you know that these are people, like one of them has a very big business. I know that you know, sort of that golf club membership alone is not that different to this bill. So yeah, you know, and I think, I think it’s just saying, look, let’s be real.

[00:15:08] People want change. You want to see a city that you can be proud of. A city that attracts visitors and tourists, a city that is healthy and green. That doesn’t happen from thin air. Technology has played a big part, you know, we, we don’t have a proper postal address system.

[00:15:31] And so as part of the, the process, we now have Google Plus codes for every property. So each property is geo-mapped to the Google Plus code. So, you know, any person from the council can just use a device now to find any property in the city as opposed to sort of saying, oh, it’s that house behind the [unintelligible] of that corner to the left, you know. So we’ve, we’ve really, improved efficiency for the, the rate distribution.

[00:15:58] Kal Joffres: Many cities have found it very hard to reform their property tax systems because of vested interests. What made it possible for you to undertake this change?

[00:16:07] Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr: You know that expression that is often used — political will?

[00:16:13] If you look at my campaign, my campaign leaflet, my campaign brochure, it was called for a community for a progress for a Freetown, which is just simply for your community, for our community, for our progress and for our Freetown. And on the third page, I made a commitment there to geo-map the city. And that was for two reasons at the time. This reason which, you know, I, at the time, I mean, I didn’t know how many properties were on our books. I didn’t realize there was such a, a gap. What was driving that thought at the time was urban planning, and the need to actually have, you know, local, local area plans, a structural plan — a master plan for the city. But I came in and as I said, I had already committed this. So I would say what made it possible?

[00:17:02] My, my political capital? The fact that I wasn’t doing this just for the sake of it or for the heck of it, you know, we have transformed Freetown, which is the three-year plan for the transformation of our city has four clusters, resilience, human development, healthy city and urban mobility. And across those four, their 11 priority sectors, those 11 priority sectors have 19 specific targets that I’m committed to reaching before the end of my term. 37 initiatives behind them.

[00:17:38] One of those targets is to increase property taxable income of the city by five-fold by 2020, which is this year and so this is not being done in a vacuum. No, this is a commitment that I made in order for us to do what I’ve come here to do transform food town.

[00:18:00] I’m not a politician. I’m not allowed to say that anymore. I used to say, I’m not a politician, but I’ve gotten my knuckles rapped. I’m not from a religious background. I am a professional, I’m a finance professional. And I guess in some ways, I’ve been an activist all my life. I’ve been really concerned about, the lot of those who are at, who are vulnerable. And my decision to run for mayor is, is, is totally and completely because of those things I’ve just described.

[00:18:32] Kal Joffres: I imagine you’ve had to face down some very serious challenges and perhaps powerful interests as part of this project. I’m wondering what you can tell us about political will. We often hear that it’s important, but it seems that it’s in short supply.

[00:18:45] Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr: What can I say about political will? (pause)

[00:18:52] Either you have it or you don’t. (chuckles) I mean, you know, for something to be done in governance, it needs, it is driving. And you can tell someone to drive. I mean, this is something that comes from the inside out. And I think what’s, what I find interesting because before I ran for office, I also, you know, heard this term so often political will, there’s a lack of political will.

[00:19:19] It’s a choice. It’s a choice. It’s always a choice. And the choice is how committed are you as the leader to lead from the front, to be systematic, to identify and overcome the obstacles, to carry people along with you. To help those who might feel vulnerable or threatened because of the change, to help them cope with those feelings and if necessary to lay those concerns.

[00:19:54] Milica Begovic: You mentioned Transform Freetown. Now many cities have plans, but very few contain the ambitious targets that, that we saw in, in, in Transform Freetown. So increasing vegetation by 50 per cent, increasing tax revenues five-fold by 2020. Could you tell us a little bit about, what has led to such bold policy moves and targets that you’ve put in this plan?

[00:20:19] Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr: Desperation. Desperation. You know, I mean, we had had five years of flooding, costing the city on average $2.5 million a year. And in the year of 2017, the year that I was running for office, the mudslide had cost lives. Over a thousand lives.

[00:20:43] And if I remember the figures correctly, about 31 or so million dollars in damages, loss of income, et cetera. And those are World Bank figures. There, we don’t have the luxury of time. The city is a very small space geographically. 357 square kilometers with a population of 1.2 million people.

[00:21:07] It’s one of the most densely populated cities globally, not even just in the region. And that, that population explosion continues. So time is not on our side. We don’t have the luxury to take our time about bringing in changes. We needed to do them very quickly.

[00:21:29] And I have a four-year term. So, you know, if I’m going to make a difference, it had to be done within the period of time. And in the first year, again, to this point about having plans. These are not my plans. These are our plans, and we engage 15,000 Freetownians in my first three months in office, in focus groups across the city zone, by zone. Listening to them and getting their feedback on what they felt about service delivery.

[00:22:00] It wasn’t a pretty sight. and then working with technical experts. So from 2018 May when I came into office to December, November, December 2019–2018, sorry. We were, we were kind of pulling the plan together, setting these targets, stress testing them. And then 2019, January 24, we launched transformed Freetown with these targets, with an appreciation that every January I need to report on those.

[00:22:30] So we produced our report in January 2020, and we’ll do so in 2021. And we’ll do so in 2022.

[00:22:39] Milica Begovic: with setting such ambitious targets. One worry is always what happens if you, if you don’t meet them. What do you think will happen if these targets are not reached and how that might affect how citizens view your office? Seeing as though the initiatives so far sound like they really require quite a good compact between you, your office and the, and the citizens of the city.

[00:23:03] Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr: Yeah. So, you know, it’s, it’s important. I think in leadership to not be afraid of failure, even if we don’t reach these targets, the process of moving forward is already taking our city forward leaps and bounds.

[00:23:17] 50% increase in vegetation. In January, we launched Freetown the Treetown, commitment to plant a million trees — an audacious target. On the 5th of June, we started planting our first 500,000.

[00:23:30] We’ve got the funding, we’ve got the seedlings, they’re in the nurseries, and that took the courage of the nursery owners to work with us because we didn’t have the cash when they started. They started to nurse those seedlings but we now do. You know, and, in the same way we will increase by the five-fold revenue in 2020.

[00:23:53] Reach for the — what do we reach for? We reach for the stars, right. Or do we reach for the moon and we get the stars? I think it’s the moon and you get the stars. We are committed to, to meeting our targets, but we know that life happens and things, things go wrong and the obstacles come along your way, but if we get to 20 per cent, 50 per cent, 70 per cent of any of our targets, we’ve already moved the dial and we’ve already impacted the lives of Freetownians.

[00:24:22] So yes, it’s, it’s tough to put numbers there and know that people are going to be measuring you and telling you you failed or you succeeded or not. It’s tough, but it’s also the best way to keep your feet to the fire so that you don’t slack off.

[00:24:38] Kal Joffres: Can you tell us a little bit about how the day to day operations of the city have shifted since COVID struck?

[00:24:46] Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr: I think the biggest shift has been the fact that a number of our personnel now are kind of on full time COVID work. We developed a plan in March: Freetown City Council COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan, which has three strategic elements: behavior change messaging, behavior change support, and isolation and containment support.

[00:25:08] We’ve got staff working on our acceleration of water provision, you know, COVID, you need to wash your hands regularly. We only had 47% of what we had, for example, 47 per cent of our population without access to running water at the start of this outbreak. So we are rapidly putting in, and this is, this is a good thing.

[00:25:29] It’s accelerating some of the work that we were going to do on to Transform Freetown under the water sector anyway, but COVID has made — the silver lining is it’s made it imperative for us to do more faster and it, but it does mean that staff are focused now on, you know, working on getting rainwater, harvesting systems into informal settlements and water our health units.

[00:25:56] That support also means that we’re upgrading clinics into maternal facilities. And so our engineers very busy, because we need to ensure that when women are afraid to go to the big hospitals because of the stigma and the worry and the lack of, you know, sort of, trust, and this is also being addressed by the messaging. And, but in the, at the same time, we’re upgrading these facilities into maternity facilities. Again, with funding from World Bank and EU.

[00:26:29] And, we’re doing quarantine food. We’re supporting where government, government of course is running the response, not the city, but where we have our residents, particularly those in slum communities who for some reason or the other, have not received quarantine food, we’re filling those gaps.

[00:26:46] We’re giving complimentary food. We’re also putting up a community care facility, care center, which the government response will staff but it’s being funded through resources that we’ve raised from various partners in order for those who are most at risk of transmission. Because they live in densely populated slums, for them to be able, who are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms for them to be able to move into this facility, reduce the pressure on the treatment centers.

[00:27:20] But at the same time, ensure that they’re not left in a place at home or in a, in a way basically, I guess just make sure there are enough beds because we know that the numbers coming out to some communities, you know, are, are high and hopefully don’t get much higher.

[00:27:37] We’ve also changed things, we’ve changed our model for sweets sweeping the streets. We used to use women, older women primarily, it was a way of making sure that we were creating work opportunities for them as well, but they are vulnerable at this time. So we’ve, we’ve not relaxed.

[00:27:54] She had to let them go. We’ve given them a little bit of a, sort of a, support as we let them go. And instead we are now using the youth groups who do house to house waste collection as private, as a private business, but who, whose business was kicked off by council investing tricycles in the investing tricycles. Giving them tricycles, investing in that business with training, helping them register customers, et cetera.

[00:28:20] So they now do the streets sweeping on behalf of council, because they, you know, they are a less vulnerable category of workers. So just various things, various changes.

[00:28:31] Milica Begovic: Mayor, I’m interested to know which parts of your original platform and original set of plants as you came into the office have had to take a back seat to all of the policy responses that you were putting in place with the pandemic.

[00:28:45] Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr: We’ve been quite fortunate. We’re still moving forward with our green agenda. You know, we’re pushing on a cable car, a feasibility study right now. We’re moving forward with the tree planting, nobody gets to sleep. That’s the downside. That’s what’s sacrificed, you know. We’re, we’re moving forward with our plans on, on the markets.

[00:29:10] As you know, this, this conversation started with them moving forward on our plans for revenue. I think what has probably been the hardest bit to continue on are the areas that we’re due to start this year. So last, I’ve been in office for two years, and the first two years have started with obviously the planning.

[00:29:35] But even when we were doing the planning, we were doing low hanging fruit, quick wins on infrastructure. So like I mentioned, four clusters: resilience, human development, healthy city, and urban mobility. The, the first two resilience, and the first, rather, resilience and the last one are mobility.

[00:29:54] Resilience is where you have the environment. It’s where you have from planning and housing. It’s where you have, the revenue realisation. Urban mobility is where you have transport. Our biggest, where we, and then healthy city, we have sanitation. And like I said, water is now sort of getting a push.

[00:30:13] The piece that has, was due this year for us to really turn our attention to, and it would have needed, sort of a lot of brain space, because if we hadn’t started the work in the way that we’ve been focused on these other aspects, sanitation environment, et cetera, was are skills development, job creation with a tourism focus, and education. And sadly, job creation with the tourism focus have been definitely really hit.

[00:30:44] I was looking at some reports the other day on what’s going on in countries, cities that are established, established tourism destinations and how badly they hit they are. And we were looking at tourism as being a real source of growth, of, of job creation. And COVID, the impact of COVID is undoubtedly, going to impact it, not just in terms of the short term.

[00:31:10] Kal Joffres: You seem to govern from a place of great clarity, even though politics involved so much ambiguity, especially when you’re consulting as widely as you have. How do you converge on what to do with certainty and confidence?

[00:31:24] Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr: If my role is to be here in order to try and affect change, and if I recognise that the only way that I can affect change is by actually bringing people along ’cause that’s, that’s, that’s the reality. You really cannot change the system unless you’ve got like, you know, you want to be a dictator and you’ve got huge armies and you just use force.

[00:31:47] But if you, if you’re actually here in a democratic setting and what you want is sustained change, then it means you’ve got to, you’ve got to help people to catch a vision. Inspire them to do things differently. Do you need certainty for that? You might want it, but you’ll never have it, you know.

[00:32:10] I mean, are you, are you concerned that your decisions will not be favored by some? That’s always going to be the case. Is your driver is, is what’s bothering you, that you might not be re-elected into office. That’s where you have to come and find the peace. You know, and, and so often my thinking is okay, so. (pause)

[00:32:41] I hear many times, I mean, people were accusing me of this at the beginning of my, of my term, “Oh, she’s not moving the traders off the streets because they vote for her.” I’m like, no. I’m not moving the traders off the streets ’cause we haven’t built the markets yet.

[00:32:58] But we have now just opened the bids for five markets last week and hopefully those will be sensible and we’ll be able to go forward with markets construction. And when you’ve got markets, then you can move people into markets.

[00:33:12] But are you making decisions all the time based on what people will think, how you’ll proceed? I think that’s, that’s maybe where you’re getting at. And I think what, what I’m more concerned about is improving the lives of people. And sometimes the means that you have to make decisions, which in the short term may be viewed negatively, but if you, if you’ve done your research, you’ve done your work and you know that in the long term, this is going to work, then you can go through that discomfort. And the, the “lack of popularity” because you, you, because you know where you’re headed.

[00:34:00] So we’re working right now on slum upgrades, for five slum communities and it will mean relocation, but we’re going through great lengths to ensure that the places that we’re providing are going to be good places, places that people want to live in.

[00:34:16] Because it’s not just a question of clearing out a slum. It’s a question of saving the mangrove because people are building in the slums and therefore killing the fish. And therefore food is more expensive, you know? And it’s not a question to just moving them anywhere, anywhere where they, they fend for themselves.

[00:34:31] So the team that we’re working with, I said to them, look, I want the caseworker. I want a social worker. For every family that’s assigned to them for a year, you know, that helps them to settle down into their new home, helps them to find a job. So it’s taking us a very long time to build this program. And in the meantime, people are going, she’s not touching the slums.

[00:34:50] No, she’s not touching the slums today, but she’s working on it. So when she does the slums, she’s providing viable alternatives for people to have a better life and not just to move people out. So uncertainty, yes.

[00:35:07] Will I succeeded in everything? I’m sure I won’t because that’s life. But my heart, my vision, my passion is to improve the lives of as many people as I possibly can. I’ve had to become a mayor in order to have the access to the policymaking, decision-making that would allow that to happen.

[00:35:34] So my starting point is not, I want to be a politician. My starting point is I want to change lives. So maybe that’s how I deal with it.

[00:35:44] Kal Joffres: Mayor Aki-Sawyerr, thank you so much for joining us on the Innovation Dividend.

[00:35:49] Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr: Thank you for having me and have a good day.

[00:35:51] Kal Joffres: That was Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, the mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone.



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Regional Innovation Centre UNDP Asia-Pacific

Regional Innovation Centre UNDP Asia-Pacific


Doing development differently through designing, developing, curating, collating and championing innovation and digital across the Asia Pacific Region.