David Moinina Sengeh’s journey is proof that determination always exceeds doubt.
Born and raised in Sierra Leone, Sengeh witnessed the traumatic effects of his country’s civil war, which began in March 1991 until January 2002. According to France 24, between 50,000 to 200,000 people lost their lives. In addition to fatalities, many victims became amputees due to the war’s brutality.
In 2014, the TED Fellow shared in his TED Talk, “The Sore Problem of Prosthetic Limbs,” that an estimated 8,000 men, women and children had their legs and arms amputated. The alarming number of Sierra Leoneans who had to use prosthetics led Sengeh to learn about the challenges that they were facing with them.
“Before I left for college, I had these conversations with amputees because a lot of people always said amputees just wanted a beg on the street side. They didn’t want to use their prosthesis and I learned that it wasn’t just because they wanted to beg, but the majority did not use their [prosthetics] because it was painful,” Sengeh explained to AfroTech during TED2023: Possibility. “And, I’d gone and tried to understand why.”
After studying in Norway, Sengeh went on to pursue biomedical engineering at Harvard University, where he worked on vaccine research. Then, he pursued his Ph.D. at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab to learn how to developing prosthetic interfaces for the body. His mission was to design comfortable and affordable prosthetic sockets and wearable interfaces to solve the universal problem.
Sengeh, his boss, and collaborators were able to work around the traditional designs with the advancement of 3D printing, soft tissue modeling work, and MRI imaging — something that seemed “impossible” to many others. Through working with experts across those fields and testing materials, Sengeh saw his vision fall into place.
“People approached it from a singular point of view,” he said. “And for me, what I saw was that it required multiple fields to work together to get the best products but the impact was what was more important for me. I wanted to build something that people can use no matter who they were. So inclusion was always at the heart of what I did. And I wanted to help people participate fully.”
He added, “Did I think we will succeed? Yeah, I knew we would because the technology was there and I approached it from a perspective that other people hadn’t approached it but my boss, the collaborators and other people who were involved were the best at their fields. I had a conviction that we’ll do it.”
Being involved in history and innovation doesn’t stop there for Sengeh. Following his time at IBM Research Africa in Nairobi and Johannesburg, where he worked on data science, he became the first chief innovation officer for Sierra Leone’s government. As of this writing, he serves as the minister of basic and senior secondary education CIO.