Latif Mbengue is shifting education in Senegal from theoretical to practical, hands-on learning. Bringing key players together, Latif is preparing students to succeed in the workforce, helping them to accelerate their professional and entrepreneurial careers and in turn creating hubs of innovation.
The New Idea
Latif is developing an inclusive approach to bring entrepreneurship-based and practical training to complement Senegal’s theoretical approach to university education. Following the principles of learning by doing, Latif’s work enables students to experiment in real time the same obstacles faced by entrepreneurs. With a safe space to practice and yet still gain hands-on experience, students take control of their own learning, acquiring skills that help them work in interdisciplinary teams, find creative ways to problem-solve, and build confidence in their own leadership and entrepreneurial endeavors.
Core to Latif’s work is having the students identify community partners with whom they can work on pressing projects with an economic purpose and social impact. The attitudes and skills that the students learn paves the way for them to succeed in the workforce after graduation, changing the status quo of the majority of Senegalese youth entering the workforce without any actual work experience to a generation of prepared, skilled, and resilient youth.
Using the international CSO, Enactus, as a strategic platform to launch his initiative, Latif works closely with universities, communities, government officials, media, and private sector organizations. Unique to Enactus Senegal is the work that Latif does to mobilize each of these key players. He brings them into three different initiatives—the University program which consists of an entrepreneurial competition of undergraduates, the Career Connection program for graduates, and the Entrepreneurship Development program. In so doing Latif plays a critical role as an activator. By enhancing the entrepreneurial mindset in students, communities, companies, and governments, Latif is creating hubs of innovation.
Already in 15 universities and high schools in Senegal, Latif has plans to replicate his work throughout Francophone Africa, starting with Côte d'Ivoire and Togo.
Representative of the entire African continent, Senegalese people under the age of 35 make up the majority of the population and are victims of unemployment and underemployment. According to the International Labor Office, the unemployment rate in the labor force aged 15 to 35 years is estimated at 12.2% while the unemployment rate for graduates was 31% in 2011 against 16% in 2005. The difficulty arises from the limited employment opportunities and growing flows of graduates who come into the labor market annually. In addition to this, there is a discrepancy between the opportunities and the products of higher education. Universities see their role as educators but don’t necessarily feel the responsibility of helping students get jobs or succeeding in the workforce. Youth who graduate each year cannot seem to fit into the labor market or create their own employment opportunities. Thus, they become a societal burden whose management represents a real development issue.
Approaches have been developed to facilitate the employability of young people, such as Junior Achievement, which helps children to value free enterprise through educational programs and AIESEC, a global youth network for the promotion of leadership development through conferences and trainings; business plan competitions are organized to help students gain real experience while developing and growing new ventures. The Government has implemented several structures including FNPJ (National Fund for the Promotion of Youth Employment) and ANEJ (National Youth Employment Agency) that provide the youth with low-interest loans for projects so as to help them start their own initiatives. However, there is still a big disconnect which, according to ADEPME (National Agency for Small and Medium Enterprises), is due to a lack of clearly defined objectives, to poor management and a lack of expertise and experience among young promoters. Youth do not receive practical education and therefore are not well-trained or prepared to exercise entrepreneurial functions.
Further, the Senegalese Minister of Higher Education has developed new curricula with a competency-based approach. And to comply with the request of the CAMES (African and Malagasy Council for Higher Education) for modernization and adaptation to international standards, universities have embarked on a process of reform. To this end, the LMD "bachelor- master- doctorate" system was adopted and inter alia recommends a knowledge acquisition to 60% through teachers and 40% by students through internships and research. Even still, however, private sector organizations are not satisfied with students, claiming that their education has been entirely theoretical and that they do not have the right attitudes, mindset, and capacities to excel in the workforce.
In 2007, Latif joined Enactus Senegal as the Executive Director, seeing it as a platform with brand recognition to unfold his vision to meet challenges across youth employment. As part of the Enactus program, the organization mobilizes and engages university and college students in projects designed to improve the quality and standard of living of the poorest populations. The projects are presented in national competitions at the end of the academic year and the best ones take part in the international competition.
Enactus Senegal launched its operations in 2004 as an independent, autonomous franchise of the larger organization. The rules and procedures established by Enactus global gave Latif a freedom to implement his vision. He decided to turn the concept into an educational program with practical tools to address youth employment issues, but keep the competitions as a source of motivation for students. He began to expand the network of schools and businesses and developed a communication plan among students, school officials, and companies to launch an education initiative in leadership and learning through the acquisition of complementary skills to conventional training—bringing innovative, practical learning to Senegalese Universities.
Within each campus, Latif mobilized a multidisciplinary team of students and introduced educational consultants and team leaders who, being advised by faculty, are trained to lead the student teams. The student team leaders are responsible for mass recruitment of students who will work together under the supervision of one or more educational consultants and rely on their knowledge to develop and implement management training and marketing for project promoters. Students are first sent to their communities to identify projects that meet development needs. Once a project has been identified, the students work in teams where each student has a specific and unique role to play.
Experiencing a new way of learning, the students take ownership of their projects, conduct regular site visits, build relationships with the project clients and constituents, provide regular updates and feedback to advisor mentors, and give targeted technical support to the client throughout the course of the project. For example, in 2013, a team from Bambey University worked with an agricultural cooperative to develop a market gardening production unit and manufacturing of solar cookers. The involvement of students helped boost sales through a new pricing policy. The team also trained members of the cooperative on financial management techniques, methods of storage, and marketing of market-gardening products.
Throughout the process, students are monitored by Enactus staff that motivate them and enable them to participate in national and international competitions wherein the winning projects receive financial support. Students are encouraged to make a difference in their communities and to display such on the day of the competition, which is organized in an achievement showcase format. Business leaders and well-trained professionals are invited to provide project advice as well as specific training about making the transition from school to work life.
In 2011, Latif developed CCP (Career Connection Program) and EDP (Entrepreneurship Development Program) to reach other youth beyond universities. CCP supports youth in their transition from school to work life. The program is structured around seminars focused on topics related to self-management, leadership, and career planning. In its second year of implementation, 40 graduates from Thies, Ziguinchor, and Bambey Universities participated in the program and were able obtain a first job or an internship in the field of activity where they chose to make a career.
EDP is intended to provide young entrepreneurs with the tools and resources that will enable them to better understand business opportunities in the local and global markets. It trains and directs, annually across Senegal, about 30 selected high-potential entrepreneurs that receive intensive coaching to help them meet, interact with, and learn directly from more experienced entrepreneurs. Latif developed a partnership with schools that makes it possible for students to benefit from the program without any financial contribution.
Students who have been through the Enactus Senegal program have had increased success in the job market after graduation. Some have gotten jobs with their project organizations and many have started their own entrepreneurial endeavors. Additionally, Latif has built relationships with various corporations, including Procter and Gamble, who now want to hire students who have been through Latif’s program for full-time jobs. Latif has plans to build more such partnerships as a way to help provide graduates with jobs and decrease the associated problems around youth unemployment.
With four schools in 2007, Enactus now intervenes in all the large universities in Senegal and in many high schools, working with over 500 students every year. Projects implemented by the students also covered various populations in different areas and several geographic areas of Senegal with nearly 3,000 beneficiaries. Latif works with the Senegalese Ministry of Higher Education to position the Enactus \education program as a compulsory educational unit for all students in universities and public higher education institutions. Through a phased deployment that takes into account the specificities of each country and involves sub-regional institutions such as UEMOA, Latif wishes to gradually establish the education program in all of Francophone West Africa. Abidjan, Ivory Coast has already been chosen as the pilot project because of the strong involvement of Ivorian nationals in Enactus activities in Senegal and the similarity of colonization legacy in terms of higher education systems. Connections have already been done and a multinational company has agreed to provide the financial support.
Latif grew up in an atmosphere where education had a central place, influenced by the teaching work of two of his siblings, and a father who placed a high value on education. Attending the same school where his father taught, Latif spent his childhood with the impression that the world stops at the school. In high school he began to have friends outside of school and realized the limitations of the classical school, thus sparking a desire to explore other channels of learning and self-realization. The university allowed him to release and provide a space for freedom and creativity that the school seemed to refuse.
In December 1999, Latif created an Africa Diaspora Movement for the advancement of African values and cultures to demonstrate the mismatch between the school and the local environment, and to contribute to the awakening of African consciousness to the student elite. At the University Cheikh Anta Diop of Dakar, he organized a conference on African Renaissance, and brought students and academics from Africa, African Diaspora, the CCaribbean and the United States. His participation in the World Youth Conference in 2002 in Alexandria helped him understand the urgency to act to bring solutions to the thorny issue of youth employment, feeling that Senegal was going to be left behind if the issue wasn’t addressed. He began to set up a network of organizations that were addressing the issue of youth employment. Working as the Deputy Coordinator of Youth Entrepreneurship Sustainability (YES) Senegal, of which he is a founding member, he pushed the government to consider youth employment as a priority and worked with the Minister of Education for the creation of tools to guide the young in the job search.
In 2005, Latif discovered Enactus while working as coordinator of the Millennium Campaign Regional Youth for the United Nations. In 2007, he became the Executive Director of Enactus Senegal, and used it as a platform to build opportunities to engage youth in an innovative way for personal and professional development.