In June, I had the honor and pleasure of traveling to St. Louis, Senegal to work with CONCEPT. I worked with CONCEPT’s dedicated training staff to develop a training program for artisans and agricultural processors.
In Senegal, per capita income is only $1,000 (less than 2% of that of the United States) and life expectancy is 66 years (vs 79 in the United States). Poverty in Senegal results in part from the weakness of the private sector and the shortage of strong business skills and behaviors.
The Senegalese non-profit organization CONCEPT has trained artisans and food processing micro-entrepreneurs in production. Artisans include carpenters, and food processing micro-entrepreneurs transform millet and other crops into food products. For example, some of CONCEPT’s trainees make a popular dish called “thiakry” from millet and milk and sell it on the local market.
After production training, the CONCEPT staff realized that the trainees also needed improved business skills to complement their technical skills to succeed in their microenterprises. CONCEPT solicited Winrock’s assistance to train its trainers in management and entrepreneurship. This training was intended to enable CONCEPT’s trainers to help artisans and food processing micro-entrepreneurs develop stronger businesses.
Under the USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer program with Winrock, I spent two weeks in Senegal training CONCEPT in management and entrepreneurship. Training was highly participatory with numerous games, exercises, case studies, and discussions. Topics included entrepreneurial behaviors, communication, marketing, communication, recordkeeping, financial analysis, and business planning. After the workshop, the CONCEPT trainers prepared a training session of their own to present to each other and to practice in preparation for training of local micro-entrepreneurs.
The training was held in St Louis, on the coast of northern Senegal near the border with Mauritania. The island of St Louis near the mouth of the Senegal River is on the UNESCO World Heritage list due to its past role as capital of Senegal and its distinctive colonial architecture. Although tourism helps the local economy, business activity needs to be stronger to raise living standards.
Since I visited during the Muslim fast of Ramadan, most of the local population was not eating or drinking during daylight hours. Although a day without food or liquid in the heat of St Louis can be tiring, the CONCEPT staff participated very actively in the training and showed strong motivation to pass on their learnings to their beneficiaries.
To me, human capital is more important than financial capital. My hope is that CONCEPT’s trainers will be able to empower micro-entrepreneurs in St. Louis to strengthen their businesses, thereby improving their lives and those of their employees and families.