Project in the spotlight: customized solutions with IngénieuxSud

Testimony by Professor Jean-Pierre Raskin, driving force behind IngénieuxSud

Umicore has supported IngénieuxSud for a few years now. Students of the Catholic University of Louvain (UCL) work with students from Africa, South America or Asia for a whole academic year on a sustainable project that offers a solution to meet the needs of the local population.
 

At the end of the academic year the UCL students go abroad for a month to roll out their project on site. We chatted to professor Jean-Pierre Raskin, who is the driving force behind IngénieuxSud.
 
“IngénieuxSud is a collaboration between The Catholic University of Louvain (UCL) and the non-governmental organization (NGO) Louvain Coopération”, Prof. Raskin starts off the conversation. “We want to open the minds of our students in the science and technical fields to think out of the box. The aim is that they take into account aspects such as sustainable development and social equality when dealing with technology projects in developing countries in Africa, for example.”
 
The students are no longer exclusively graded on the technical solutions they come up with, but also on their interplay with sociologists, NGOs, companies, etc. they worked with or exchanged ideas with. “The sustainability of the project and the manner in which it truly responds to the needs of the local population is evaluated,” says Raskin.
 
At the end of the academic year, UCL students spend a month abroad.

Photos: Louvain Coopération
Text: Carl Van Kerkhoven
The students and African entrepreneurs work closely together.
 

Entrepreneurship is sparked

 
It is no longer enough to come up with an efficient and financially viable technological solution to a problem the residents of a town in Asia face, for example. Other issues must also be addressed: is the solution sustainable, is it environmentally friendly, is it in pace with socio-economic circumstances or the political climate?
 
“The students are challenged to gain knowledge and experience beyond their own area of expertise as well, and their entrepreneurial spirit is also ignited. It directly connects us to professional life. Increasingly companies are searching for people with profiles that can stand their ground even beyond their own field of expertise. Their solutions must go beyond technical efficiency and financial viability. They must also be sustainable and offer an answer to the actual needs of the local population”, the professor continues. IngénieuxSud runs over the course of an academic year, after which the students travel to the project country for a month during the summer holidays. Throughout the year the students work on finding suitable, innovative and sustainable technical solutions to address the difficulties people in developing countries face.
 


IngénieuxSud in figures:

  • 72 projects
  • 16 university partners
  • 12 countries
  • 329 UCL students
  • 150 students from developing countries
  • In 2013 = 20 students
  • In 2018 = 93 students
  • 2017-2018 academic year: 24 projects in 9 countries (Rwanda, Mali, Benin, South Africa, Madagascar, India, Haiti, Bolivia, Ecuador)
 

Who funds it?

 
“Some background: students pay for their own flights and accommodation on site”, says professor Raskin. “Each project costs about EUR 8,000. The money is required to buy the material to implement the project, operating costs (such as local transport) and staff costs. There are a few volunteers who prepare the projects and are active on site.”
 
“We are able to cover these costs thanks to the financial support we get from companies like Umicore. It really makes the world of difference for us. In Togo we installed a Learning Box that runs on solar power. Thanks to this Learning Box we can now offer literacy classes to young farmers in remote areas that don’t have electricity. All supported by Umicore”, he adds enthusiastically.
 
Sometimes companies donate material too, like solar panels. “But my dream is that in future companies will also commit to a skills scholarship, which goes further than financial support. They will be able to use their knowledge and experience by having students coached by employees. It enriches everyone,” Raskin feels.
 

Win-win


Why should companies support IngénieuxSud? “Because everyone wins!”, emphasizes professor Raskin. “It gives companies a unique opportunity to recruit people with specific profiles. These students’ knowledge transcend the ‘usual’ technical know-how. What is more, companies get the chance to put their thinking caps on with the universities to work towards a sustainable future, including for countries that are still developing.”
 
It gives students a rare opportunity to work closely with companies. This makes them more mature and helps them develop a critical approach. But the universities also gain from this. By engaging the business world in their operations, they ensure that today’s graduates are focused on the world, society and the corporate world.”
 
Would you be interested in supporting an IngénieuxSud project? Make an appointment without obligation via anne-lise@ondernemersvoorondernemers.be or call 016 32 10 72.