CaseStudy: The Sahara Project

Project  Management, Mentoring, Young People  Development


Sahara in Urdu means support/guide or someone you can depend on.

The Sahara Project was conceived and set up by Rauf Mirza as new & innovative mentoring initiative in North Staffs. Funded by the Staffs LSC (Learning & Skills Council) and supported by all the further education colleges in North Staffs, especially Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College. The project was active from January 2004to May 2006.

The aim of the project was to help and guide young people, aged 16-21 years, from diverse and disadvantaged backgrounds (mostly BAME communities), to raise their aspirations, achieve better educational and vocational results, and generally support them to realise their potential andaim higher in life. The Project was focusing on Black and Asian young people especially since this group had been identified as having the greatest educational and aspirational issues.


The project recruited professionals and role models of diverse backgrounds from the local community as Mentors.  Their professional skills and experiences as well as general life experiences were utilised to encourage, motivate and guide young people to achieve more out of life.In short-they will…“ light” their path to greater success!

The Mentors also added value through their direct understanding and experiences of the cultural, religious, social, and environmental challenges in life which these students will be facing. Mentors and mentees were matched on best fit, gender, age, and mentee preference. Cross cultural links were actively encouraged,

Young people (mentees) were recruited from the four main further education colleges, based on agreed criteria with college Tutors. Mentors were targeted and recruited from the community through networks, direct knowledge and referrals. Lead by the Project Founder/Director (Rauf Mirza), a small team of 4-5 full time Project Co-ordinators were recruited with several volunteers, and an office base established in the heart of the City.

Training/Development courses were written, organised and delivered totally in-house. These included-

“Job in the Pocket”, Team Working, Communication Skills, Building Confidence, and Presentation Skills.


All targets set by the Learning & Skills Council were exceeded, with impressive impact to the young people, their parents as well as the wider community. The Project set a new model and benchmark for effective engagement to disadvantaged young people from such communities. Overall results

  • Recruited 56professionals/role models as Mentors (target=30)
  • Recruited145 learners from FE Colleges as members & potential Mentees (target=30)
  • Number of mentors/mentees active in mentoring programme – 30 (target=30)
  • Essential Skills courses ran: 4 (target =2), total course attendees = 38 learners
  • Several motivational and social events organised- e.g. Careers Fair at Staffordshire University, Team Building Day, Celebration Event with guest speakers Lord Nazir Ahmed and Mo Chaudry.
  • Mentor and Mentee Induction courses ran – 13 (47 attendees)
  • Overall – engaged with over 350 individuals through various activities.

The Sahara Project successfully prepared the young people for the challenges in later life. Inspiring & emotional examples of success/testimonials from young people are available.  The Project was recognised across the West Midlands as an example of best practice.

“…through The Sahara Project I have gained the experience and guidance that is a necessity in this period of my life, which is not available at college. Working with Sahara and meeting different professionals has also inspired me and really made me think about my future”