SARASOTA, Fla. (July 8, 2015) – Dr. Jean Kabongo’s recent return to Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo was more than a homecoming.
The associate professor at USF Sarasota-Manatee’s College of Business grew up just across the river in Kinshasa. So while he made a point of visiting his parents, who still live in Kinshasa, the main goal of his two-week stay was to advise business owners and startups.
After helping companies in Brazzaville, he did likewise in neighboring Cameroon.
When not teaching business management, leadership, international management, entrepreneurship and MBA courses, Dr. Kabongo serves as USF Sarasota-Manatee’s representative on a consortium of eight U.S. and Canadian universities under the Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP).
Comprised of 70 members, including governments and conservation groups, the partnership was formed in 2002 to promote sustainable management of the natural resources of the Congo Basin in western equatorial Africa.
Dr. Kabongo, 52, is playing his part by holding workshops about business and management practices and meeting with business owners. He conducted several such sessions in Brazzaville at the invitation of the chamber of commerce.
“The most common questions I got were how to get funding and where to go or who to see, a bank or international organization that promotes entrepreneurship in Africa,” he said.
After a week in Brazzaville, he traveled 500 miles northwest to Yaoundé, Cameroon, for a three-day conference of the CBFP. More workshops and one-on-one sessions followed, but unlike Brazzaville, the conference’s first day in Yaoundé proved especially tricky.
“We had no power,” he said. “It was held inside a big facility in a government building in the capital.”
Light through windows illuminated the space for the 40 attendees, but because the power was out – a problem fixed the next day – he couldn’t rely on visual aids. He had hoped to plug in a projector.
“I had my notes on my cell phone,” he said. “Fortunately it was charged.”
The lectures, meanwhile, proved lively and “very interactive” with attendees posing questions and talking about their companies, then approaching Dr. Kabongo afterward for advice about their business plans. This went on for hours.
“I would look at their drafts and right away give them feedback,” he said. “We set up a table and they would come and see me and ask questions. I would give them suggestions. It was really like a clinic.”
No stranger to travel – he speaks six languages – this was Dr. Kabongo’s second trip with the CBFP after visiting Africa last year. The journeys have come after more than two decades abroad.
In 1990, he left Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, for Haiti to work for Missionhurst Missionaries, a Catholic organization that builds schools and promotes education and health care training.
A few years after that, he moved to Mexico City to attend Universidad Iberoamericana, a Jesuit college. He earned a master’s degree, got married and in 2001 immigrated to Canada to work and pursue a doctoral degree in business management at Université Laval in Quebec City.
Awarded a doctorate in 2006, he taught for a few years at Virginia State University and then at Millersville University in Pennsylvania. He landed at USF Sarasota-Manatee in 2010.
Dr. Kabongo welcomed the voyage back to his homeland of western Africa, a place of contrasts: abundant in beauty, culture and resources but struggling economically. The people he encountered, including many young entrepreneurs, nonetheless were thirsty for knowledge.
“To see how people are in need and how they want to learn and improve what they are doing, to me it is rewarding that I can be of help,” he said. “I see it as a service to the community, helping people grow and succeed in their entrepreneurial efforts, which can help overall to improve the economic and human development of the region.”
He said he hopes to return next year: “We’ll have to wait and see.”