The business professor was at a meeting of the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship when he met a World Bank representative who oversees innovation, entrepreneurship, trade and global competiveness projects worldwide. Now the organization is asking the professor to undertake a year-long evaluation of an agricultural program in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Basically they are hiring me to conduct a study of key business development services related to agro-industrial sectors, specifically palm oil, cassava and rice,” Dr. Kabongo said. “My overall goal is to help develop these agro-industrial sectors.”
Dr. Kabongo expects to make frequent visits over the next year to interview farmers, agricultural consultants, trade representatives and business and local government leaders. His first trip is expected within two weeks after his employment contract is finalized.
Once he arrives, he’ll study how the cash crops are grown, harvested and brought to market as well as whether farmers are following best business practices and exploring all options to market their goods.
The World Bank, which finances projects in developing countries, made a $110 million loan to the Central African nation two years ago in the hope of expanding its agro-industrial sectors.
In addition to evaluating farm operations with a “value-chain approach,” Dr. Kabongo will scrutinize support services for the sectors, including equipment, irrigation and fertilizer usage and how goods are stored and transported.
“Based on what I find on the ground I’ll develop a three-year strategic plan to overcome any challenges,” he said, adding that already he has begun assembling a team in Africa to assist him. “I’m very much looking forward to getting started.”
Dr. Kabongo’s return to the Democratic Republic of Congo represents a homecoming as well. The popular USFSM professor grew up in capital city Kinshasa and his parents still live there. Although he expects his research to take him to remote regions of the country, he relishes the occasional opportunity to visit family.
Last summer, he visited neighboring Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo to advise startups and small businesses under the Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP). The nonprofit, formed in 2002, promotes sustainable management of the natural resources of the Congo Basin in western equatorial Africa.
“Anytime I can go back, it’s exciting,” he said.