OUR COMPETITIVE ENVIRONMENT

US GOVERNMENT PROGRAM FACES OBSTACLES

Letter_to_Chargé_Haskell_180402.png

ALI petitioned the US Embassy/Kinshasa to curtail its subsidized English language institute. Click on the image to see the entire letter.  

Changes signal setbacks for CALI

BACKGROUND

 

Our only competition in the premium English language training market is the US Department of State with its "Congo American Language Institute" or "CALI". 

CALI's connection with the embassy lends an element of academic credibility to their graduation certificates and feeds the misperception that attending CALI puts students in contact with Americans and provides an advantage when seeking a visa or applying for a job.

Yet, unlike our American Language Institute ("ALI"), the embassy's program has no Americans in the classroom and provides little if any direct cultural interchange between Americans and its patrons.

 

We have been working to reduce the role of the State Department in market-based English training, asking them to take a profile more consistent with their activities in all other countries in the world.  

The letter pictured above resulted in a friendly but frank meeting on 13 April 2018 with Chargé d'Affaires Haskell and her public affairs and commercial officers. They defended CALI as a "self-funding public diplomacy" program but acknowledged that State paid the rent for their large facility on the main Boulevard [see note at bottom of page.] 

The Chargé informed us that CALI had lost the lease at that location and would be moving into shipping container classrooms at one of their two "American Corner" sites farther from downtown. She said they would be seeking funding to build or remodel a new facility but that it would be at least a few years away.

In the wake of that meeting, ALI founder Hugh Matheson met with the chief of staff of US Senator Mike Lee and subsequently corresponded with a policy specialist in Senator Lee's office. The Senator's staff corresponded with the State Department. It is possible that friends of Congo American had additional contact with the Senator and/or his staff, potentially further motivating a retreat from CALI's commercially competitive posture.

Mid-year we witnessed CALI close its operations at the former main location and move into shipping container classrooms at the American Corner on the campus of the Université Protestante du Congo (UPC).

In addition to these official conversations and observable facts, we also gain intelligence from a "grapevine" of anecdotal, second-hand information that comes to us because some of our teachers formerly taught at CALI and they still talk to their colleagues, who are often looking for teaching positions with us. In the latter part of 2018, the word is that CALI is being phased out as an entity, but English lessons will still be offered as "public diplomacy" programs of the two established "American Corners". 

 

STATUS AS OF JANUARY 2019

CALI's move to the satellite location has reduced their attractiveness. They have had problems with air conditioning, electricity supplies, curriculum delivery, etc. We are seeing more of their students come to ALI.

The embassy's public messages about CALI are also becoming less commercial in nature. 

  • In the second or third week of January 2019, CALI's commercial web site (formerly at www.calidrc.com) went offline even though the embassy's "education and culture" web page still instructs users to visit that page to register for classes, with a link that results in an error message.  

  • The embassy's website has fewer references to CALI than even just a month ago. Two of three links on the site return "error - page not found" messages.  Their published claims of numbers of students have been removed from the site (in late 2018 they spoke of "over 2,000"; in early January 2019, they reported 1,850 while at the same time our student count had reached 250+).

  • The remaining CALI page notifies readers that CALI has moved to the American Corners at UPC and a municipal library near the original ALI site in Limete. They state the cost of $245 per session. Yet the official embassy "American Corners" web page also states that "All the activities/Programs at the American Corners are free of charge to patrons." 

The newly accredited US ambassador to DRC, Mike Hammer, is a career diplomat with a strong background in public affairs. We haven't met him yet but look forward to sounding him out on the issue of US government competition against US-owned businesses. We plan to invite him and his staff to be guest speakers at our English clubs, graduations and other ALI events. Accel and Congo American are great examples of the kind of US investment the embassy should be cheering on (instead of competing against). 

NEXT STEPS

It is clear that the embassy's language program is in some kind of transition and possible downgrade. We will continue to monitor the issue with the following three objectives:

 

1.   No USG funding for a new language institute facility, whether rented or owned. 

2.  No USG subsidy for operation of English classes -- if they exist, they should be strictly self-supporting in every aspect, including financing, marketing and management. 

3.  Ultimately, no embassy-sponsored professional English language courses. 

We will continue to work to encourage the State Department to limit the Kinshasa embassy's English promotion programs to be consistent with its activities in other US embassies throughout the world.

____________________

NOTE:

[1]  Our analysis suggested that the embassy must be contributing a subsidy of about 20% to CALI, an amount equivalent to market rate rent they would have been paying at their previous location. Competitive pressure from CALI forced us to match their subsidized price, requiring us to operate with a very lean cost structure and earn profits only through increased volumes of students. 

Accel Academies of Congo ASBL is a non-profit educational organization supported by Congo American, a for-profit administrative services company.   

©  2019 Congo American LC