WIDENING OUR SCOPE OF INFLUENCE
Accel volunteer Tyler Kaelin and Congo American accountant José Ngombo share a smile with students at Collège Moderne le Figuier.
Partnering with K-12 schools
Much of the focus of this report is on ALI, our adult English language training business. But our largest impact may end up being in the field of elementary and secondary education.
The interest in bi-lingual youth education is very high in Kinshasa and other major cities. We are pursuing it under our "Accel American Academy" brand and believe it will become a major source of revenue over time.
The business model
The DRC government regulates schools but it doesn't provide much funding for them. Most schools of any standing are run by churches, NGOs or private companies. They charge tuition to cover most of the costs, with teachers also receiving meager salary supplements from the Ministry of Education.
The burdens of establishing a school from the ground up are substantial, and doing so wouldn't really be a great use of our expertise. Our competitive advantage is best leveraged by partnering with existing schools to provide American-supervised English and bi-lingual courses.
Under this business model, the school increases its tuition rates and pays the incremental amount to us. Out of that increment, we cover our costs and earn a target margin of 20% to repay debt and provide a return to our investors.
Once this model is operating with thousands of students, it will produce a steady flow of dividends.
Our initial experience
We initiated this concept last year with a school called "Collège Moderne le Figuier" or CMF. CMF has 700 students ranging from pre-school to high school. The school was built 6 years ago in an affluent part of the city.
CMF's founder and chairman invited us to assume management of the school and transform it to a bi-lingual international school. Most of the teachers and administrators of the school were excited about the partnership. Many new families joined the school in response to the advertising about our collaboration.
But the idea was opposed by a faction of the administration, which included members of the founder's extended family. They were protecting their turf. They teamed up with the president of the parents association, whose husband was trying to introduce a school management group in which he had interests. Together, they used all kinds of subterfuge to disrupt the parents' support of the founder's initiative. In one infamous episode, they even arranged for non-parents to attend a parents meeting at which they literally shouted down the founder himself.
The end result was that instead of having stewardship of the cashflow from the full tuition of CMF's 700 students, we ended up with an voluntary after-school program for which we had to collect monthly payments from each family. The opponents' whisper campaign limited enrollment to 120 students.
For many reasons, that small program was not economically feasible for us. We decided to cut our losses so we terminated the program at CMF after three months.
In that short time, we had made treasured relationships with some amazing young people and teachers. Particularly special was the advanced class of high school students who had earlier expressed that our presence gave them new confidence in their country -- it was now possible for them to believe that having a productive life did not necessarily have to involve leaving the country.
Then, when we announced the end of the program, a member of the class named Enzo exclaimed "all hope is lost."
We believe that Enzo is too thoughtful and resilient to let that be the final verdict on his prospects, and we'll be offering him a discounted place in one of our TOEFL preparation courses.
But still, saying goodbye to that group was heart-wrenching.
CMF's owner is also saying he will correct the dysfunction and is inviting us back for the next school year. During the week of 23 March 2019 he contacted us to resume discussions. We will carefully consider before making any decisions.
Undeterred by the setback, three of our invincible local teachers pointed out that the CMF experience had given us a chance to create a program, identify the best curriculum and learn from the good and bad results.
Inspired by their positive thinking, together we analyzed the parameters under which our K-12 business model would be most successful, including the profile and location of the kind of school we would most want to do business with. They identified three specific schools and went to visit them.
Our teachers' targeted sales campaign resulted in a new partnership with a private school organization called "Complexe Scolaire les Loupiots". Founded by a woman from Belgium, Les Loupoits has a 45-year track record and reputation as the top non-international school in the city. The organization is now owned and managed by a very refined and professional couple, Michel and Jacqueline Kalume. They have 2,000 students at three campuses.
We described the problems we had at CMF and clarified that we would only participate with 100% buy-in from all stakeholder groups. They assured us in that regard, and all our interactions since have been consistent with that assurance.
They partnering with us to transition their schools to bi-lingual and then international status. We are preparing a phase-one intensive English program that will pilot at their main campus during the 2019-20 school year starting in September.
They have already pre-cleared with their parents the 10% tuition increase to cover our fee. We are on track to sign the final contract with them during the week of 1 April 2019.
Not only do Les Loupiots' owners share our interest in educational and social development, they also have a strong commitment to ecology education and reforestation as an avenue for scientific education and character development for their students, and as a way to make a positive impact on the planet's ability to sustain human civilization. For those purposes they recently purchased 10,000 acres of deforested land outside of Kinshasa. They have asked for our help in engaging the Les Loupiots students and their families in putting the land to good use towards those objectives. It could be a flagship component of our Tree Congo initiative, described here.
Scroll down for photos from the two schools.
Complexe Scolaire les Loupiots
With Les Loupiots senior staff (left to right) Daniel Ngoma, high school principal; Monica Tshimanga, academic director; Jacqueline N'Sele Kalume, co-owner and superintendent; Hugh Matheson, general manager, Congo American LC (US entity); Dodo Mbenga Nsheba, general manager, Congo American SARL (DRC entity).
Collège Moderne le Figuier
Accel Academy teacher Adam Musela with members of the CMF advanced English class. In addition to providing positive leadership at CMF, Adam led the team that opened the door with Les Loupiots. The student on the right is Enzo, who was quoted in the article above.
Most of the CMF staff were happy about their school's collaboration with Accel Academies. Above, a planning meeting with teachers & administrators from Accel and CMF, plus Congo American support staff.
First day of school; first time to see the new American teachers. The Congolese academic culture is mostly rote, regimented and fear-based. You can see it in the student's faces as they stand in formation before walking single-file into the school building each morning. Their natural distrust quickly dissipates in classes lead by Accel teachers because we implement a positive American approach to student engagement.
It makes us sad to think that our sudden separation from CMF may have caused the young student above to feel that her initial wariness was justified after all. Perhaps conditions will improve so we can return.
© 2019 Congo American LC