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Bertin Mangongo (’24): Self-made businessman and philanthropist

Bertin Mangongo

After a career as a Senior Liaison Officer Advisor in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Bertin Mangongo fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide that was spilling into the DRC, threatening his country. Bertin Mangongo came to America with only $20 in his pocket, his wife, and his four young children.

After starting life from scratch with nothing in this country, Bertin Mangongo is now a successful businessman. He conducts philanthropic work with the Congolese community in Charlotte, NC, and the DRC. He uses lessons learned from IWP, including “humanitarian diplomacy,” to enhance perceptions of the United States abroad via his NGO, COYWA FOUNDATION WORLD ALLIANCE.

Bertin Mangongo in the DRC
Bertin Mangongo in the DRC

Liaison work in the DRC

Bertin was born and raised in the DRC, where he completed his university studies. He then served for 11 years as a Senior Liaison Officer Advisor to the head of the Catholic Church in The Democratic Republic of Congo, Cardinal Frédéric Etsou-Nzabi-Bamungwabi.

This work was significant: according to The Pew Research Center, 95.8% of the population of the DRC is Christian, and of this, 47.3% are Catholics. The Cardinal is powerful – arguably more powerful than the President.

When the Rwandan genocide broke out, the Church became focused on preventing the killing of women, children, and innocent people. Under the partnership of CENCO-CARITAS and the Archdiocese of Kinshasa, Bertin Mangongo became involved in the negotiations surrounding this crisis, visiting the eastern side of the country next to Rwanda and traveling abroad with stakeholders delegations, including to the U.S. and Europe. He interfaced with various NGOs to assist with a refugee camp of 10,000 people in Kinshasa-Bibua, the capital city of the DRC.

“When the tanks started to cross to the DRC side during the Turquoise humanitarian corridor, and the Rwandan Genocide spilled over to the DRC, that’s when things started falling apart for the Mobutu regime until his government collapsed. I experienced the atrocities of the war and the change of regimes between Mr. Mobutu Sese Seko and Mr. Laurent-Désiré Kabila. I decided to leave the country and come to the U.S.,” said Bertin.

Bertin Mangongo at IWP Commencement in May 2024
Bertin Mangongo at IWP Commencement in May 2024

Starting life from scratch in the U.S.

At the airport, Bertin’s savings were confiscated by the new regime’s airport police. He hesitated. How could he bring his family of six to the U.S. with absolutely nothing?

“My mother gave me the $20 she had and told me to go, God will make a way for you…” said Bertin. “The new regime was planning to target all well-known and public figures to terrorize the Kinshasa population and squash any opposition. A good friend of mine with a reliable human source from Mr. Kabila Désiré’s regime told me I only had 48 hours to get out of the country. So, I left. My children were eight, six, four, and two years old.”

After working at the highest levels in his native country, Bertin suddenly found himself in a new country, unable to speak English well. He looked for a job for five months and finally took a cleaning job to feed his family. Meanwhile, he attended community college to learn English. It was a grueling daily schedule, beginning at 5:00 AM and concluding at 11:00 PM for about fifteen years.

When he was done with his English classes, he enrolled at UNC Charlotte, where he earned a B.S. and B.A. in Accounting and Finance.

“Things changed quickly,” said Bertin. “A top Big Four accounting company came to hire at UNC Charlotte, and I was among the recruits. It opened my life. I went from earning $6.55 per hour to a first-year salary of $55,000.”

Soon thereafter, Bertin earned his MBA from Queen University in Charlotte, North Carolina.

He ended up working a total of 15 years with American corporations such as Ernst & Young, Wells Fargo, Continental Tires NA, Brand RPM, Showalter Construction, and Stanley Black & Decker.

Bertin next plans to finalize his doctorate thesis.

Bertin’s children have found similar success – three of them have finished graduate school, and his youngest daughter is at Columbia University finishing her graduate studies.

Dr. James S. Robbins with Bertin Mangongo at IWP Commencement
IWP Dean of Academics Dr. James S. Robbins with Bertin Mangongo at IWP Commencement

Helping the Congolese community in North Carolina and abroad

For five years, Bertin served as the president of the Congolese community in Charlotte, North Carolina, which encompassed about 5,000 DRC immigrant families.

In this capacity, he learned that the insurance world was very tricky and twisted for immigrants. Because of the language barrier and limited knowledge of the insurance industry, they would often purchase whatever insurance was offered to them.

Bertin has tried to solve this problem by opening a “one-stop shop” for insurance to make it easier for these underserved communities. This new business, Kuby Services, LLC, allows people to purchase everything they need for insurance, including car insurance, health insurance, life insurance, and other protections for themselves and their families.

Bertin has also started a philanthropic organization, COYWA FOUNDATION WORLD ALLIANCE. The foundation’s mission focuses on uplifting and supporting women and children in the DRC and worldwide against war atrocities and poverty.

“99% of people coming to this country do low-paying jobs. Many immigrants have not yet had a chance to live a great life,” said Bertin. “Sometimes they have many kids. With scarce resources and less public support, they cannot afford daycare, and all they can do is make enough money to pay rent. This is what I experienced with the 10,000 refugees from Rwanda in Kinshasa Bibua from 1994 to 1998, and again here in America with these vulnerable newcomers.” Vulnerable people such as women, kids, and the elderly often are victims (the collateral damage) of political conflicts and social injustice.

Another challenge Bertin has noticed is culture shock – this culture shock leads to families’ dislocation. It can cause children to leave home and go into foster care. “Many of these problems can be solved if we solve the culture shock in immigrant communities,” said Bertin.

His foundation was formed to help these people who come to the U.S. and do not have resources. “They can come to our office and get the things that they need,” said Bertin. “We have a kitchen downstairs for women, and we help them cook for their families.”

Bertin’s Foundation also helps support communities in the DRC.

The elementary school that COYWA FOUNDATION WORLD sponsored in Lisala, DRC
The elementary school that COYWA FOUNDATION WORLD sponsored in Lisala, DRC

Learning about intelligence, national security, and international affairs

Because of his leadership role in the Congolese community, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) invited Bertin to attend the FBI Citizens Academy, an eight-week program for business, religious, civic, and community leaders.

“It was a great experience,” said Bertin. I learned about espionage, counterterrorism, intelligence, and homeland security. It created in me a desire to know more about international affairs, intelligence, and national security.”

An FBI agent he worked with at the Academy recommended that he look at IWP if he was interested in studying these topics further. The FBI Agent in Charge suggested sending a letter of recommendation on his behalf if he didn’t get accepted at first.

Because his family and work were in North Carolina, Bertin enrolled in IWP’s Online Certificate in Statecraft program.

Construction materials donated by Bertin’s Foundation
Above: Construction materials donated by Bertin’s Foundation. He says: “Our U.S. flag is still there in the middle of nowhere in the DRC’s deepest tropical forest. This illustrates the impact of U.S. soft power. We are tirelessly working on our mission to repair the U.S. perception in the DRC and Africa to win the ideological competition among the great powers.”

A new perspective on his international philanthropic work

“We are in a great power competition with Russia and China,” said Bertin. “I am grateful for my philanthropic activities, because the perception of the U.S. overseas is not good, especially in Africa.”

At IWP, Bertin learned that international relationships are not only about the “rich and mighty.” They are also about the people of a country. “Social power is a powerful lever,” said Bertin. He is seeing this concept playing out in the DRC as a part of the great power competition.

Bertin pointed out that the Democratic Republic of the Congo has significant natural resources that are needed for phones, computers, and nuclear weapons. “If you read American history, the materials for the nuclear weapons that the U.S. dropped on Japan came from the Congo,” said Bertin. “The Congo has lots of natural resources but no good leadership for the past five decades.”

Today, China and Russia are pouring money into the Congo in an attempt to win influence in the region. “They build a small school here and put up a bridge there, and say, ‘Look what we do for you,’” said Bertin. “So, they get all the mining contracts and are winning the ideological war.”

At IWP, Bertin studied these issues in detail and wrote a paper about how the U.S. could prevail using economic diplomacy while temporarily shifting U.S. foreign policy for Africa to give our diplomats more flexibility and room to maneuver locally.

Foundation Bertin Mangongo

Meanwhile, Bertin’s NGO is on a mission to support U.S. foreign policy to meet the challenges that the U.S. faces in the DRC and Great Lakes regions of Africa. His NGO has helped get construction materials to the heads of villages, build small medical centers, sponsor soccer tournaments, and resolve conflicts in the region. He has also helped villagers form teams to tailor clothes and design high-quality beads and clothing, allowing them to become self-sufficient and live with dignity.

“These efforts have been a big success,” said Bertin. “When I land at the airport, thousands of people come chanting and jubilating to the place where I’m going to stay. That’s a success. I’m working for the people. I’m also projecting America’s soft power. Everywhere I go, you see an American flag. I learned that from my diplomacy classes.

“I am now an ambassador for the U.S. I’m still optimistic that we shall succeed. I am still so grateful that I got a chance to be part of the IWP and learn from the best teachers from a vast range of backgrounds in national security, intelligence, and international affairs.”

To make a gift to the COYWA FOUNDATION WORLD ALLIANCE, a 501(c)3 organization, you can mail a check to: 5500 Executive Center Drive, Suite 215, Charlotte, NC 28212-8893.

A soccer tournament sponsored by Bertin Mangongo.
A soccer tournament sponsored by Bertin Mangongo.