Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

English language program helps to build relationships, alum says

Jean-Claude Nkurikiyinka had already helped build sustainable economic development in East-Central Africa when he began his next mission: learning English. 

As founder of the Rwanda-based International Sustainable Development (ISD), Nkurikiyinka has started fiber optic, pipeline, transportation and agricultural projects in order to generate income in rural areas of Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia and surrounding countries. 

In order to effectively change the balance of wealth and power in Africa, he says, collaboration with Europe and the U.S. is a necessity. “We need your expertise,” Nkurikiyinka says. “We do not need to reinvent the wheel.”

But because he couldn’t speak English fluently, Nkurikiyinka was limited in his capacity to build relationships. 

That’s when his friend Robert Fogler introduced him to the University of Denver’s English Language Center (ELC). Fogler is a Denver lawyer who manages the Thousand Hills Venture Fund, a venture capital fund that invests solely in Rwanda. The two met a conference in San Francisco on eradicating poverty through profit. 

“Jean-Claude [Nkurikiyinka] has a PhD in agriculture and economic development, and he serves as a consultant on a wide variety of World Bank-type projects,” Fogler says. “But before he became proficient in English, he was excluded from many projects and instead he was limited to those projects where he could get by with French and, of course, Kinyarwanda.” 

Now Nkurikiyinka has formed relationships throughout the U.S., including organizations in Georgia, Virginia and California. After spending two months at ELC in 2005, he gave two lectures on economic development in Africa at Virginia Tech. 

“My main objective was to connect with the research world,” he says. “We need to work together if we want to eradicate poverty.”

ELC also provided the context for building relationships with people from other countries. Nkurikiyanka says he forged friendships with people from Indonesia, Singapore, Japan, China, South Korea and South America. 

“I think my time at ELC was the best time for thinking about improving ISD communication,” he says. In the future, Nkurikiyinka believes ELC could help with English training through his organization. 

ELC offers five levels of English language training, ranging from beginning to college preparation.

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