Paper presented during the GW October program: New Frontiers in Entrepreneurship and definition of Work at George Washington University, School of Business conference held in October 2017.


Researches have shown that the importance of women entrepreneurship for development is undeniable. Not only entrepreneurship can drive economic growth and development in Burundi, but research has shown that when women become entrepreneurs, returns can be even greater. For instance, according to Ndedi (2011) who conducted a research in Cameroon, when a woman is empowered and successful as entrepreneur, she will spend 90% of the money made on education and healthcare for her family, compared to 30% to 40% for men. In a country ravaged by armed conflicts and struggling to maintain peace and economic stability for its citizens, it is important for the Burundian government and nongovernmental organizations (NGO) to promote women entrepreneurship to halve at least 50% of its population out of the poverty trap. The current paper attempts to develop a roadmap for sustainable women entrepreneurship in Burundi. The first part of the paper presents the shortcomings of current national policies aiming at developing entrepreneurship in Burundi. The second part of the paper gives the necessity and the importance of women empowerment through entrepreneurship by relating success stories of women entrepreneurship in the world. The third part provides a framework for sustainable entrepreneurship in Burundi with the focus on women. Key words: Burundi, entrepreneurship, wealth development, poverty, empowerment. INTRODUCTION AND RATIONALE OF THE PAPER Burundi’s recent history, like most other countries in the African Great Lakes region, is characterised by high unemployment, underdevelopment, conflicts and poverty. Since its independence in 1962, Burundi has been suffering from a nearly continuous armed civil conflict involving the two ethnic groups; Tutsi’s and Hutu’s. In the past 50 years, heads of state have been assassinated through armed coups, army leaders have set up coups and as a consequence more than half a million civilians have lost their lives (Peace Direct, n.d.). The actual 2015 GDP of Burundi is $1.9 billion, equivalent to just $210 per person with PPP per year. The agricultural sector accounts for 35% of the GDP and employs 94% of the workforce, while 2, 3% work in industry (World Fact Book, 2015). According to (Danish Trade Council for International Development and Cooperation 2015), women face legal, economic and societal discrimination in Burundi. For example, discriminatory practices are present on a slowing adoption of an inheritance law to give women better access to land ownership; and by law women must receive the same pay as men for the same work, but frequently they don’t. Some positive results have been registered with respect to including gender in political decision making in the National Assembly, the Senate and Communal Councils, i.e. including 30 percent of women in these institutions. There is gender gap in terms of the employment rate. Females’ work is mainly in agriculture. Among the 3.000 registered formal-sector firms are about 13 percent run by females. It is estimated that females run 70 percent of informal traders. Trade unions’ density of female membership is estimated at 16 percent. Females have a 4 percent points higher total employment rate, and a 5 percent point higher youth employment rate. The employment numbers from 1998 indicated that 58 percent of agricultural workers are females. Net primary school enrolment is higher for girls than boys, but gross secondary and tertiary school enrolment is lower for girls. Though Burundians in general have low education, females do have 25 percent less average years of education than men, a higher relative difference than the four neighbouring countries in the East African Community (EAC). (Danish Trade Council for International Development and Cooperation 2015) Figure 1. Burundi in the African map. Source: Danish Trade Council for International Development and Cooperation (2015)
The option of a long-term vision is essentially designed to prepare a better future for society, and Burundi cannot escape this reality. The country seeking to bridge the relief-to-development gap and ensure recovery after more than two decades of violence, the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission identified numerous challenges that could be tackled with support of the international community, with the need to prioritize job creation, especially among women to achieve better results. The World Bank’s priorities for Burundi included assistance to waraffected individuals and communities (women in particular) and helping to restore the foundations for poverty alleviation and growth through entrepreneurship. This current paper is attempting to develop a roadmap for women entrepreneurship in Burundi. To achieve this, a thorough search of success stories on women entrepreneurship was conducted. The next section discusses the methodology used.


Data Collection A major source of information was face-to-face interviews with some women association. Personal interviews allow for an in-depth understanding of decision-making processes and for gaining relevant background information from key informants (Oberhofer and Dieplinger, 2014). The semi-structured, open interviews consisted of three sections: • personal background of women entrepreneurs; • entrepreneurial process from the first idea to the market entry; • Weighting of economic, financial and social and goals. The questions focused on activities, events and outcomes, rather than hearsay, which reduced the potential for retrospective bias. The interviews were conducted during March April 2016 in Burundi. Typically, they lasted between 30 and 45 minutes. All were digitally recorded, transcribed and documented in a standardized form, which enhances the reliability of the study. Before and after the face-to-face interviews with the women, the researcher gathered archival data from internal and external sources, including the websites of the sustainable enterprises, blogs of the entrepreneurs and press releases, social and print media. The detailed descriptions of key activities in written form represent real-time archival data, which allow a triangulation with the personal account of the sustainable entrepreneurial journey as told by women entrepreneurs in the interviews. This triangulation increases the internal validity of the study and reduces the potential for retrospective bias (Santos and Eisenhardt, 2009). To enhance the external validity of the study we asked the co-founders to review drafts of their case study report (Yin, 2009). Data Analysis The researcher documented and coded the empirical data with MAXQDA 12, a software package for qualitative data analysis. Thereafter an inductive coding process was done, focusing on the main activities associated with the women entrepreneur. In the data analysis the researcher employed time-ordered and concept-ordered displays as suggested by Miles and Huberman (1994). Time-ordered displays are appropriate to describe and analyse how events and activities unfold over time.


The literature shows that Burundi unreservedly ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), among other national and international instruments. It acquired a national gender policy in 2003, together with a proper legal framework through the 2005 Constitution, which states that 30 % of decision-making positions must be filled by women and a new Penal Code in 2009 to strengthen sanctions against gender-based violence. However, inequalities are still apparent in several areas and the empowerment of women is a challenge to be met in the future. According to African Economic Outlook (2015: 12), contributory factors are: limited access to essentials for production, such as credit and land, and low participation rate in growth sectors. Burundi’s property law is heavily patriarchal in terms of inheritance from which women are excluded. Property rights are thus a major challenge for women, not only because they rarely hold land, but also because of the non-resolution of land disputes exacerbated by the huge number of returning refugees. This discrimination adversely affects certain vulnerable groups like widows and female orphans. The passing of new equality legislation, supported by civil society organisations, still meets with strong resistance, especially in the National Assembly. (African Economic Outlook 2015: 12) The analysis of various sources mentioned above brought many loopholes in the Burundian economic system for Vision 2025, including: an unwelcoming cultural environment, laws and regulations that stifle women entrepreneurship, the issue of corruption and bureaucracy, limited access to business services and facilities for women entrepreneurs, and the access to market and competition. Traditional reproductive roles and power relations One of the key findings shows the barrier of the cultural environment that makes more difficult for women to start and run enterprises due to their traditional reproductive roles and power relations. Women have to divide their time and energy between their traditional family and community roles and running the business. Another problem is customary law that limits women’s rights to property which could be pledged as collateral for loans. Women interviewed said that it is common to find parents-in-laws discouraging their daughters-in-law from using their own property as collateral for fear that they will not manage to repay the loan. They also mentioned that some men (husbands) discourage their wives from formalizing their business. They might allow them to have an informal business but not to formalize it fearing they would be overpowered by it. Finally, some cultural and religious values restrict women from socialising and hence broadening their networks which could be useful for their business. Laws and regulations affecting women entrepreneurs Another problem found in the literature is that laws and regulations affecting businesses (including licensing procedures) are generally designed for relatively larger businesses and are therefore difficult for micro enterprises (mostly women owned) to comply with (Olomi and Mori, 2013). Women have to grapple with costly and cumbersome business regulations and administrative practices at local and national levels. Women entrepreneurs mentioned that they fear registering their businesses because of cumbersome regulations and licensing procedures. Corruption and bureaucracy In Burundi, these too can make matters worse, especially for women, who are generally more vulnerable to pressure from corrupt public officials. Women entrepreneurs find it difficult dealing with corrupt officials. Some women mentioned that they were being sexually harassed by different government officials (tax and municipal officials) especially when these found out their businesses had some problems like lack of a business licence or delay in paying burden taxes. Most women mentioned having to pay a bribe because they were accused of having a dirty business environment, unqualified employees, or having not correctly done the process of getting business licence. A few women entrepreneurs also mentioned having been harassed by government officials (specifically tax officials when the taxes are due and high) and financial providers’ officials (to speed up loan processing, or to get a loan and obtain soft followup/monitoring). These challenges happen because most women are unaware of their rights and do not know who to contact for help when such problems occur. Limited access to business services and facilities Another major constraint mentioned the journals is limited access to appropriate and affordable facilities and services, such as premises, loan levels suited to business needs, technical and management training, advice and marketing. These problems arise from the limited capacity and outreach of existing institutions as well as the women’s inability to afford the services (Jagero and Kushoka, 2011). The most commonly mentioned challenge is access to finance. Findings showed that finance was one of the top challenges faced by women entrepreneurs when starting and growing their businesses. The next challenge was getting customers for their products followed by finding a suitable business location. Another challenge to growing businesses is the fact that many women entrepreneurs found it difficult to get advisors/consultants/mentors to give advice on growing a business. Access to market and competition Research carried out in Burundi from 2011 to 2015 on women entrepreneurs showed that markets where women are mostly present are markets with fierce competition and price sensitivity. This also led to fake, counterfeit and contaminated products to appear in the market (raw materials, water, chemicals, feed, spares, equipment, etc) negatively affecting the quality and reliability of the supply chain, and thus indirectly women entrepreneurs by undermining their credibility and demand for their products. Furthermore, in the broad environment, women entrepreneurs also face challenges at the personal level. The biggest challenge is their limited awareness and capacity, including attitudes and practices that are more aligned with subsistence than profit oriented activities. In most cases, they lack information about regulations and standards, inputs, equipment and strategic services. Women entrepreneurs also do not have sufficient skills to develop creative business concepts, market products beyond their neighbourhoods, keep records or properly cost and price what they are selling. Technical skill gaps include the inability to identify and select appropriate technology; safety and security; ensuring efficiency of operations; consistency of volumes and quality; and risk management. In summary of the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs in Burundi, the problem is that most women entrepreneurs do not have the capacity to create and develop their businesses. They mostly ‘copy and paste’ what others are doing without any modification. This limits them from expanding their businesses as they find themselves operating in very competitive markets.


The strategies for a strategic framework for women empowerment are summarised below; Ndedi (2014: 6) 1. Sector-specific training The provision of training in the skills particular to a sector is a central strategy to help women entrepreneurs move into higher value sectors, and gain first mover advantage. It gives them the skills to produce higher quality goods, which bring higher prices in the market. Training women in the skills needed to start businesses at different stages of production, distribution and supply within one industry. This can ease women’s entry into new or male dominated sectors since the women will have the added security of an established network within which to work. (Kantor, 2001) Service providers will need market analysis skills to aid them in selecting the target sectors for such training programmes. 2. Incubators A Business Incubator is a facility designed to assist businesses to become established and sustainable during their start up phase. Typically, they do this by providing: shared premises, business advice and business services, access to potential clients database, mentoring and other services intended to establish the new venture. Incubators can help women who want to expand home-based businesses. They can offer them low cost and low risk access to the productive capacity necessary for expansion. They also can help move women into new sectors by decreasing the risk involved in start-up by offering access to capital and to one-on-one technical and managerial assistance. Incubators can have a sector focus, helping to create networking and mentoring opportunities between business owners and allow them to form group purchase and retailing systems to achieve economies of scale. Sectorspecific incubators may have greater potential in helping move women into new sectors due to the targeted auxiliary support services available. 3. Reaching girls Strategies supporting women’s entrepreneurship may be short sighted if they do not recognize the present society influences girls’ perceptions of what they are capable of doing. Awareness campaigns and educational programmes introducing girls to entrepreneurship are important in expanding their dreams and increasing their confidence. This may then have long-term positive effects on women’s entrepreneurship as girls finish school and enter the workforce. 4. Mentoring Women have shown a keen desire for follow-up training, accessed after trying out ideas learned in more formal training sessions. A holistic mentor will use the following roles of befriending, counseling, coaching, and tutoring. 5. Access to information, Information and communications technology (ICT) Information is an important asset for business owners. The Internet and electronic commerce are key means to improve access to markets for inputs and for sales of finished goods. These tools can help those producing in areas where access to markets is limited or those whose lack of mobility limits market access. 6. General business training A constraint women face in starting SMEs is a lack of relevant education and experience. General business training will be vital in filling this gap with the objective to meet women’s needs. Business training should also be given to service providers supporting women’s entry in business. The roles of these incubators are to assist potential entrepreneurs to transform their ideas from fiction into reality. Therefore the first point is a business plan or a road map. Where the venture want to be in the future, what are its milestones, the means and mechanisms that will be used to go through the difficulties that the business may encountered and ways and tactics on how to overcome them. In summary, a business plan is a document that summarises the operational and financial objectives of a business/venture and contains the detailed plans and budgets showing how the objectives are to be reached. CONCLUSION The author concludes by stating that collection of data on in a gender disaggregated manner is imperative but the data should also be disaggregated along ethnic lines. Marginalisation of certain groups in multiethnic societies have the potential of threatening social stability and once more retard development in a continent, which is already ridden with conflicts, inequalities, and lopsided development. In this paper, it has been shown that the Burundian economy is dominated by the primary sector made up essentially of agriculture which contributes approximately half of Gross Domestic Product and contributes nearly 80% of export earnings. The secondary industry is characterized by a very weak industrial framework which was struck hard by recent crisis. The industrial products are far from competitive, because of the high costs of the raw materials, the costs of transport and the geographical isolation of the country on the one hand, and its unfavorable tax policy on the other hand. The paper argued that, despite the fact that the diversification of the economy represents a great challenge for Burundi as it seeks to achieve accelerated economic growth, it is imperative of Burundian government to put in place policies aiming to turn the corner. This paper has stressed the importance of a gender sensitive regulatory and legal environment that supports women to gain access and be able to claim the same economic rights as men with regard to entrepreneurship. It also ensures that specific laws and regulations are clearly enforced so women are not subjected to customary practice and denied their legal rights. 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