On the heels of International Women’s Day, PCI, a Global Communities Partner, is proud to announce the launch of an expansion to our Women Empowered (WE) savings groups project in Burundi.

Beginning last month through March 2022, implementing partner Burundi Friends International (BFI) will support the creation of 128 new WE savings groups in Gitega province. The year-long initiative will serve an additional 3,040 rural women with financial training and support, along with 160 men to build positive masculinity.

“BFI is thrilled to expand the Women Empowered program in Burundi. Working alongside Project Concern International helps us amplify women’s voices that would otherwise never be heard,” said Julie Marner, BFI’s Executive Director. “Burundian women find great success in saving and starting businesses. We feel this is just the beginning of something special.”

In Burundi, discrimination and harmful social norms toward women are the primary drivers of unequal access to economic opportunities, with particularly severe consequences for those living in rural areas. Women are trapped in a cycle of difficult work to meet basic needs, with few options for building better, more secure futures for themselves and their families. PCI’s WE program provides a way for rural Burundian women to overcome these roadblocks, reach economic resilience and integrate into the business sector.

BFI began incorporating PCI’s WE program in 2018 by training 12 groups of 15-25 members to save and loan together, practice leadership skills and accomplish personal and community-wide goals in four provinces: Bubanza, Gitega, Kayanza and Ngozi. In 2019, the project added 48 groups in Gitega province. Aline Kwizera, 32, was one of the new members to join that year.

WE participant in Burundi

Aline Kwizera, a member of a WE savings group in Burundi, stands in her doughnut shop in Gitega province. Photo courtesy of BFI.

According to Aline, she wanted to improve life for her husband and three children, but she did not know how to save money or ask for a loan. A friend invited her to join a WE savings group. With a loan of 50,000bif (US$17.86), Aline started a small food business making doughnuts. Subsequent loans from the WE group enabled her to open a small doughnut shop and begin raising pigs. After 12 months, Aline had saved 168,000bif (US$60). With interest, she received a total of 239,000bif (US$80). She reinvested money back into her WE group, purchased a goat and is now working on a 5-year plan to move her business from retail to wholesale.

With BFI’s WE expansion over the next year, the program will grow to a total of 188 groups. The initiative will also integrate business skills and positive masculinity training into group meetings, building members’ earning potential and engaging men in support of women’s empowerment in their communities.

“By instilling leadership competencies in our participants, engaging men in household well-being, encouraging a spirit of teamwork between husbands and wives, training them in business and participating in community services, we prevent violence, promote social cohesion and inclusive socio-economic development within beneficiary communities,” said Odette Habonimana, BFI’s Country Director. “My happiness is to see Burundian women capable of supporting their needs, the needs of their children, their families and that of the community at large. My joy is to see rural women having a say in decision-making from the household  and the local community to the national level.”

To date, a total of 1,330 youth and women coffee farmers in 60 groups have saved over $53,680 and used those savings to offer small loans to each other to launch small businesses, improve their houses and purchase livestock. Members also work with their groups to make their communities better by conducting home visits to assess needs, providing financial support for emergencies and ensuring clean water access points are functioning.