September 10, 2019 Print

Birashoboka!, a Kirundi word that means “It’s Possible,” is the rallying cry of Centre for Development and Enterprises-Great Lakes’ campaign to drive a national conversation on the power of free enterprise in solving the country’s endemic poverty. The campaign is also promoting a favorable environment for doing business in Burundi, a country named in many rankings as the poorest country in the world.

“Africans are increasingly aware that the reason for their relative poverty is a lack of economic liberty, said Brad Lips, CEO of Atlas Network. “CDE is proving that ‘it’s possible’ to tear down barriers to enterprise, giving hope to large numbers of people who are now seeing windows of opportunity spring open.”

Entrepreneurship in Burundi is hampered by regulation, and in this largely subsistence economy, more than eighty percent of people live in extreme poverty. With CDE’s help, Burundi has cut the cost of establishing a business by 72 percent, reduced the real time it takes to start a business to a single day, and increased new entrepreneurs’ access to credit. These achievements have allowed thousands of entrepreneurs to move into the formal economy, grow their customer bases, and provide meaningful employment to countless job seekers.

“’Birashoboka’ quite simply tells the Burundian people that it is possible—there is a better system out there that enables and encourages opportunity for everyday people to succeed,” said Aimable Manirakiza, founder and CEO of CDE. “Being recognized as a Templeton Freedom Award provides a huge validation not only to CDE, but the hardworking people of Burundi who yearn and work for a better life. We will continue this momentous work. It is possible!”

The first part of the Birashoboka project involves selecting, training, and assisting potential entrepreneurs in good business practices so that they are able to thrive as entrepreneurs. The second part involves advancing strategic reforms to improve scores on the World Bank’s Doing Business Index, on which Burundi currently ranks 186 out of 190. This abysmal ranking is due to the rigorous 10-step process that is required just to start a business. As a result, many would-be entrepreneurs move to the informal economy, where their efforts are not recognized by official sources. The Birashoboka project additionally seeks to change banking practices in order to ease the process of opening accounts.

“At the beginning of our ‘Birashoboka’ campaign, we had some reform success in favor of the ease of doing business in Burundi, especially with the reduction of the fees required to register a company in Burundi,” said Manirakiza, who believes that high fees stifle entrepreneurship.

According to Manirakiza, CDE initially faced backlash from government officials, who misunderstood the fundamental causes of poverty in Burundi. CDE’s ability to work with insiders and help them understand why economic reforms would achieve a strong Burundian economy was an essential factor in the success of their project.

CDE’s Birashoboka campaign has educated more than 1,500 entrepreneurs on the challenge of running a small business, and they continue to be a force in Burundian media. The Ministry of Commerce has eased the burden of registering businesses by reducing the startup cost from 140,000 francs ($78) to 40,000 francs ($22). Banks have also sought ways to better serve their clients by streamlining the process and allowing people to set up accounts over the phone, as well as developing accounts designed to serve the unique needs of entrepreneurs.

There has also been a huge uptick in business registrations after the reforms, and dozens of entrepreneurs have been able to register their businesses, grow their customer base, and hire employees. In 2018, 23,902 new jobs were created—an increase of 23 percent from 2017. The number of new business registrations went from 2,289 in 2017 to 3,430 in 2018, a 49.84 percent increase. In contrast, the number of businesses registered in 2017 went up by only 116 registrations, or 5.34 percent.

Thanks to CDE’s efforts, it’s now easier for entrepreneurs to start a business and positively contribute to their communities: “More important than these efforts was the hope we gave them,” Manirakiza said. “We worked tirelessly and believed we could change the system.”

"During my recent visit to Bujumbura, I met with numerous entrepreneurs who shared their stories with me—stories of struggling to keep their businesses afloat until CDE's work meant they could move into the formal economy," said Atlas Network Director of Institute Relations Casey Pifer. "Not only has CDE actively removed barriers for aspiring entrepreneurs in the world's poorest country, their work to improve the business environment has also allowed for business growth that gave thousands more people in Burundi access to work. That is no small thing."​

About Centre for Development and Enterprises—Great Lakes:
CDE’s mission is to reduce the obstacles to prosperity and opportunity according to the principles of a free society and free market in Burundi, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

About Atlas Network’s 2019 Templeton Freedom Award:
Awarded annually since 2004, Atlas Network’s Templeton Freedom Award is named for the late investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton. This prestigious prize honors Sir John’s legacy by recognizing Atlas Network’s partner organizations for exceptional and innovative contributions to the understanding of free enterprise and the advancement of public policies that encourage prosperity, innovation, and human fulfillment. The Templeton Freedom Award is generously supported by Templeton Religion Trust and will be presented during Atlas Network’s Freedom Dinner on Nov. 7 at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City. The winning organization will receive a $100,000 prize, and five additional finalists will receive $20,000 prizes.

The finalists for Atlas Network’s 2019 Templeton Freedom Award are:

For media inquiries about the 2019 Templeton Freedom Award, contact Melissa Mann at melissa.mann@atlasnetwork.org or (202) 449-8441.

About Atlas Network:
Atlas Network increases opportunity and prosperity by strengthening a global network of independent civil society organizations that promote individual freedom and remove barriers to human flourishing.