Up, up and away: Helping Businesses take off in Fragile States

Liliane Rugebenge is one determined entrepreneur. She has to be. Running a travel agency in Burundi, a fragile and conflict affected state with a recent history of unrest, is no easy task.

Lilianne’s business, Fantastic Voyage, is impressive. It consists of two sprawling floors in Bujumbura’s commercial district, decked out with model planes, computers, iPads and telephones. But these days, the phones are mostly quiet, and clients rarely walk through her door.

“Political instability in Burundi means that many people cancel their travel,” said Liliane, who established her business in 2011. “Summer is usually high season for us, but this year, people no longer have the means to travel, and as NGOs leave the country, we continue to lose business.”

No stranger to civil strife, Burundi experienced its latest bout of instability beginning in April, 2015 when protesters flooded the streets following the President’s announcement he would seek a third term.

Violence spread from the capital, killing hundreds and displacing tens of thousands. An attempted coup, more violence, and an opposition boycott of the election followed. A disputed election was finally held in July of 2015 – and won by the incumbent President – though Burundi’s business and political environments remain strained.

Through it all, IFC stayed on the ground, supporting clients like Liliane, who enrolled in a Business Edge training program with hundreds of other entrepreneurs to gain the skills she needed to strengthen her business and help it withstand Burundi’s frequent economic shocks.

“I followed five modules, everything from accounting to business plans to investment analysis,” Liliane said. “The training made these concepts clearer to me, and has helped me tackle my day-to-day challenges. I’ve also recommended it to my colleagues.”


Problem Solving

IFC developed Business Edge to improve entrepreneurs’ management capacity and business performance, with modules adapted to local languages and business needs. To date, Business Edge has trained nearly 160,000 individuals across 67 countries. The Business Edge program is part of IFC’s broader advisory efforts to address critical skill gaps and improve the performance of SMEs in companies’ supply, distribution, and customer networks.

In Burundi, Business Edge is being rolled out in partnership with IFC investment client KCB Bank, who recommend the training to their SME clients. The trainings are delivered by local enterprise, Burundi Business Incubator.

Gloria Nyambok, Managing Director of KCB Burundi, said, “When we entered the market in Burundi, we found that many SMEs had poor financial skills. We had experience [in SME development] with IFC in other markets like Rwanda, so we chose to partner with them in Burundi as we believe that the product IFC offers is what we need to strengthen our SME clients.”
IFC’s support for entrepreneurs like Lilianne reflects the Corporation’s deepening commitment to Africa’s fragile and conflict affected situations (FCS), which are among the poorest and least developed places in the world.

In FY15, IFC made $237 million in investment commitments to sub Saharan Africa’s FCS, and $59 million in advisory commitments to 45 projects. IFC’s development strategy in FCS like Burundi, Liberia, the DRC, and others focuses on helping them attract investment, especially for infrastructure projects, improving services, and supporting job growth. IFC’s work in Africa’s FCS through its Conflict Affected States in Africa Initiative (CASA) is supported by donor partners Ireland, the Netherlands, and Norway.

While change is often slow and piecemeal in fragile states, those who are invested in them, like Lilianne, remain optimistic. She graduated from a Business Edge training course in July, 2016 and is looking forward to better days ahead for her business – and her country.

“I am sure it will be fine in the end,” she said.  “Burundi is a blank slate – many things haven’t been done here, but that also means that everything is possible here. I still have the best hopes for my business.”

Published in August 2016