Country Overview

Burundi has made progress since the civil war but continues to face a number of political and economic challenges.

Following a series of coups, international pressure led President Buyoya to democratize the country in the late 1980s. This provided space for civil society to grow, and become an increasingly independent voice in the run-up to the country’s first democratic elections in 1993. This was short-lived, due to the President’s assassination and a civil war that would last until the signing of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement in 2000. The country’s institutions were democratized, and civil society organizations (CSOs) exploded, with one study listing more than 1,400 in 2004 and hundreds of new associations each year. The main areas of focus of such organizations can be classified as economic development, religious associations, research, solidarity, and those focused on assistance to vulnerable groups. Organizations focusing on civil rights, culture and sports, humanitarian assistance, special interests, human rights, the environment, youth, women, the media and press freedom are also important. Not all CSOs are equally active, and many lack the necessary skills, knowledge, and/or funding to be effective. International non-governmental organizations (INGOs) were largely inactive during periods of repressive rule, but are numerous in Burundi today.1 In the past few months, their numbers have dwindled.

The legal system may still inhibit organizations, particularly local ones: according to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, “many local associations are effectively prevented from registering because they are not able to travel to the Ministry of Home Affairs, in Bujumbura, the capital city, and some of the required registration documents are only issued in Bujumbura. In addition, the documents required for registration are numerous and difficult to complete, particularly given the limited organizational capacity of NGOs in the country and filing is costly.”2 Despite a period of relative peace, unrest and instability has ensued following the presidential elections in July 2015. President Pierre Nkurunziza was elected for a third term in an environment that was 'not conducive for an inclusive, free and credible electoral process,' said United Nations observers.3 UNHCR leads coordination of services for over 50,000 refugees (mostly from DRC) and 80,000 internally displaced people.4 There is also a strong accountability and empowerment argument for the term “philanthropy” to be reclaimed by those giving at the grassroots level—“where the recipients of aid are also considered the givers, their own philanthropists”. Village Health Works (VHW) in southern Burundi is highlighted as an example in which traditional funding sources are important, but only when catalyzed by grassroots philanthropy: the local community’s donation of land and volunteering to build a road to the clinic when VHW could not afford the $50,000 to pay another country's construction company to do so.5

The vast majority of Burundi’s population (90%) rely on agriculture, and 44% of the adult population is not literate. Very few basic social services are in place; only 5% of the population has access to electricity, and 72% can access an improved water source.6,7 While this is not an enabling environment for economic advancement, the post-war period has provided openings for women to play a more active role in economic life. INGOs such as CARE and the International Rescue Committee are active in women’s economic empowerment, often through the use of village savings and loan groups to address financial inclusion among poor, rural women. These programs typically occur alongside complementary objectives of addressing gender-based violence, improving sexual and reproductive health, strengthening networks of women and girls, and advocating for women’s rights.


  1. Stijn de Reu. “The Impact of International NGOs and Civil Society Organisations on the Peace Process in Burundi,” Conflict Research Group, University of Ghent, Belgium (2004). Accessed November 21, 2014.
  2. International Center for Not-for-Profit Law. “Global Trends in NGO Law,” Vol 3 Issue 3. Accessed November 21, 2014.
  3. New York Times. "Burundi: U.N. Observers Call Presidential Vote Flawed." Accessed July 28, 2015.
  4. UNHCR. “2014 UNHCR country operations profile – Burundi.” Accessed November 21, 2014.
  5. Deogratias Niyizonkiza and Alyssa Yamamoto. “Grassroots Philanthropy: Fighting the Power Asymmetries of Aid in Rural Burundi,” Social Research: An International Quarterly, Volume 80, Number 2 (2013): 321-36.
  6. World Bank. “Burundi Overview”. Last modified 20 May 2014.
  7. CARE. “Burundi Country Snapshot,” (2011). Accessed November 21, 2014.

Top Funders

Partnering In Burundi

  1. Mastercard Foundation $35.2 M
  2. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation $26.4 M
  3. John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation $11.9 M
  4. Segal Family Foundation Inc $8.5 M
  5. Cordaid $7.3 M
  6. King Baudouin Foundation $4.6 M
  7. Howard G. Buffett Foundation $4.3 M
  8. The Rees-Jones Foundation $3.1 M
  9. National Endowment for Democracy $2.9 M
  10. J. P. Fletcher Foundation, Inc. $2.5 M

Top Recipients

Serving Burundi

  1. Catholic Relief Services - United States Conference of Catholic Bishops $22.0 M
  2. United Nations Capital Development Fund $21.3 M
  3. Village Health Works $9.7 M
  4. One Acre Fund $7.0 M
  5. Care Canada $6.7 M
  6. CARE $6.7 M
  7. Impunity Watch $3.3 M
  8. Lake Tanganyika Floating Health Clinic $3.0 M
  9. World Relief Corp of National Association of Evangelicals $2.9 M
  10. Wildlife Conservation Society $2.3 M

Burundi News

Economic Development

Case Study

Reflection on practice strengthens strategy and leadership of partners and the field of philanthropy

Sample Grant


The average life expectancy of Burundian women is 53 years old.

United Nations

Women have said that the skills and confidence they had gained from contact with CARE programs were allowing them to play a stronger and more active role in the household, to talk with their husbands at a more equal level, to participate in public meetings and to enter the public sphere more broadly.

From the Report: Why measure women's empowerment? What, broadly, has the Strategic Impact Inquiry on women's empowerment taught us to date?