Country Overview

Rwanda has made remarkable strides in the past twenty years and is the second fastest growing economy in East Africa.

While Rwanda has made remarkable strides in the past twenty years and is the second fastest growing economy in East Africa,1 overseas development assistance (ODA) remains an important part of the country’s budget. In 2012, ODA totaled $1.2 billion, with 88% support in grants and 12% in loans, provided by 16 donors, including World Bank, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the African Development Bank.2 In 2013, several Western countries including the US cut foreign aid to the country, in response to allegations that the Rwandan government was involved in a rebellion underway in neighboring eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, with which it shares a long and complex history. In response, Warren Buffett met with Rwandan President Paul Kagame in New York and announced that his foundation would provide $3.7 million for Rwanda’s Strategic Capacity Building Initiative, which focuses on strengthening government institutions. Mr. Buffett and President Kagame also used their meeting to call for “two way accountability” in foreign aid between donors and recipient countries.3 In addition to numerous public and private donors active in Rwanda, venture philanthropists are playing a role in the social and economic sectors. For example, a 7-year project by Wood Family Trust (WFT) and the Gatsby Foundation invested $7.5 million in two tea factories (buying majority shares from the government, which recently privatized the tea industry) with the goal of increasing incomes of smallholder farmers, and eventually transferring ownership to them once certain governance and business benchmarks are met.4

Rwanda’s approach to short- and medium-term development is guided by Vision 2020 and the Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS), which focuses on jobs and export growth, rural development, and good governance. While constraints to civil society remain, Rwanda is recognized as undertaking steps to liberalize its legal environment. Following a review of existing legislation, a number of proposed reforms were enacted to make registration requirements more reasonable, allow NGOs to engage in business operations, support stronger NGO governance and avenues for NGO participation in the development of policy and legislation, and establish mediation processes for internal NGO conflicts. INGOs are now required to renew registration every 5 years, versus a previous requirement to do so annually.5

The 1994 genocide altered gender divisions of labor, with women taking on more work outside the house while maintaining domestic duties. Rwanda’s 2003 constitution guarantees gender equality, it has implemented legislation on gender-based violence and women’s land rights has been, and boasts the highest proportion of female parliamentarians in the world (55%).6 Despite this, many reforms are seen as top-down and may not yet be altering the lived realities of women and girls. The vast majority (85%) of economically active women engage in small-scale or subsistence agriculture and the majority of working women still live in poverty.7 Rwanda’s dependence on agriculture, its high population density, geography (landlocked, mountainous), and low human development (167 out of 187 countries in 2012) present further challenges to the enabling environment for women’s economic empowerment.8 Nevertheless, a number of local, national, and international organizations are present and active, with many focusing on financial inclusion, entrepreneurship, and vocational training in agriculture, informal work, business, and various other sectors. The Rwanda Women’s Network, in its 5 year strategic plan (2011-2015), notes a shift from basic income generation to entrepreneurship development in order to support women in transitioning from subsistence livelihoods to sustainable wealth that can transform their lives.9 There is a strong focus on adolescent girls; the Nike Foundation’s Girl Hub Rwanda, which stresses the critical importance of targeting girls ages 13-15 years in order to build the social, human, and economic capital of girls before they stop schooling. Their work has shown that, in addition to employing economic empowerment strategies, programs must address girls’ (and their families’) immediate economic resource needs as well as “the informal social norms and values that limit girls’ life chances” in order to be effective.10


  1. Sherman, Karen. “Twenty Years Post-Genocide Women Engineer Change in Rwanda”. Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security. May 2014.
  2. Republic of Rwanda Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning. “Official Development and Assistance Report FY 2011-2012.” March 2013.
  3. Walsh, Brian. “Making Foreign Aid Work in Africa”. TIME Magazine. 19 December 2013.
  4. Philanthropy Impact. “Venture philanthropy in Rwandan tea factories.” 15 May 2013.
  5. International Center for Not-for-Profit Law. Global Trends in NGO Law, Vol 3 Issue 3, page 5.
  6. Rwanda Women’s Network. “Five Year Strategic Plan 2011-2015”.
  7. Sherman, op. cit.
  8. Allan, Deanna. “The Burden of Rapid Development: A Case Study on Women’s Economic Empowerment in Post-Conflict Rwanda.” 2012.
  9. ibid.
  10. Calder, Rebecca and Karishma Huda. “Adolescent Girls Economic Opportunities Study in Rwanda”. Girl Hub Rwanda and Nike Foundation. Feb 2013.

Top Funders

Partnering In Rwanda

  1. Mastercard Foundation $257.2 M
  2. Howard G. Buffett Foundation $236.1 M
  3. Bloomberg Philanthropies, Inc. $46.7 M
  4. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation $37.3 M
  5. The Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation $36.3 M
  6. John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation $30.1 M
  7. Silicon Valley Community Foundation $27.4 M
  8. Comic Relief $20.4 M
  9. The David and Lucile Packard Foundation $16.7 M
  10. The Rockefeller Foundation $16.0 M

Top Recipients

Serving Rwanda

  1. University of Nebraska $64.3 M
  2. Carnegie Mellon University $61.5 M
  3. Conflict and Development Foundation $59.4 M
  4. Nature Conservation Trust $57.6 M
  5. University of Rwanda $55.5 M
  6. Imbuto Foundation $37.7 M
  7. United Nations Capital Development Fund $34.8 M
  8. Women to Women International $31.2 M
  9. MASS Design Group $26.5 M
  10. Partners In Health A Nonprofit Corporation $22.6 M

Rwanda News

Economic Development

Case Study

A group of women turn an opportunity to generate income into a sustainable future

Sample Grant


64% of seats in national parliaments are held by women - the highest percentage of any country in the world.

World Bank

Female autonomy is an important determinant of rural women's earnings and influences the success of interventions targeting women farmers and rural entrepreneurs.

From the Report: A Roadmap for Promoting Women's Economic Empowerment