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, , March 2008

Search for Common Ground’s programme on ‘Women and Governance’ in Burundi

What makes a project genuinely transformative?

Search for Common Ground (SFCG) started working in Burundi in 1995, in the aftermath of Rwanda’s genocide. Its project on « Women and governance » was launched in 2004, aiming to increase women’s participation in political processes at the municipal, provincial and national levels. This was done through providing support to women’s associations throughout the country. Capacity-building activities ranged from inter-ethnic meetings, to training in conflict resolution, leadership, organisational development and civic education, to awareness-raising through media.

In 2006 it undertook an external evaluation of this programme, which revealed that because much of it was implemented in the period preceding Burundi’s elections, which took place in June 2005, the programme’s focus shifted towards women’s participation in elections, and largely overlooked work on municipal and province-level influencing.

One of the clearly transformative aspects of the programme was that it intentionally targeted different levels: from grassroots women’s reconciliation to attempts to establish a national women’s lobbying network. However the project scope (140 associations throughout the country) was probably too wide to aim for an in-depth impact. Ultimately it proved impossible to organise the national network, but because of the focus on the national level, organising -level lobby not materialise either.

Following the evaluation, a number of modifications were introduced to the second stage of the project, such as:

  • Restructuring the country programme to merge women and youth work;

  • Narrowing the number of beneficiary associations and the number of provinces targeted;

  • Strengthening staff’s training skills and improving the project’s monitoring framework.

However, none of these seem to specifically address the issue of engaging women in political processes at municipality/provincial levels.


This example raises questions as to the orientation of a programme run by an INGO. In what circumstances can opportunities for a more transformative approach be accepted? What then constitutes its legitimacy? If it remains at the technical level, how does it minimise the risk of reinforcing a potentially unjust and unstable system of governance? It is worth noting that SFCG uploaded an external assessment undertaken in 2006 and its staff’s response to it on the website. This is a rare practice of openness among peacebuilding organisations and is potentially transformative in itself.