Spreading Women and Youth Rights in Burundi via Mobile Phone and SMS
Grace Francoise Nibizi is the founder of a nonprofit in Burundi called “SaCoDe”, a French acronym translated in English as “Promoting Healthy Communities for Development.”
Her vision is to support and empower vulnerable women and youth across Burundi and share learning broadly in Africa. Nbizi has implemented five related activist projects. They are: “Biraturaba,” “GEWEP,”
“Terintambwe,” “Girls' Dignity,” and “ISUKU”, each spurring education on personal rights, finance, business management, sexual and reproductive health, and hygiene.
Nibizi’s project campaigns mobilize impoverished women and youth. As one example, through the “Terintambwe Project” (“Move Forward’) Nibizi leverages mobile phone and SMS to serve a women ambassadors network across 10 provinces and 10,000 rural women.
They receive and share financial literacy, business management and micro-finance tips, training and mentoring through instructive and engaging text, photos and video.
In Burundi, the effects of conflict and HIV/AIDS have resulted in many fragile households headed by women or youth. Yet cultural norms operate against women and youth developing skills to make decisions about their own lives. They are further disempowered by inadequate basic education, business skills, and reproductive, health and hygiene information. The campaign objectives are to use mobile phone and SMS to reinforce key values, particularly for vulnerable rural women and youth:
Nibizi's campaign interventions focus information on personal savings, microfinance, small business, reproductive health and hygiene, and gender and youth equity.
HOW THE OBJECTIVES WERE ACHIEVED
The International Fund for Agricultural Development notes that it’s essential to use “easy entry” and “non-threatening” confidential communication methods to empower women and youth in Burundi. Nibizi’s campaign “Spreading Women and Youth Rights in Burundi via Mobile Phone and SMS” relays essential content across various projects to address the biggest challenge to development – the ability to easily and consistently distribute, share, and reinforce practical information. Nbizi achieves objectives by:
• Identifying and training women and youth as ambassadors to cohorts of other women and youth across multiple provinces
• Incorporating both Burundian cultural knowledge and best practices knowledge from outside Burundi
• Using increasingly available mobile phone and SMS technology to widely distribute program content
• Enabling communication across the networks to encourage questions, respond in a timely manner, and share knowledge and experiences as a collaborative, collective movement
The International Rescue Committee Report “Getting Down to Business: Women’s Economic and Social Empowerment in Burundi,” notes that women's economic and social empowerment is critical to development. However, the IRC emphasizes that a constant challenge is how to provide benefits to individual women that can also be replicated “en masse”. The essence of Nibizi’s innovation is her success at making high-quality, life-changing content available via technology so it is easily shared, updated, and facilitated by ambassadors in multiple Burundian provinces. Nibizi has been recognized by Segal Family Foundation for paradigm-shifting, and she is a Cordes Fellow achieving country-level social impact that could be applied elsewhere in East Africa.
Nibizi’s impact in Burundi is unprecedented. It's estimated that:
- Nearly 300,000 women have received information through GEWEP (Gender Equity and Women’s Empowerment Project) with content delivered via SMS.
- Ten thousand women across 10 provinces primarily in rural villages have access to education and experiences driven by SMS content and programs available through the Terintambwe Project
- Nearly 2,000 youth ambassadors across 10 provinces have access to sexual and reproductive health information, and each member of the youth network commits to personally engage and share information with at least five other youth (for a total reach of more than 10,000 youth)
- The success of more than 200 women in obtaining meaningful jobs is linked to the campaign and training, and 97 percent of these women are heads of households.
Interventions to empower and achieve gender and youth equity are complicated by historical complexities in Burundi and long-standing barriers and taboos against discussing certain topics.
Burundi ranked 184 out of 185 countries in the 2015 Report on the Human Development Index. Since independence in 1962, the country has struggled to emerge from political and ethnic violence and tension. In 2015, Burundi experienced its worst internal crisis since the civil war ended in 2005. The turbulence added to the already widespread challenges of development, particularly with and for women and youth.
Innovations in technology-based communications are the only way to break through and sustain projects that aspire to widespread behavioral change and opportunity. Nibizi’s work and campaign methods are developed specifically for this context and circumstances. Importantly, they also set an important tone of unity because they are offered with neutrality across tribe, ethnicity and geography.
Nibizi’s personal mindset and skills illustrate this lesson learnt: to be effective and efficient, it’s important to operationalize human rights activist ideas with clear-headed strategy that leverages communications technology.
After Nibizi grew up in an all-girls orphanage and boarding school, she became a nurse and then went on to complete degrees in International Business Management and Communication. She also worked in large NGOs to experience the mechanics of large-scale community development and change. This combination of head, heart and hands applied to an innovative campaign turns personal humanitarian commitment into reality-based programs sustained at the grass-roots level. Another lesson learnt: Nibizi’s innovative mobile phone and SMS programs and system could be applied to more project campaigns because the flexible, accessible technology aids in unfiltered, communication from, to and between women and youth. This empowers them as leaders and change agents.