June 21, 2022

SPARK’s partner, CEMAC, on a mission to support MSMEs in Burundi

SPARK’s partner in Burundi, CEMAC, is founded by Claudine and Boniface. They founded a company on the streets of Bujumbura with a mission to support their fellow entrepreneurs to grow their businesses. The pair tackled societal stigma and financial woes but now work with hundreds of businessmen and women throughout the country. “It is such a joy to see the products of our entrepreneurs on shelves in grocery stores or on display at a local fair, beautifully packaged,” says Claudine.

Claudine comes from a small village in northern Burundi. She moved to Bujumbura, the country’s capital, when she started studying finance and accounting at university. Women in Burundi are often expected to take care of housework and child-rearing and if they are economically active, it is often at a small scale Claudine set out to change that.

Meeting Boniface at university, who comes from an entrepreneurial family, the pair agreed that they wanted to help small businesses flourish, particularly those owned by women. In 2017, they launched CEMAC (Compagnie d’Etudes Managériales et d’Appui-Conseils – Management Studies and Coaching Company) alongside three other classmates, which offers services including entrepreneurship training, individual coaching, accounting and tax advice.

Societal pressure
In the beginning, the five young graduates faced challenges. The concept of a business coach was foreign to most business owners. “People associate the word ‘coach’ with a football coach,” says Claudine. Being the only woman in the team, Claudine also struggled with the social stigma associated with spending so much time with four men.

“My family did not understand that we were investing in a business for the long term. They only saw that I was not really making money in the short term. They said that what we were doing with CEMAC were children’s games and that I had to come home and pick up the hoe and work the family land.”

Working from the street
Without a starting capital or an office space, the team had to innovate. “At first, we were working in the street.” Surprisingly, that is where they found their first clients. Many women arrive in the city centre from the suburbs in the mornings with baskets full of fruit to sell. CEMAC offered to coach and train them for two months for free in order to convince business owners of the added value of their services. The results were astounding. After two months, the women requested to pay for ongoing collective training and coaching sessions.

Small shop owners also became interested in CEMAC’s services and paid a small fee for a full day of training and coaching. Eventually, a local businessman, who owned a grocery shop, a sewing workshop and a hairdresser’s salon, signed up for a yearly contract. 

With CEMAC’s support, the businesses grew significantly and created 10 new jobs. Because of the extra foot traffic at the grocery shop, a new restaurant was opened nearby, generating another 12 more jobs for the local community. CEMAC’s success led to many more clients.

Becoming SPARK’s partner
CEMAC’s services, provided in the local and most widely spoken language, Kirundi, became their unique selling point. Most business support services in the country are offered in French, which is not accessible for the majority of Burundians.

In 2019, CEMAC and SPARK became partners with a shared mission: to support the country’s micro, small and medium sized businesses (MSMEs) to grow and create more jobs. Burundi’s economy is dominated by MSMEs, the majority of which are within the agricultural sector, which employs roughly 70% of the population. With support, these companies have the potential to become more competitive, employ more people and increase the livelihoods of youth in one of the poorest countries in the world. 

Award-winning services
For almost three years, CEMAC and SPARK have worked together to support hundreds of entrepreneurs to start, grow and prosper in their business ventures. Last year, CEMAC trained and coached 37 businesses, which led to over 260 new jobs being created in the Rumonge region. For their work in Cibitoke and Bubanza, the team were awarded a prize by the Governor of Bubanza.

With this resounding success, Claudine has won the respect of her family, who now applaud what she does. “My father often says I am a blessing.” Not only is she now able to support her own family, but she also provides for her younger siblings. 

More than anything, Claudine and Boniface are proud of the accomplishments of the businesses they support. “It is such a joy to see the products of our entrepreneurs on shelves in grocery stores or on display at a local fair, beautifully packaged and with a label showing they have been certified by the Burundian food regulation authority.” To their fellow young Burundians, they say: “You have to dare and not listen to those that say it isn’t possible.” Claudine also adds that no activity is only reserved for men. “Women can do it too!”