September 18, 2009—Rosette Nizigiyimana’s government office in Bujumbura, Burundi is dominated by neat towers of files—dossiers of personnel records of some of the 40,000 teachers employed in this small central African nation still recovering from a decade of civil strife. Nizigiyimana’s story centers on a staggering, but long-accepted, inefficiency in paying teachers: newly-recruited teachers worked a full year before receiving their first salary payment. The delay was vaguely explained as a problem with the dossiers, which traveled slowly through the Ministry of Education and on to the Fonction Publique, where Nizigiyimana works as Director General. The teachers’ wait was demoralizing, leading to frequent days away from the classroom. Some of the off-time would be devoted to researching the mysterious dossiers, which held the key to freeing up the salaries.
As the frustrated teachers struggled to pry loose information about their dossiers, a money-making venture materialized in the form of a small enterprise that, for pay, provided morsels of information on the paperwork. Many teachers complained, and Madame Rosette began working to remedy the problem using the rapid results methodology advanced in the leadership development program. The culture of accommodating delays, and the emergence of a group profiting from the inefficiency, together pushed the dossier mess into the sphere of the “non-dit”—things widely known about but never openly discussed.
The silence was broken at a public meeting in January, when Madame Rosette, as she is known, presented the facts, and secured a green-light from senior government leaders to solve the problem. “It would have been impossible without the support of the leadership,” she says, “but we also needed energy at the operational level.” Indeed, when waves of backlogged dossiers flowed into the Fonction Publique, she had to redeploy workers to process them.
It would have been impossible without the support of the leadership.Rosette Nizigiyimana, Government Worker, Burundi
Development agencies have struggled for years to support improved outcomes in fragile, post-conflict countries where prolonged political and institutional instability is usually a fact of life, along with low capacity throughout government. Too often, strategies and plans sputter out with little improvement in living conditions for the people. WBI’s Leadership Development Program builds on the idea that high-level leaders can make a measurable difference if they can project a clear vision, make government operations more effective, and be fully accountable for delivering tangible results.
Nizigiyimana’s effort paid off: the year-long delay was cut to three months, and teachers recruited in November started getting paid at the end of February. The soft-spoken, clear-eyed manager has scored a small victory in a bureaucratic battle, and she has become an unlikely champion of transparency and efficiency in a system long considered sluggish and secretive. Her modest success is encouraging others to challenge habits of unresponsive and unaccountable governance. Nizigiyimana’s small revolution is one of eleven pilot projects within a larger leadership development project spearheaded by the World Bank Institute.
Beyond paying teachers and fighting land erosion, the leadership program is designed to encourage a change in mentality and behavior. Dismas Baransaka, who works as a coach with Burundi’s government teams, says the enemy of constructive change is a sweeping acceptance of avoidable shortcomings. Too often, he adds, people respond to inefficient or corrupt behavior with a resigned, “C’est normal.” Once a few longstanding frustrations are lifted, “I think we can see a changing mentality, changing behaviors, and changed outcomes.”