The Alliance model and the pilot intervention in Bururi Nature Forest Reserve and surroundings

 Collective learning and radical change in fragile regions

For years, huge financial resources have been directed towards the civil and economic renaissance of the fragile African regions. Theoretical studies have revealed the challenges and characteristics of development, conflict resolution, reconciliation, democratisation and state rebuilding. But the problems remain largely unresolved and the regions remain fragile.

bimbi nilo

Evidence of this failure is clear: millions of migrants are knocking the doors of Europe, and civil leaders and populations are appealing to developed countries and regions for urgent intervention.

Almost one-third of the world’s population lives in countries affected by open or covert warfare.

Poverty and conflict coexist in complex ways. If you wish to create enduring communities and national rebirth, history shows that you cannot rely on economic and financial interventions, international jurisdictional courts, or military interventions, not even peace-keeping.


In the ALLIANCE model a fragile community is a community whose members feel that they are trapped in extreme deprivation, far away from the world of the rich and prosperous. The community fabric has been shaped by deeply rooted influences and conditions that may go back as far as colonialism.

When people live is extreme poverty, civil war and natural catastrophes cause betrayal, grief, abandonment and violence. The soul of the community suffers further from a deep, complex illness, hidden and hard to detect.

 The ALLIANCE foundation principles

The ALLIANCE model  (, initiated by Lilia Infelise, was presented and discussed at three international conferences, at Le Mans (1998), Dortmund (2002) and Pisa (2003). The operational model was evaluated by the Scientific Committee and included in some thirty exemplary international experiences at the first World Cluster Conference, organized by OECD and DATAR (Paris, January 2001). The experience was debated and introduced in various forms in Brazil, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. An extensive discussion took place at the international seminar held in Lugano on 21 and 22 September 2006 entitled “The Border Crisis. Towards regional development engineering”. At this stage, Lilia Infelise identified the need for both a more solid theoretical development and the urgent need to engage in the practice of post-conflict rebirth of fragile regions.

 ALLIANCE addresses three core questions:

(1) How can a community (children, young adults, aged women and men, etc) develop and revitalize its desire for a rebirth, given

  • its physical environment (with its own climate and geographical connotations)
  • its peculiar history, myths, written and unwritten – a unique cultural landscape
  • the deep and penetrating wounds of conflict and violence ?

(2) How can a local community discover its potential and identify specific pathways for a full exploitation of its tangible and intangible resources?

(3) Is it realistic to establish a complete, permanent regeneration? In regions which have suffered  civil war, it is particularly hard to rebuild robust innovative networks. They are brittle, and seemingly trivial incidents can bring back mistrust and violence?

Fragility and fragile communities vary. Only in some specific circumstances it is possible to start a collective and radical change process with a reasonable expectation success.

Therefore the ALLIANCE operational model starts with an audit, a due diligence of the territory aimed at discovering the tangible and intangible resources hidden in the soul of a community and its territory, especially:

  • an intact natural heritage of great value;
  • unknown and rare arts and crafts and a strong cultural heritage;
  • a deep-rooted sense of belonging to a history and the territory;
  • vocations strongly focused in the territory (for instance coffee, fishing, etc).;
  • a major commitment of the Diaspora (people who left due to war, economic or political reasons), young and highly-schooled population ready to come back home and help rebuild the community (2);
  • the true commitment of women and young people, and leaders of associations, local administrators and charismatic subjects to starting a change/learning process aimed at upgrading their own role and that of the whole community;
  • a technology infrastructure that is capable enough for the exploitation of digital communication.

Given these circumstances, the ALLIANCE model could be introduced and turn key components of the fragile fabric into strengths.

A custom-designed Risk Prevention and Management is critical to the intervention.

Above all, a founding principle the ALLIANCE model of intervention must be respected: every local community is a living creature of its own, with a unique cognitive map, unique attributes, times and ways of learning and changing. Therefore the cognitive learning and change potential is shaped on a system of innovative networks with its own morphology, own language, own ways of learning and motivation and its own history (3).

Innovative Networks are systems of long-term relationships between actors that ensure a significant flux of information and interaction. They are formed from existing relationships (professional, acquired through shared experience of education or training, or formed through shared participation in associations).

Innovative networks are the result of a long process of relational learning. They depend on a solid background history. The relationships are long-term. The members of the network have known and trusted each other for a long time. Career paths are often crossed. People respect one another, and there are often ties of deep affection.

Every network has its own history and shape! Innovative networks are a precious relational capital that permits the members to extend their collaboration and develop new innovative projects, and rebuild trust when endangered by conflicts or poverty.

A network evolves and assumes different forms, but maintains its core identity in spite of change. This identity consists of:

  • the character of the principles on which it is based;
  • the norms which regulate the internal relations of the network;
  • the memory of ancient techniques and habits.

Building or rebuilding a network, therefore signifies creating or rebuilding a relational capital, vital for any serious development and innovation process.

Civil wars and, especially, genocides destroy Innovative Networks. They undermine the community’s capacity to build or rebuild trust and start a learning and radical change process.

In post conflict fragile regions ALLIANCE  starts a spiral individual and collective process of change learning dynamics which allows discovery of – and rebuilding from – deep-rooted, hidden Innovation Networks.

ALLIANCE has translated into an operational model the spiral of learning of Ikuiro Nonaka (1994) and the NIS paradigm of Å. B. Lundvall (1992). It has broken down the principles into individual, small group and large group learning methods, procedures and techniques. It has devised the appropriate connections between them in terms of rhythms and duration.

Time, sequence and the rhythm of project development are crucial and must be designed according to a precise learning/change dynamic that entails the interplay of four knowledge creation and conversion forms. These must interact at the proper time, location and rhythm : combination of explicit knowledge, throughout interactive classroom or video conferencing ; externalisation of implicit knowledge or internalisation of explicit knowledge, through reflective practice methods that foster awareness by reflecting on properly designed experiences (project work and action research); socialisation, through shared experiences in challenging situations, such as full immersion in a new completely different environment when participants come from different regional and cultural backgrounds having been recruited for an ambitious task.


spiral of knowledgeThe graphic explains the ALLIANCE implementation model. It leads from innovation to learning. It puts into action a process that:

  • Augments the stock of knowledge;
  • Maintains economic and social-relational capital through the processes of memory – culture, arts & crafts, but also the hospitality and the culture of the ancient use of natural resources for cooking, medical care, dressing, building, music instruments, and their symbolic meanings;
  • Unfreezes obsolete capital– false beliefs, wrong techniques and habits in resource exploitation – through various forms of creative forgetting– regeneration of arts & crafts tradition using new bioprocesses, eco-design thinking;
  • Forgetting habits which block changes can act through a process of feedback and lead, indirectly, to the increase of knowledge. For example, to the development of a new bio process to produce bio products that respect nature and culture while improving quality and performance.

Learning, memorisation, forgetting are processes extremely sensitive to institutional factors. The behaviour of Banks, Chambers of Commerce, Ministries, international organisations such as the World Bank Group, UNIDO, UNESCO; UN, etc. who devise policies and programmes is crucial. This is why ALLIANCE emphasises stakeholders’ dialogue building and, on Institutionalisation, gives the major role to a Task Force that is properly recruited and trained. Its role is to influence visions and decisions, advocate common interests, and build innovative networks; to help guide the various elements and relations of a complex community system, typical of a fragile region. The Task Force favours processes of negotiation, consolidating the memorisation of learning, and attenuating conflict and the devastating impact of the destructive phases.

Finally, the ALLIANCE model is very flexible. It could be used in a systemic approach or concentrated in a few days intervention. It could build on a highly structured masters degree programme, or in a few days empower committed local stakeholders such as managers of nature reserves, municipal candidates of all  different parties. The achieved results are obviously very different, but the careful process, from due diligence to learning techniques remains the same.

During any intervention, we learn, and we adapt the operational strategy to best fit the characteristics and circumstances we have found.
In order to fully exploit the model’s potential, a minimum of four years of intervention are required, together with the  convergence of financial resources.
The pilot experience in Bururi ,which I present in the following paragraph, represents a  pilot initiative, which could open the door to a custom-designed systemic intervention.


Valorisation of tourism potential around the Bururi forest and transfer strategy to other protected areas

The World Bank and  the Global Environmental Facility – GEF, through the Project PADZOC – Projet d’Aménagement Durable des Zones Cafféicoles du Burundi, managed by the Ministry of Agriculture of Burundi, have started a pilot community regeneration programme in one of the 14 reserves and protected areas of Burundi, the Forest Nature Reserve of Bururi – RNFB.


lake with boats
The Forest Natural Reserve, situated in the South-West of Burundi, may be among the smallest protected areas (almost 300 ha) on our planet, but it is of particular value for the unique character of the biodiversity it has retained.

It lies 20km from the beautiful shores of Lake Tanganyika, at a height of 1800 meters. In this intact natural oasis are to be found rare bird species and enchanting flora, including rare medicinal plants. The reserve guards take care of the local chimpanzees, at risk of extinction, and help them get used to visitors.


In the surrounding, larger Natural Reserve of Bururi are to be found production of biological coffee and experimentation with shade-grown coffee. There too are mountains and verdant woods. The superb sandy coasts of Lake Tanganyika are cultivated with citrus fruit such as oranges, mandarins and lemons, plentiful in full summer, and luxuriant banana plantations within vegetation typical of the tropics – excellent Arabic coffee, mango, avocado, papaya, passion fruits. You can visit thermal waters, and superb waterfalls and southernmost sources of the river Nile. The Natural Reserve also hosts an exemplary experience dedicated to a Batwa community, whose members are employed for the maintenance of the paths and the valorisation of local arts and crafts.


In this oasis where we find an inestimable patrimony of natural resources, I have been requested to accompany the natural reserve management and the whole community in the discovery of the potential for tourism that could allow environmental protection, while enhancing living conditions of local communities, through job and enterprise creation. The programme started in June 2017 with an in-field mission of 20 days followed by two other short-term missions, in November 2017 and February 2018. The major work was done through distance mentorship thanks to an intense use of digital instruments and social channels.

The intervention was run in full cooperation with Leonidas NZIGIYIMPA, Curator of Protected Areas of Southern Burundi – Burundian Office for the Protection of the Environment.

The last mission (12-28 February 2018) was carried out in the Bururi Forest Reserve and other protected areas of Burundi. It had two major objectives:

  1. To reinforce the capacities of the Bururi community and especially the 350 farmers’ families that cultivate shade-grown coffee to start a Coffee Tasting Service;
  2. To assess the feasibility of, and conceive, a systemic pluriannual intervention in the most gifted protected areas where an excellent Arabica coffee is produced.

As part of the mission, a team of experts that included the Europe-Africa Alliance for bio-economy  ( was taken on a route that  showcased the area’s biodiversity, as follows: Forest Nature Reserve of Bururi, the hills of Mugamba-Matana, the thermal waters of Muyange, the source of the Nile, the national parks of Kibira, Ruvubu, Eastern Monuments (Karera Falls).

The experts encountered the  Kayanza and Mulongwe Coffee Research Centers, the Coffee Shedding Company and BUDECA.

Beside the visit, training of members of the Co-operative Dukorere Ikawa was undertaken by a team of trainers from ARTES, ART- Africa Renassaince Time, the University of Naples – Federico II and the Pascucci business group.

Through the study visit,  the training initiative with Dukorere Ikawa, and the first community festival of the Ecotourism District, hosted in the Forest Nature Reserve of Bururi, I have concluded this first pilot implementation of the Alliance Model in Sub-saharan Africa. I have been able to conceive and propose a more systemic and ambitious pluriannual intervention aimed at creating a network of ecotourism districts: The route of biodiversity and shade-grown coffee.

Several specific, concrete achievements deserve to be mentioned:

– A Coffee Service, offered by a cooperative founded by 350 families living in the surroundings of the Nature Reserve of Bururi, has opened its doors. Tourists are served with coffee cultivated and naturally processed in the forest, an excellent Arabica species. With the coffee they can eat delicious homemade desserts using only local ingredients, such as honey, berries, orange and mandarins.



– A hospitality quality charter has been agreed and signed by the major community stakeholder.

– The Mentorship Without Borders network has been created and is gradually involving entrepreneurs, researchers, designers, musicians, cooperating either at a distance, through webinars, and/or taking part in holiday programmes and creating projects and planning longer stays to share activities with the local communities.

National Geographic visited the territory early in May 2018, and has seen these results.

We have produced a video that tells this story in less than five minutes. And an even quicker glance is given in a 60 seconds video on digital channels.




[1]Follow the evolving debate animated by  OECD: Join the conversation on Twitter: @OECDDev & #StatesofFragility

[2]See  the data on the role played by immigrants  in support the country of origin economies  in OCSE, International Journal.

[3]The major theories which contributed to the model development are:  innovation network and inter-organisational network mainly developed in Sweden, Denmark, Norway and the USA, the studies on milieu innovateur developed by the international group GREMI,  the NSI model developed by Lundvall, and  the studies of Ikujiro Nonaka and his team at the Institute of Business Research, Hitotsubashi, Tokyo, concerning the “managing” of the knowledge creation processes.

Recommended bibliography: Anderson, J. R. (1983), The Architecture of Cognition, MA: Harvard University Press, Cambridge; Camagni, R. P. (1994), Freeman, C. (1990), Networks of Innovators – a Synthesis of Research Issues, International Workshop on Networks of Innovators, Montreal.; Freeman, L. C. (1987), Centrality in Social Networks: Conceptual Clarification, Social Networks, Vol. 1.;Johansson, B.; Karlsson, Ch.; Westin, L. (1994), Patterns of a Network Economy, Springer-Verlag, Berlin; Lundvall, Å. B (1992), National Systems of Innovation – Towards a Theory of Innovation and Interactive Learning, Pinter Publishers, London; Nonaka, I. (1994), “A Dynamic Theory of Organisational Knowledge Creation”, in: Organisation Science, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp. 14-37.