Investigating Savings Habits in Africa
Professor Alfredo Burlando and a team of economics undergraduates conduct research on savings clubs in Uganda.
Why do some people save when others don’t? How is the way we save and borrow influenced by the people around us?
Professor Alfredo Burlando and a team of Economics undergrads are investigating these questions in relation to vulnerable populations by studying the members of savings groups in rural Uganda.
Savings groups are very prevalent in Uganda. Sponsored by organizations such as AVSI, the groups allow members to pool their savings and provide small loans to fellow members, in much the same way a credit union operates in the US.
Burlando and his team are collecting data from several such groups, hoping to find out if differences between the makeup of certain groups, such as a high number of relatively well-off members or members who don’t repay their loans on time, incentivizes participants to increase their saving and borrowing rate.
UO Economics major Biraj Bisht traveled to Uganda in July to assist Burlando with data collection, and helped train local residents to complete surveys for the study. “I have a new appreciation for data collection—it is so much work!” he says. “I’m excited to see the research that will come from all of the work we did.”
The experience wasn’t exactly what he had expected. “I thought I’d be working alone, in a strange country, and I wouldn’t know anyone,” he says. “But there were other interns from the US and Europe working on other projects, and it ended up being a great social environment.”
Bisht learned of the opportunity after taking Burlando’s Economic Growth and Development course in Fall 2013. “My parents work in development in Nepal, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to experience it for myself,” he says. He’s interested in pursuing a career in economic development when he graduates in December.
In partnership with the Study Abroad program, several undergraduate students have assisted Burlando in Uganda during the three-year project, giving them a rare glimpse into possible careers in development for students studying economics. Participation from students like Bisht has been supported by an agreement between the Association of Volunteers in International Service (AVSI) and the economics department. Burlando is hoping to provide additional opportunities for students to assist with the research, subject to available funding from department supporters.
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