Many Africans Count on Community Savings Groups

by Cynthia English

A sizeable minority uses them to make a living

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As microfinancing continues to grow in popularity as a method of financially empowering the poor, Gallup Polls in sub-Saharan Africa reveal that a sizable minority in the region depend to some extent on community savings groups to make a living. Across 31 countries surveyed, a median of 20% of respondents say they depend "a little" on community savings programs, and a median of 5% say they depend "a lot" on these programs, representing more than 80 million people in sub-Saharan Africa.

Community-based savings groups are one key element in many microfinance programs, which also typically include loans and credit from financial institutions. At least 4 in 10 respondents in Rwanda (44%), Central African Republic (43%), Cameroon (41%), and Kenya (40%) say they depend at least a little on community savings groups to make a living, the highest participation in sub-Saharan Africa. (Respondent data from several other sub-Saharan African countries are statistically similar.)

In some sub-Saharan African countries, Gallup finds that confidence in financial institutions in one's country may not necessarily translate into dependence on community savings groups to make a living. For example, in Namibia, 73% of respondents have confidence in financial institutions in their country, but only 7% of respondents say they depend on a community savings group. In South Africa, 72% have confidence in financial institutions, but only 13% say they depend on a community savings group.

In sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, a median of 54% say they have confidence in their own country's financial institutions. Awareness and availability of microfinance programs is likely to be the biggest determinant of participation in community savings groups -- a topic that Gallup plans to investigate further in the coming years.

Bottom Line

Development experts hail community savings groups as an important element of microfinance and a key to combating poverty. "For countless poor people around the world, having a safe place to save and access to that savings when a need arises means a way out of poverty," according to Oxfam America. Gallup data collected over the past three years in sub-Saharan Africa show that many people are taking advantage of community savings groups to make a living.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews conducted throughout 2006, 2007, and 2008. Randomly selected sample sizes typically number 1,000 residents, aged 15 and older, in the 31 countries polled. In Angola and Congo (Kinshasa), surveys were conducted in primarily urban areas. Surveys in Sudan did not include Darfur. In Chad and the Central African Republic, the eastern parts of each country were not surveyed. In Uganda, the northern part of the country was not surveyed. For results based on samples of this size, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±5 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
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