Do self-help groups (SHGs), village-based associations designed to encourage savings, household production and social cohesion among the poor, meet their goals? We examine economic outcomes and the pro-social behavior of 540 households in a randomized control trial (RCT) of a SHG program (randomized at the commune level) in rural Siem Reap, Cambodia using survey data and a rich set of economic and social capital indicators. We measured social capital—defined as social norms and the social networks that support them—with household and network surveys and lab activities that gauge altruism, trust, trustworthiness and the willingness to contribute to public goods. We find that the program successfully increased participation in SHGs and strengthened SHG-related networks. As intended the program significantly increased the number of households with non-zero savings as well as savings levels and it led to a noticeable shift in household production towards livestock. We cannot document increases in household incomes, assets or expenditure. There were also no sizeable wider effects on social capital and networks other than those related to SHGs directly, although we cannot statistically rule out small positive effects in the case of some social capital indicators. In addition to these empirical findings the study provides an example of innovative program evaluation techniques that employed a field experiment, lab-in-the-field behavioral measures, network measures as well as traditional survey measures.

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Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization
International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS)

Ban, R., Gilligan, M.J., & Rieger, M. (2020). Self-help groups, savings and social capital: Evidence from a field experiment in Cambodia. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 180, 174–200. doi:10.1016/j.jebo.2020.09.029