Self-help Development Foundation

Brenda Sinnott
[ ]
Dept. of Food Economics, University College Cork, Ireland

Savings clubs and Credit Unions in Zimbabwe stem from the Antigonish movement in Eastern Canada that dates back to the early 1930's. The movement was established at the University of St. Francis Xavier in response to severe economic depression. The movement sought to provide a new kind of approach to the development of the poor. The credit union component was brought into the development plan, with the fundamental aim of mobilising apparently insignificant individual financial assets into sizeable, useful and worthwhile groups. The foundation of the movement was based on the individual and the individuals sense of responsibility towards himself and others.

The actual transfer of the savings and Credit Union idea to Zimbabwe occurred in 1 962, with the help of a Catholic missionary Brother Waddelove based in Chishawasha a few kilometres outside Harare. Early in I 963, afier two or three months of regular weekly meetings during which time ideas and possibilities were discussed, a pioneer group of 20 people, men and women, formed the first savings club. The organisation was called the Savings Development Movement (SDM). The minimum weekly deposits were set at two and a half cent, soas to be within the means of the poorest local peasants. If deposits were not made for a period of 12 weeks, the penalty was dismissal from the club. The dismissed individual received his deposits less an imposed fine.

By I 984 there were 5,700 clubs nation-wide (Chimedza, I 984). During this time eleven Credit Unions were established and membership exceeded one thousand. However interest in Credit Unions stagnated, due to their complexity of operations and failure of the Credit Union to fulfil its educational obligation (MC Burney, I 988). Growih in the savings club movement continued at a considerable rate with over I O, OOO clubs nation-wide. In May I 985 the success of the savings club movement attracted so much attention that the government intervened. The registrar of Co-ops invoked ministerial authority to suspend the SDM on the grounds of misuse of donor funds. The auditors report and government judgement conflrmed that there was no substance to the charge. In I 987 the SDM changed its nanle to the Self Help Development Foundation (SDF) and secured donor support from the Konrad Adenhour Foundation in Germany.

The SDF ruled out loan making as a SDF activity following the failure of a pilot loan making scheme and having observed the high default rate in government sponsored agricultural credit schemes in drought years (Bratton, I 990) . SDF activities were concentrated on savings clubs and development activities that go beyond pure savings. The SDF works mainly through small groups in the both rural and urban areas. The aims of the SDF are as follows,
  • To promote the economic and social development of the people.
  • Encouraging members to save money that might otherwise be dissipated.
  • To teach members how to use their savings for development.
  • Educating members to accept responsibility and promote a spirit of self confidence, mutual trust and close co-operation.
  • Organising training progranlmes in income generating proj ects. (The SDF, 1989)

After independence the foundation set out to establish I OOO new savings clubs a year. These clubs were seen as part of a rural development programme to be run by the members themselves at village level . The SDF facilitates the savings movement by supplying savings stamps to the value of deposits and the marketing of craft produce where a fair price for produce is secured. Savings training takes place in Harare, and at regional branches in Bulawayo, Kwekwe, Rusape and Mashvingo . Training is also carried out at village level by field staff.

SDF and Women

Due to customary laws and practices rural women in Eastem and Southern African generally lack assets such as land or cattle. Furthermore women are expected to provide for the basic needs of children with or without support from the sp.ouse (Bratton, I 990). It is no surprise that the activities of the SDF appeal to women. Women see credit as a bargaining chip allowing them access to opportunities such as education, training and group meetings (Goetz, I 996) . The SDF acts as a marketing channel for their craft works, a valve from the pressures of domesticity and a forum for education. There are over I 0,000 clubs nation-wide and women account for up to 85 percent of membership (SDF, 1995).

The proliferation of formal and informal financing institutions in Zimbabwe hints that Zimbabwe offers comprehensive financial intermediation to all sections of the population This rs not the case The formal sector both the banks and the AFC has been preoccupied lending to the larger conunercial ventures both in the manufacturing and agricultural sectors. Small holders are discouraged from applying for credit due the banks ' inflexibility of operations and minimum deposit and collateral requirements.

The AFC failed to reach the rural small holder due to understaffing and the large volume of loans . Credit Unions however, despite their limited success they have the advantage in being involved in multisectoral activities i .e. group buying, marketing, etc .

The activities of the SDF and other informal credit organisations appears to have compensated for the lack of credit and savings facilities directed at the rural famler. In addition, savings clubs have had a degree of success in micro enterprises of craft production as well as encouraging disciplined savings. The strength of the SDF is that it is a grass roots organisation in which the centre for decision making rests in the rural villages. However the fact that credit is not on the SDF's agenda appears to prevent the SDF from fulfilling its development role.


Chinedza R, "Savings Clubs - The Mobilization of Rural Finances in Zimbabwe". International Labour Organization, Rural Employment Branch, 1984.

Goetz A. "Who Takes Credit Power and Control" World Development, January 1996.

McBurney, "Savings clubs and Credit Unions, case study of Zimbabwe". Department of Business Studies, University of Zimbabwe, ILO Working Paper, Geneva, 1992.

SDF, The Self-help in Action Savings Clubs abd the SDF" Pamplet produced by SDF. Harare, 1986.

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