Vacancy for a PhD-position in Applied Economics: The financial and social potential of savings groups: a global analysis

05 March 2020

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For more information please contact Prof. dr. Bert D'Espallier, mail:

You can apply for this job no later than May 01, 2020 via the online application tool

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Savings groups (SGs) are informal banking systems found mostly in developing countries that allow members to access basic savings and credit services by conducting financial transactions among themselves.


The financial and social potential of savings groups: a global analysis.

Project proposal
Around 20 persons typically form a group where they mobilize their own savings on a regular basis and distribute these as loans to selected members as decided by the group. Several of the major international development agencies are active in mobilizing savings groups as they have proven to be efficient systems for banking services while at the same time they serve as generators of social capital for the members. Groups are typically trained, supervised and monitored by a development actor for around one year after which they are graduated and left alone.

Research on Savings Groups is still in its infancy. In this PhD-project we leverage on a new global dataset to generate novel insights on the social and financial potential of SGs. We will design and conduct empirical analyses where the SG is the main unit of analysis treated as a micro-economic entity operating in a meso- and macro-institutional environment. Possible research questions relate to a. the intermediation model and dependency of the SG on the facilitating agency; b. social orientation and PLUS-activities conducted by the groups; c. income-generating/financial-value creating strategies of the groups; among others. Depending on data availability and academic contributions envisaged, we will also engage in theoretically-oriented research, qualitative in -depth research, and/or a simulation exercise.


  • This research project is a collaboration between the FEB KU Leuven (research on banking/sustainable finance) and the CERCEM research institute ( at the University of Agder (UiA, Norway). You will conduct research at both institutions and work in close collaboration with other researchers from both institutions.
  • You will be hired as a full-time PhD scholar at FEB KU Leuven and you will officially enroll in the PhD-programme Business Economics (FEB KU Leuven) while also taking PhD-level courses at the doctoral programme at UiA.
  • Your research will be jointly supervised by Prof. Dr. Bert D’Espallier (FEB, KU Leuven) and Prof. Dr. Roy Mersland (Cercem, UiA).

Your job will consist of following activities:

  • Designing and conducting high-quality academic research on Savings Groups under the supervision of the promotors and in collaboration with other academics working on similar issues.
  • Writing up academic papers with the aim publishing in high-quality academic journals and composing a PhD-dissertation that is eligible for defense at KU Leuven jointly with UiA.
  • Presentations on international conferences and workshops and actively engaging with the scientific community working on development finance. Active participation in valorization and dissemination-efforts aimed to inform to a wider audience of policy-makers and practitioners.
  • Completing the PhD-programme in Business Economics of the Faculty of Economics and Business (KU Leuven) alongside the doctoral programme at UiA.
  • You have a strong interest and/or affinity with and/or prior experience with academic research in general. You are intrinsically motivated to conduct research on informal Savings Groups within the field of development finance/sustainable finance.
  • You have obtained a Master’s degree in Economics, Business Engineering, Applied Economics or related discipline, and/or you have a background in Finance.
  • Having obtained excellent (‘honors’-level) study results in prior academic studies is required. Students holding a Research Master are also encouraged to apply.
  • You qualify for enrollment in the doctoral programme of ‘Business Economics’ of FEB KU Leuven according to the prerequisites specified at: good skills in applied quantitative and qualitative research methods, applied econometrics and expertise in statistical software is considered a plus. Having experience with simulation and/or economic modelling is also considered a plus.
  • Fluency in spoken and written English and good presentation skills are a prerequisite.

We offer employment as a full-time doctoral researcher starting between September 1st 2020 and November 1st 2020 for a period of 4 years pending positive yearly evaluations.