Risk and Social Networks in Zimbabwe

The Risk and Social Networks experiment took place in and around Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and was an especially interesting location for research not simply because it is home to one of the Seven Wonders of the World (locally known as “Mosi-OA-Tunya”), but also because of the nature of the remote populations living there.  In 2013 Zimbabwe co-hosted the United Nations World Tourism Organization Conference (UNWTO) and Vic Falls presented an opportunity to investigate the impact that a major change in a community can have on the decisions and risks that individuals take economically and personally. Concordant to this conference, the study was designed longitudinally and researchers are interested in the localized affect of hosting an event as important/large as the UNWTO, given such a small population and in relation to their overall economic activities.


Prior to starting the research, Co-Principle Investigator Chipo Dendere spent two weeks in Vic Falls introducing herself, Dr. Rutstrom, and Georgia State University to local leaders. Vic Falls is different from most cities because it has strong traditional leadership (Chiefs) existing alongside a western political system (Mayors).  The local community was very receptive to the study and they were generally pleased that a Professor from a large University was interested in learning about their community and that findings from the study could be beneficial to the academic world at large. There was a lot of excitement from every local office but the strongest relationships were with the school, the headmaster, teachers and students who were trained to serve as enumerators during the study.


The actual experiments took place in April and May of 2013. They were conducted in two locations; urban and rural Vic Falls. Sixty participants were initially recruited in the urban area. Experimenters employed the randomized door to door method and it took two days to complete recruitment. One of the biggest concerns in the tourist town (where most people earn their living from tourism related daytime activities) was that there would be low turnout, and observations would consist largely of housewives or youths. Fortunately though, the sampling was representative. However, on the first day of the actual experiment, there was some competition for local participation as the annual Malaria day (where attendants received free food and drink along with Malaria prevention information) was taking place. In general, turnout was great and the process went smoothly. The sixty original participants recruited three more participants each for the second phase of the experiments plus network studies. The result was one hundred full participants and about eighty who participated in our short study.


Once the urban study section of the experiment was completed the research team packed up and moved to the rural areas about twenty KM outside of town. The rural participants were unable to be recruited door-to-door like the first set of participants because of the way in which the rural areas were structured. The houses were too far spread making it virtually impossible to recruit in a systematic way. The local leaders came to the rescue though, and they allowed recruitment from a community meeting. Experimenters put community member’s names in a bucket and randomly selected the twenty-five original participants.


Regarding the experience, Chipo Dendere said; “As a political scientist I am puzzled and excited by the way communities engage and how the local politics play out. The village experiments were in my opinion the most intriguing. I went in with my own assumptions of how participants would act, mostly negative expectations judging how their level of education and language skills. However, I found myself even more intrigued by how people understood the instructions despite the language differences. I gave myself a crash course in the local languages but I think risk related to money gains and loses is the most universal language.”