Enhancing Productivity in the Urban Informal Economy

In 2015 – 2016 the WIEGO Network participated in the Habitat III process, with the objective to make visible the contributions of urban informal workers to cities, and advocate for inclusive urban policies. As part of this process, WIEGO’s Urban Policies Programme Director Sally Roever teamed up with Alison Brown of Cardiff University and the UN-Habitat Urban Economy Branch to produce the report: “Enhancing Productivity in the Urban Informal Economy.”

Enhancing Productivity in the Urban Informal EconomyThe report stems from UN-Habitat’s Governing Council Resolution 24/11 that seeks to strengthen the United Nations Human Settlements Programme’s knowledge base by documenting and disseminating good practices and tools on urban small scale and informal economies. The document draws on 20 years of advocacy and grassroots-led research by WIEGO, and more than a decade of academic and policy research by the Informal Economy Research Observatory at Cardiff University. The findings were refined through an Expert Group Meeting in Surabaya, Indonesia, in July 2016.

The report argues for a radical and new policy paradigm, to promote inclusion of informal workers in urban dialogues, and mainstream the informal economy in urban policies and strategies. Over the last 20 years knowledge has grown – of the potential of informal employment to provide households with pathways out of poverty, communities with accessible and affordable goods and services, and cities with vibrant sites of economic and social exchange – and of the ways in which cities can help make informal employment more secure. This document distills the hard-won insights of informal workers, without whom innovative, sustainable and inclusive urban development is impossible, on how to encourage recognition of their economic, environmental, and social contributions; to promote the inclusion of informal workers in urban policy and planning; and to protect and enhance their livelihoods. The case studies included in the document demonstrate vividly how micro-innovations transform working lives and create significant ‘urban practices’ that are central to living and thriving in the city.

The report is structured around five key themes:

  • Governance and the informal economy;
  • Urban planning and design;
  • Urban law;
  • Rights and representation; and
  • Formal-informal linkages.

The report is designed for all urban stakeholders, particularly local and central governments, urban professionals, and worker organizations, and demonstrates ways in which innovative urban management and social inclusion objectives have enhanced the economic contribution of informal workers while reducing their vulnerability. While formalization efforts that aim to reduce vulnerability are welcome, the ubiquity of the informal economy suggests that it will persist in cities for many years, making policy inclusion an urgent imperative.

Read more about WIEGO’s participation in the Habitat III process and the October 2016 summit in Quito, Ecuador.