Urban Policies Programme

ASMARE Recycling worker in Brazil

By equipping informal workers (and educating urban planners and researchers) we strive to help the urban poor achieve better incomes, more secure places to live and work, and the capacity to negotiate sustainable gains in urban policies and practices.

For the first time in history, the majority of the world's population lives in urban areas. In the global South, rapid urbanization has not been matched by industrialization, so cities are growing without jobs. The urban poor must survive by working in the informal economy. Our Urban Policies Programme provides informal workers and their advocates with tactical information, hard evidence, tools and opportunities to transform urban systems. 

Reshaping Urban Planning and Practice to Include Informal Workers

An estimated one out of three people living in cities in the developing world live without access to adequate shelter, water and sanitation – in slums. Yet city governments, pre-occupied with competing for foreign investment and “world class city” status, largely neglect informal workers and slum dwellers, and often actively evict them.

To reduce urban poverty, a fundamental rethinking and reshaping of urban priorities, plans, regulations, and policies to incorporate the working poor is required.

Over half of the non-agricultural workforce in most developing countries – over three quarters in some – work in the informal economy. This workforce is integral to the economies of towns and cities: it contributes to households, communities, and formal sector firms. Urban authorities need to find ways to enable street vendors, hawkers, market traders - and the open-air markets, small kiosks or built markets where they vend - to co-exist alongside large retail malls. To create inclusive cities, they must incorporate waste pickers into modern solid waste management systems, and they must support home-based production through basic infrastructure services and appropriate zoning policies.

Goals & Activities

Shantha Solanri does back-breaking work as a head loader in Ahmedabad's teeming main vegetable market.
Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images Reportage

WIEGO’s Urban Policies Program (UPP) aims to influence urban policy debates and government practices by:

  • shaping urban policy debates and government practices
  • increasing the visibility of urban informal workers, their issues and contributions
  • demonstrating viable options for including urban informal workers
  • institutionalizing inclusive practice via curriculum innovation

Shaping Urban Policy Debates and Government Practices

Read WIEGO's Position on Dump Closures

Engagement in International Policy Debates 

UPP engages in a range of international policy debates and campaigns. In 2015-16, we participated in the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (known as Habitat III). During the year-long consultative process leading up to the Habitat III summit in Quito, Ecuador, the WIEGO Network worked to put urban informal workers and inclusive urban policies on the New Urban Agenda. Our engagement in the Habitat III process included: serving on three of the ten policy units that fed into the NUA document; serving as co-chair of the Grassroots Partners Constituency Group of the General Assembly of Partners (GAP); developing a collective MBO platform; and participating in regional, thematic and preparatory meetings across the globe.

We have also been an active participant in the Right to the City initiative and the campaign to secure a dedicated Urban Sustainable Development Goal. We are a lead partner on the World Urban Campaign  and active participants in World Urban Forums (see for example WIEGO at the 2014 World Urban Forum in Medellin).

We have presented on numerous policy platforms, among them Metropolis and the United Nations Advisory Committee of Local Authorities. We review and contribute to global reports such as Powerful Synergies – Gender Equality, Economic Development and Environmental Sustainability (UNDP); the 2013 World Development Report on Jobs (World Bank); and the Global Waste Management Outlook – GWMO (UNEP).

10-City Informal Economy Monitoring Study
The 10-city Informal Economy Monitoring Study (IEMS) provides credible,grounded evidence of the range of driving forces, both positive and negative, that affect conditions of work in the informal economy. To date, no other study has made these drivers visible to both informal workers and policy makers through systematic comparative research combining qualitative (participatory) and quantitative methods.The IEMS is also unique in that it puts the research findings in the hands of informal workers and their organizations.

Read findings from the Informal Economy Monitoring Study.

Budget Analysis in the Informal Economy

Pioneered by the women’s movement, the interrogation of resource allocation within government budgets has proved to be a powerful policy analysis and advocacy tool. WIEGO has worked to adapt these techniques for the informal economy. Analysis of budget allocations for informal workers has been conducted in Brazil, Pakistan, Peru, and the Philippines and more recently in Accra, Ghana and Durban, South Africa.

Learn more about the Informal Economy Budget Analysis.

Increasing Visibility of Urban Informal Workers, their Issues and Contributions

Highlighting the Size and Contribution of the Urban Informal Economy

Reliable data on urban informal employment and on specific worker groups are essential to ensure policy visibility and inclusive planning processes. Conducted in concert with WIEGO’s Statistics Programme, this research aims to establish the best possible statistical picture of the size and contribution of the informal economy in urban areas.

Our data analysis suggests that informal work exceeds formal work in most towns and cities in the developing world.

  • See WIEGO Statistical Briefs for summary statistics and information about improved methods for the collection, tabulation and analysis of statistics.
  • See WIEGO Working Papers for more detailed analyses.

Monitoring Trends for Informal Workers around the Globe

Continuous global monitoring and dissemination of news and information allows WIEGO to maintain an accurate profile of particular places of concern (“hot spots”) and of inclusive practice (“bright spots”). Feeds are sent to membership-based organizations (MBOs), fostering international solidarity and cross-country learning. This activity also increases the profile of informality issues across diverse constituencies who use WIEGO’s Global Monitoring System, including urban practitioners and policymakers.

Sign up for the Global Monitoring service.

Demonstrating Viable Options for Including Urban Informal Workers

The Art of ‘the Possible’ – Documenting Good Practice

This work assesses trends in urban policies, planning processes, services/infrastructure delivery and organizational practice for home-based workersstreet vendors and waste pickers. It identifies and disseminates innovative policy and planning approaches and organizational practices that have resulted in more secure livelihoods.

In 2016 we worked with the Journal Environment and Urbanization to produce a special issue on urban livelihoods, highlighting inclusive practices. The articles in the special issue present statistics, survey findings and detailed case evidence that show including the informal economy in urban policy and practice is both necessary and possible.

Technical Advice to Support Inclusion of Informal Workers

UPP provides technical content for MBOs and urban practitioners in pursuit of inclusive practices.

Content in WIEGO Technical Briefs tackles questions such as:

  • how do you conduct a street trader census?
  • what is appropriate zoning that would support home based workers?
  • what options are there for paying waste pickers for the valuable environmental service they provide?

We also look at mainstreaming gender analysis and women's leadership in the waste picking sector; see Gender & Waste.

Institutionalizing Inclusive Practice via Curriculum Innovations

Urban professionals – planners, architects, urban designers, engineers – are critical to “city making” but are often ill-equipped to plan for informality. This work aims to develop, test and institutionalize an urban planning curriculum on the urban informal economy via joint work with the African Association of Planning Educators and the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, among others.

Notable Gains

Esperanza Foretu is a recycler and waste picker in Bogota
Photo: Juan Arredondo/Getty Images Reportage

Exercising Voice in Global Agenda-Setting Processes

As a result of the collective effors of WIEGO and allies during the Habitat III process, the final version of the New Urban Agenda, adopted in October 2016, includes strong and positive language on the informal economy and decent work, and references key principles on the right to the city. It establishes a commitment to recognizing the contributions of the working poor in the informal economy, enhancing their voice and representation, and preserving their livelihoods during the process of transition to the formal economy, among other things. 

Using Research to Engage Policymakers

Informal workers and their organizations have used findings from the 10-city Informal Economy Monitoring Study to engage with city officials and policymakers on urgent issues affecting their livelihoods.

  • In Bangkok, HomeNet Thailand used the study to advocate for better transport.
  • In Nakuru, Kenya, KENASVIT and its affiliate NASTHA used the study to negotiate for better access to trading sites and a reduction in harassment.
  • In Bogotá, Colombia, the Asociación de Recicladores de Bogotá (ARB) has constantly cited the data in its ongoing negotiations with city authorities.

Bringing Gender to the Forefront of Practice Among Waste Pickers and Solid Waste Practitioners

To gain insight into the gender dynamics and sexual division of labour in the waste picking sector, and to bring gender consciousness to the forefront of discussion among women waste pickers, WIEGO undertook a Gender and Waste Project in 2012-2015 in Minas Gerais, Brazil. It sought to provide women waste pickers with a clearer understanding of the practical tools they need to challenge entrenched gender hierarchies present in their own lives at home, at work and in the movement. 
The key outputs of this participatory, workshop-based project were two toolkits:

For more on the project see Gender & Waste.

Past Activities


Informal Economy Theme