Citation: Chen, Martha Alter. "Technology, informal workers and cities: insights from Ahmedabad (India), Durban (South Africa) and Lima (Peru)." Environment and Urbanization 28(2).
This special issue on urban livelihoods was developed in collaboration with WIEGO.
Abstract: Technology is a key driver of change, not least in the world of work. Yet little is known about what technologies are used by – or impact on – the working poor in the informal economy, and in what ways. This paper presents findings from a 2015 study by the WIEGO network and local partners in three cities: Ahmedabad, India; Durban, South Africa; and Lima, Peru. The findings reveal that informal workers in the study cities are using diverse tools, from manual devices to electrical equipment and internet platforms, to strengthen their livelihoods. Overall, the tools used tend to be basic. Often they are being adapted in ingenious ways in order to adapt to resource and other constraints. Take-up of improved tools is limited by low incomes and concerns about theft and confiscation. It is also affected by city-level, context-specific systems of energy, transport and waste. This paper summarizes which types of technologies are most useful to different sectors of informal workers. It argues that the policy and regulatory environment, and city-wide technological systems, should be more responsive to the technological and other needs of the urban informal workforce.