WIEGO Special Initiatives:
Past Initiatives

Collaborative Advocacy

China-India Comparative Labour Markets Research Project

From 2007-2011, in collaboration with the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), Sussex and teams of researchers in China and India, WIEGO planned a comparative research project on labour markets and informal employment, including links with poverty and other social outcomes in the two countries. Read about this project and its outputs: Informal Employment, Poverty & Growth in India & China.

Realizing Rights-SEWA-WIEGO Advocacy on “Decent Work for Informal Workers”

WIEGO's collaborative relationship with the Realizing Rights-Ethical Globalization Initiative, started and headed by Mary Robinson (former President of Ireland), sought to promote decent work for the working poor in the informal economy. Realizing Rights, WIEGO, and SEWA jointly developed and co-branded a set of advocacy materials on decent work for the informal economy and on inclusive urban planning for the urban working poor which have been shared with, among others, the group of Elders headed by Nelson Mandela. Mary Robinson and Ela Bhatt (founder of SEWA and founding chair of WIEGO) are among the Elders.

Realizing Rights and WIEGO also worked together, and with a national team in Liberia, to explore the possibility of a project on the informal economy in that country. WIEGO took this work forward by organizing a workshop in Liberia in 2011 at which representatives from the Ghana Trades Union Congress shared  experiences on organizing in the informal economy.

Commissioned Research

Over the years, WIEGO has been commissioned by bi-lateral and multi-lateral agencies to undertake research, including the following:

Regional Reviews on Informality in Africa, Latin America, and South Asia for Sida

In 2008, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) asked WIEGO to carry out literature reviews on the informal economy in three regions - Africa, Latin America, and South Asia. James Heintz (University of Massachusetts/Amherst; WIEGO Technical Advisor) and Imraan Valodia (University of KwaZulu-Natal and WIEGO member) prepared the Africa review, Victor Tokman (then Member, WIEGO Board) prepared the Latin America review, Marty Chen and Donna Doane (WIEGO member) prepared the South Asia review. These reviews were used to inform a joint Sida-OECD paper on informality and are available on the WIEGO website.  

Report on “Women’s Employment in Africa” for Danish Foreign Ministry and AfricaCommission

In 2008, Marty Chen was invited to a meeting in Copenhagen dealing with Millennium Development Goal # 3 on Gender Equality, with a focus on women’s economic empowerment, organized by the Danish Foreign Ministry for the Africa Commission. Later in the year, she was asked to comment on the background documents for a conference on women’s economic empowerment in Africa held in Maputo, Mozambique and to then write a report on “Women’s Employment in Africa” building on the Maputo conference proceedings and recommendations. 

Review of Informal Enterprises in Africa for the World Bank

William Steel (founding Member, WIEGO Board) and Marty Chen were asked by the Africa Bureau of the World Bank to lead a review of programmes and policies in support of the smallest informal enterprises in Africa. They put together a team of reviewers to review five areas: micro-finance, business development services, sub-sector development, commercial law, and economic policies. From the WIEGO network, James Heintz and Imraan Valodia undertook the review of economic policies. All five studies were presented at a one-day workshop held at the World Bank headquarters in Washington, D.C. in June 2008 and were used to inform the design of a diagnostic methodology for country assessments of the informal economy in Africa. Read the five studies and the diagnostic methodology.

Progress of the World’s Women 2005: Women, Work, and Poverty for UNIFEM

In September 2004, UNIFEM asked WIEGO to write the 2005 issue of Progress of the World’s Women – UNIFEM’s biennial flagship publication – on the topic of “Women, Work, and Poverty.” The publication focuses on employment, especially informal employment, as a key pathway to reducing poverty and gender inequality. 

Mainstreaming Informal Employment and Gender in Poverty Reduction for Commonwealth Secretariat

In 2004, Marty Chen, Joann Vanek, and Marilyn Carr (then Director, WIEGO Global Markets Programme) wrote a book for the Commonwealth Secretariat’s “Gender Mainstreaming Series on Development Issues.” The book, Mainstreaming Informal Employment and Gender in Poverty Reduction, examines the link between informal employment, gender and poverty, discusses the changing world of world, highlights promising examples that support informal enterprises and protect informal workers, and provides a strategic framework for formulating policies towards those who are informally employed. This book was launched at a meeting of Finance Ministers from Commonwealth countries in September 2004.

Read Mainstreaming Informal Employment and Gender in Poverty Reduction. Ordering information is here.

Case Studies on the “Investment Climate and Informal Enterprises” for the World Development Report 2005

In 2004, the World Bank commissioned WIEGO to write three case studies on the constraints in the regulatory environment faced by informal entrepreneurs as background papers for the WDR 2005 A Better Investment Climate for Everyone.

The case studies explore constraints in the regulatory environment faced by street traders in six African countries; by garment manufacturers and street traders in Durban, South Africa; and by street traders, garment makers, small farmers, gum collectors, salt farmers, and embroiderers in Gujarat, India.

Winnie Mitullah (former Director, WIEGO Urban Policies Programme) wrote the case study on street trade in Africa; Francie Lund and Caroline Skinner (then at the University of KwaZulu-Natal; now Director, WIEGO Urban Policies Programme) wrote the Durban case study; and Marty Chen co-wrote the case study on India with Renana Jhabvala and Reema Nanavaty of SEWA.

To read these background papers, please click on the relevant title:

Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor: Working Groups on Labour Rights and Business Environment

The High Level Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor (HLCLEP), co-chaired by Hernando De Soto and Madeleine Albright, had a mandate to generate policy recommendations that would reduce poverty through secure, enforceable property and labour rights, within an enabling environment that expands legal business opportunities and access to justice. It had four thematic working groups: on justice and the rule of law, property rights, labour rights, and the business environment. Marty Chen was invited to serve on two of the working groups: labour rights and business environment. She wrote a set of technical notes for each committee and helped with the writing of the committee reports.

Background Papers for International Labour Organization (ILO) Task Force on the Informal Economy

In 2002, there was a General Discussion at the International Labour Conference on Decent Work for the Informal Economy (see WIEGO’s Organization and Representation Programme for details on WIEGO’s preparations for and participation in this General Discussion). In 2001, the ILO Task Force that was preparing for the 2002 ILC discussion asked WIEGO to prepare two background documents. Marilyn Carr and Marty Chen wrote a paper entitled “Globalization and the Informal Economy: How Global Trade and Investment Impact on the Working Poor”; Marty Chen, Renana Jhabvala, and Francie Lund wrote a paper entitled “Supporting Workers in the Informal Economy: A Policy Framework."

Collaborative Research Projects


Comparative Workforce Development Research Project

Marty Chen and Joann Vanek served as technical advisors to a research project on workforce development coordinated by the Global Policy Network of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. and funded by the Ford Foundation. This project commissioned studies on trends in workforce development, including both the formal and informal workforces, in five countries: Egypt, El Salvador, India, Russia, and South Africa.

An initial research workshop, to discuss a common framework, was held in Washington, D.C. in June 2003. A final research workshop, at which all five country studies were presented and discussed, was held in Johannesburg, South Africa in June 2004.  A volume of the five country studies entitled Good Jobs, Bad Jobs, No Jobs: Labour Markets and Informal Work in Egypt, El Salvador, India, Russia and South Africa, was edited by Tony Avigan, L. Josh Bivens and Sarah Gammage. Marty Chen and Joann Vanek co-wrote the concluding chapter of the book, “Informal Employment: Rethinking Workforce Development.” The book was launched in March 2005 at the Ford Foundation in New York. Marty Chen was one of the speakers at the launch.
See more information on the book, including ordering information.

The concluding chapter by Martha Chen and Joann Vanek, as well as the introduction and the table of contents, are available here.

“Labour and Informality: Rethinking Work” Research Project

From 2002-04, WIEGO collaborated with the ILO’s InFocus Program on Socio-Economic Security on a research project that examined the changing nature of work, with a special focus on informal employment, in today’s world. Members of WIEGO wrote nine (out of 16) of the conceptual, empirical, and methodological papers for this project. A cross-cutting theme of the project was whether, and to what degree, different categories of informal workers exercise control over their work, enjoy security of their work, and exercise voice in their work. Several papers coming out of this project have been published elsewhere and some are posted on the WIEGO website.

SEEDS Pamphlets and Symposium

The SEEDS project, which was implemented by the Population Council for 20 years, produced popular pamphlets that documented innovative approaches to strengthening women’s productive roles.

Marty Chen served on the editorial board of the SEEDS pamphlet series for several years and proposed that some of the pamphlets focus on organizing efforts and collective action within and across national boundaries to change the working conditions of specific occupational groups of women. The first such pamphlet (written by Renana Jhabvala and Jane Tate) focused on home-based workers. The second (written by Monique Cohen and Mihir Bhatt) focused on street vendors. Both pamphlets include an assessment of the scale of women’s involvement in the sector and identify the structural constraints facing them. They give examples of promising interventions drawn from a wide range of countries around the world. Both publications involved a close collaboration between SEEDS, WIEGO, and, respectively, HomeNet and StreetNet.

In 2006, the SEEDS project organized an international symposium entitled “SEEDS of Change: Promoting Decent Work for Low-Income Women” mark its 25th anniversary. Marty Chen served on the planning committee for the symposium and made two presentations: one on “Working Poor Women: A Global Picture”; the other on “‘Pushing’ and ‘Bridging’ Fields of Practice: An Integrated Framework for Women’s Economic Empowerment”. Together with Pat Horn (StreetNet International; then member, WIEGO Board), she organized a panel on “Labour Organizing and Advocacy.” Marilyn Carr and Elaine Jones (Director, WIEGO Global Trade Programme) organized a panel on “Fair Trade and Global Markets: Access and Rights.”

Study of the Impact of the Asian Financial Crisis on Women in the Informal Economy

In 1999-2000, with financial support from the World Bank and the ILO, and technical advice from WIEGO, national affiliates of HomeNet South East Asia conducted a set of comparative studies to assess the impact of the Asian financial crisis on home-based women workers in three countries (Indonesia, Philippines, and Thailand) designed to help the home-based workers address these impacts. WIEGO helped develop a common conceptual framework for these studies at a research design workshop held in Bangkok in January 1999; and provided technical advice on the questionnaire and sampling procedures used in the surveys in October 1999. 

Conferences & Public Events


Economic Rights and the Working Poor: Agenda-Setting Workshop

In December 2009, with the Justice and Human Rights programme of Harvard’s Hauser Center for Non-Profit Organization, WIEGO organized an agenda-setting workshop at the Harvard Kennedy School. This workshop was designed to begin a process of exploring and defining the cutting-edge issues, debates, and gaps in thinking and practice on economic rights, especially as they pertain to the working poor. By convening a small group of key “thinkers and doers,” the workshop aimed to gain greater clarity on the state of theory and practice on economic rights of the working poor, and jointly develop a critical set of issues for future collaboration among researchers and practitioners.

Tecnologico de Monterrey Conference on “The Informal Economy in Latin America”

Marty Chen and Carmen Roca (Latin America Regional Advisor, WIEGO) were asked by the Harvard Kennedy School and the Tecnologico de Monterrey to help organize a conference on this topic in Monterrey, Mexico in May 2008. At their suggestion, the secretary-generals of the national federations of self-employed workers in Mexico and Venezuela and the leader of an association of street vendors in the historic district of Mexico City were invited to speak; and four women street vendor leaders from Mexico were invited to participate. Also, Bernice Ramirez Lopez, from the National University of Mexico (UNAM) and an active WIEGO research partner, was invited to speak on social protection for informal workers. Marty Chen gave the opening keynote presentation entitled “The Informal Economy in Latin America: A Global Perspective.”    Rodrigo Negrete, head of the census in Mexico and an active member of WIEGO, compiled recent data (2003-2006) on informal employment in Mexico for Marty Chen to present in her keynote address. 

Public Seminar and Meetings on the Informal Economy in Cambodia

Members of the WIEGO network were invited to make an official visit to Cambodia by the Minister of Women’s Affairs of the Government of Cambodia. The purpose was to exchange information on the informal economy in Cambodia and worldwide and to explore opportunities for collaboration. The visit took place in early April 2008. Headed by Marty Chen, the team included four other WIEGO staff (Rhonda Douglas, Frances Lund, Leslie Tuttle and Joann Vanek) and three WIEGO members from organizations of home-based workers in South East Asia (Donna Doane, Josephine Parilla and Poonsap Tulaphan). The team participated in a one-day seminar on the informal economy co-organized by WIEGO and the Cambodian Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and also met with government officials and organizations of street vendors and artisans.

Harvard Kennedy School Forum on “Worker Protection in a Globalized Economy: The Role of Government, Business, and Civil Society”

Marty Chen helped organize and moderated this event, hosted by the Hauser Center for Non-Profit Organizations at Harvard University in collaboration with the Center for Business and Government at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Committee for Human Rights Studies at  Harvard University. The panelists – Mary Robinson (former President of Ireland), John Ruggie (government professor at the Harvard Kennedy School) and Richard Freeman (economics professor at Harvard University) – examined the interrelated roles of government, business and civil society in promoting worker protection in a globalized economy. 

International Seminar on “The Informal Economy in Ghana: A Comparative Perspective”

In October 2005, in conjunction with a meeting of our Steering Committee in Ghana, WIEGO co-hosted an international seminar with the Ghana Statistical Service entitled “The Informal Economy in Ghana: A Comparative Perspective.” The seminar brought together activists, researchers and trade unionists from Ghana and abroad to examine recent data on the informal economy and evaluate current responses to the informal economy. Featured speakers included Kofi Asamoah (Ghana Trade Union Congress, Member, WIEGO Board), Grace Bediako (Ghana Statistical Service; founding member of WIEGO), Marty Chen, James Heintz, Rudith King (Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology), and Mary Mabel Tagoe (Kuapa Kokoo Cooperative). Discussants in the various panels included Rita Abban (Ministry of Private Sector Development), Ernest Aryeetey (Institute for Statistical, Social and Economic Research), William Baah-Boateng (University of Ghana), and Abena Oduro (Centre for Economic Policy Analysis).

To see presentations from the event and related readings, see Report on the Ghana conference. 

Seminars on the Informal Economy in China

In 2004, Marty Chen, Francie Lund, Jacques Charmes (WIEGO founding member) and Ralf Hussmanns of the ILO Statistics Bureau were invited to Beijing and Shanghai by Fudan University and Ford Foundation, Chinato present seminars on the informal economy. Seminars were held for both policy makers interested in statistics on the informal economy and graduate students studying the informal economy.

Panels at International Association for Feminist Economists Conferences

WIEGO organized panels at three conferences of the International Association for Feminist Economists. These featured presentations by research members of WIEGO:

Turkey (2000)

  • “The Informal Economy: A Comparative Research,” chaired by Marty Chen and featuring presentations by Simel Esim, Jeemol Unni and Uma Rani (Gujarat Institute of Development Research) and Imraan Valodia (University of KwaZulu-Natal).

Barbados (2002)

  • Rethinking the Informal Economy: Definitions, Measures, and Linkages” featured presentations by Imraan Valodia and Caroline Skinner of the University of Natal, Jeemol Unni of the Gujarat Institute for Development Research, and Marty Chen. The panel was chaired by Kathleen Barnett of the International Center for Research on Women.
  • “Informalization in the Garments Industry: South Africa and India” featured presentations by Caroline Skinner and Melissa Ince of the University of Natal and Navsharan Singh of the National Council of Applied Economic Research. The panel was chaired by Marty Chen.

UK (2004)

  • Informal Employment: A ‘Missing Link’ in Understanding Poverty and Gender Inequality” featuring presentations by Imraan Valodia (University of KwaZulu-Natal) and Francie Lund (Director, WIEGO Social Protection Programmes), Jeemol Unni (Gujarat Institute for Development Research) and Shikha Joshi (SEWA, Madhya Pradesh). The panel was chaired by Marty Chen. Sirojini Ganju Thakur of the Commonwealth Secretariat served as the discussant.

Conference on “Rethinking Labour Market Informalization: Precarious Work, Poverty, and Social Protection”

In October 2002, Cornell University organized this conference. Marty Chen served on the planning committee and spoke at the conference. Other members of WIEGO who spoke at the conference were Mirai Chatterjee (SEWA), Lin Lim (ILO), and James Heintz (University of Massachusetts/Amherst). Electronic proceedings of the conference.

Americas Regional Workshop on “Garment Workers Worldwide: Promoting a Policy Dialogue”

 In October 2001, WIEGO co-organized a regional workshop with The California Wellness Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation in Los Angeles, California. Twenty-five researchers and activists from Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and the USA participated. Marty Chen spoke at the workshop. Read the report on the workshop. 

Panel at Association of Women in Development (AWID) Conference

In 1999, in collaboration with the SEEDs project, WIEGO organized a panel on “Organizing Street Vendors” at the AWID conference in Washington, D.C. The panel brought together organizers of the vendor community and municipal representatives charged with regulating the presence of street vendors from three cities: Lima, Peru; Durban, South Africa; and Ahmedabad, India. Speakers included Mirai Chatterjee (from SEWA); Pat Horn (former WIEGO Board member) and Carmen Vildoso (current WIEGO Board member).

Public Events at WIEGO General Assemblies

 At each of our General Assemblies, WIEGO has co-organized one or more public events with a local partner organization. For details, see WIEGO General Assemblies.