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Productivity in the informal economy

A joint study with WIEGO and UN-Habitat argues for radical policy paradigms to promote inclusion of informal economy workers in urban dialogues.

Prepared for UN-Habitat in partnership with WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment Globalizing and Organizing), this report was launched at the Special Session on the Informal Sector at Habitat III, the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, in October 2016.

The document distills the hard-won insights of informal workers, without whom innovative, sustainable and inclusive urban development is impossible, to encourage recognition of their economic, environmental, and social contribution; to promote the inclusion of informal workers in all urban policy planning, and to protect and enhance their livelihoods. The case studies 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 designed for all urban stakeholders, particularly local and central governments, urban professionals and worker organisations, and demonstrates ways in which innovative urban management, and social inclusion objectives have enhanced the economic contribution of the informal economy and reduced the vulnerability of its workforce. While efforts to reduce vulnerability by promoting formalisation are welcome, the ubiquity of the informal economy suggests that it will persist in cities for many years, making policy inclusion an urgent imperative.

The 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 draw on 20 years of advocacy and grassroots-led research by WIEGO and more than a decade of academic and policy research by IERO. The findings were refined through an Expert Group Meeting in Surabaya, in July 2016.


Impact Acceleration Award, Cardiff University.


  • Professor Alison Brown, Cardiff University
  • Dr Sally Roever, WEIGO
  • Dr Ananda Weliwita, Urban Economy Branch, UN-Habitat