5 NGOs Supporting Informal Workers in Developing NationsApproximately 61% of the world’s employed, or 2,000,000,000 people, earn their livelihoods in the informal sector. While the informal sector brings its own set of limitations such as a lack of healthcare benefits, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the issues that daily wage workers face.  Within that percentage, there’s a staggering distribution of informal employment.

Informal Workers in Developing Nations

The informal sector varies by country but is more common in developing nations. In Africa, 85.8% of employment is informal, 68.2% in Asia and the Pacific, 68.6% in the Arab States, 40% in the Americas and over 25% in Europe and Central Asia. Altogether, 93% of informal employment is in low-and-middle-income countries.

According to WIEGO, informal work means a diversified set of economic activities or jobs that are not related or protected by the state. It is most commonly associated with self-employment and small unregistered businesses but also includes daily wage workers. Informal workers face increased poverty and occupational risks that, combined with lack of access to any sort of welfare, push many into income inequality and greater poverty.

5 NGOs Working to Support Informal workers Abroad

  1. WIEGO: Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO) is an NGO founded in 1997 with a mission is to increase the voice, visibility and validity of impoverished communities, especially women. Building and strengthening informal worker organizations, such as internal sector networks, has remained a central objective of the program for years. WIEGO has also implemented a five-year plan that spans from April 2018 to March 2023 to improve informal workers’ visibility, global influence, national statistics and its knowledge base.
  2. Asiye eTafuleni (South Africa): This NGO is focused on promoting and developing good practices around inclusive urban planning and design. AeT works alongside informal workers to learn more about their situation. The organization has four ambitions it wants to act upon: Inclusive Design, Urban Advocacy, Urban Education and Urban Intelligence. Inclusive Design focuses on reconsidering and reshaping urban spatial planning and zoning, urban regulations, laws and policies and urban aesthetics to incorporate voices that have been traditionally excluded, such as the working poor. AeT believes the working poor and informal workers should have a voice in these actions. Urban Advocacy works to influence political and social agendas to s crucial to impact change for informal workers and their organizations. AeT encourages and teaches the informal sector to become advocates for themselves. Through Urban Education, AeT provides opportunities for students, the general public, tourists and environment professionals to learn about urban environments inclusive of informal workers. Lastly, Urban Intelligence allows AeT to widen and deepen urban intelligence so that local, national and international stakeholders can engage in more informed urban dialogue, planning and design processes.
  3. Avina Foundation: At the start, Avina focused on identifying, supporting, developing leadership and building relationships with social activists and entrepreneurs to strengthen their initiatives in favor of sustainable development. Following this, Avina began to bring together a critical mass of partners, over time helping them grow connections. Today, the program fulfills its mission by building and strengthening collaboration among different sectors to achieve the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals.
  4. StreetNet, International Alliance of Street Vendors: Located in Durban, South Africa, the organization’s primary goal is to promote the exchange of information and ideas on critical issues facing street vendors, market vendors and hawkers. Just like the programs abroad, StreetNet also works on practical organizing and advocacy strategies. StreetNet focuses on advocating for street vendors. Around the world, millions of people earn their livelihoods on the streets and in the vast markets. Street vendors sell a variety of products, from food to technology. However, while the street markets are convenient and affordable for consumers, street vendors are often at risk of poverty as their survival depends on the day’s wage. The program aims to improve the lives of street vendors and informal traders.
  5. Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat: This organization was established due to the immoral, cruel and unjust manner waste pickers were treated in India. The organization advocates for the fair treatment of waste pickers, itinerant waste buyers, waste collectors and other informal recyclers.

Informal workers are the silent majority and are the exhausted backbone of their respected countries. Since 61% of the world’s employed population is informal, reducing the informal sector’s number of workers means alleviating global poverty. These five organizations are fighting for the fair treatment of informal workers and are providing vital resources for their survival. These organizations are also supporting workers’ transition from informal work to jobs protected by the state so workers won’t fear transitioning their livelihoods. By improving the conditions of informal workers, we, as a global community, can move one step toward equality and global healthcare.

– Aaron Samperio
Photo: Flickr

Informal EconomiesInformal economies are all too often associated with deviance and insecurity, with people making money outside of formal sectors, not paying taxes, increasing poverty and lacking labor and social protection.

However, from the floating markets of Nigeria to the burgeoning markets of India, informal economies, or what Robert Neuwirth calls “system D” economies, are filling the void left by globalization. Secure jobs are becomimg more and more scarce, as multinational corporations control ever more of the production and distribution of goods across the globe. As these practices continue to drive up economic inequality and leave people battling unrelenting poverty, informal economies are quickly reversing the course and offering alternative economic practices that are quelling the tide.

An informal economy, as defined by the International Labor Office (ILO), is “all economic activities by workers or economic units that are — in law or practice — not covered or sufficiently covered by formal arrangements.”

Informal economies are on the rise across the globe, although accurate statistical data is hard to come by. They are estimated to be worth $10 trillion a year.

Terence Jackson reports that the informal economic sector in Africa “represents about three-quarters of non-agricultural employment, and about 72 percent of total employment in sub-Saharan Africa.” In India, informal economies are estimated to generate 90 percent of jobs and half of the national output. In both Africa, Asia and the world at large, many GDPs are heavily reliant on informal economies.

As talk of new and emerging economies fill the airwaves, informal economies offer alternative means to lift local people and communities from the coercive and restricting structures of globalization. Ironically, globalization is credited as having increased the size and importance of informal economies while these very economies stand to threaten the reign of multinational corporations and globalization.

A study by Martha Alter Chen, a lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and international coordinator of Women in Informal Employment Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), explores how in today’s economy, formal jobs are not being created in sufficient quantities, and existing jobs are being made informal. “Informal employment is here to stay in the short, medium, and probably long term. It is the main source of employment and income for the majority of the workforce and population in the developing world,” her study states.

Informal economies across the globe are expanding, and increasing numbers of people are dependent on the profits generated. As informal economies seem to be here to stay, it is imperative the world embraces the revolutionary entrepreneurship pouring out of the sector. It holds the potential to not only fill the labor void left by globalization but to offer an alternative way forward that addresses local problems with local answers.

Joseph Dover
Photo: Flickr