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Cities Research Seminar Series: Inclusive Cities for the Urban Working Poor: Need to Protect and Enhance Informal Livelihoods

In the global South, more than half of all urban workers are informally employed, as much as 80 percent in some cities. Yet most urban planners, designers, and policy makers do not factor the livelihood needs and concerns of the informal workforce into their plans, designs and policies. And many city governments and local officials are hostile to informal workers and their livelihood activities – stigmatizing and penalizing them. This impasse between the reality of informal work and the mindsets, policies and practices of dominant urban actors needs to be overcome – especially if cities seek to reduce poverty and inequality and otherwise promote the SDG/2030 agenda.


Speaker: Marty Chen

Marty Chen, co-founder of the WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing) network, Lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and affiliated professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, will present an overview summary of a World Resources Institute report that she has written with Victoria Beard on the topic of this seminar. She will discuss how the exclusionary practices of many cities undermines the livelihoods of the urban working poor in the informal economy and then present promising examples of inclusionary practices and policies by city governments.

She will open her remarks with a summary of recent official data and research findings on the urban informal workforce in the global South and end with a call for a change in mindsets to enable more inclusive and equal cities.

Martha is an experienced development practitioner and scholar, her areas of specialization are employment, gender, and poverty with a focus on the working poor in the informal economy. Before joining Harvard in 1987, she had two decades of resident experience in Bangladesh working with BRAC (now the world's largest non-governmental organization) and in India, where she served as field representative of Oxfam America for India and Bangladesh. Martha received a PhD in South Asia Regional Studies from the University of Pennsylvania.

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