Robert Neuwirth’s presentation at The Future of Places III conference which we published two weeks ago was very popular with the readers of this blog, so here is Neuwirth’s Ted Talk from 2012 with more thoughts about the power of the informal economy.
For those of us who have visited, the mere mention of Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial centre, brings up images of booming economic activity, but also injustice, crime, corruption and motionless traffic. Car tires are burned to provide light during power outages and the bodies of people run over in car accidents can be left on the street for hours and commuters are sometimes caught in shoot-outs between robbers and policemen.
I remember some years ago, Richard Shaw and I arrived in Lagos for a series of meetings and could not find our local taxi driver at the airport, so we asked the French Embassy for support, and an French Government armored truck arrived and brought us to our hotel.
Yet, economic development is slowly trickling down to benefit also the poor people who acted with violence out of desperation. The informal economy, the last decade much enabled by mobile phones and internet, is growing and supporting families and slowly bringing prosperity also to the lower levels of Nigerian society.
Lagos is a lot better now than it was two decades ago. Robert Neuwirth spent four years among the chaotic stalls of street markets of the worlds urban slums, talking to pushcart hawkers and grey marketers, to study the world’s unlicensed economic network. Responsible for some 1.8 billion jobs, it’s an economy of underappreciated power and scope.