Photo exhibition highlights varied and vibrant informal economies

Photos exhibited at a recent conference on informal economies and green growth show people working in the informal sector in eight countries.

The exhibition illustrated the energy and innovation that informal economies can bring to the sustainable development agenda.

The photos were on show at a one-day conference in London on 25 February. The event, titled The biggest 'private sector': What place for the informal economy in green and inclusive growth, brought together 120 policymakers, practitioners and researchers from around the world.

The event and the exhibition were hosted by IIED and the Green Economy Coalition, WIEGO, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the OECD's Sahel and West Africa Club.

Informal economies, characterised by economic activity that is not subject to government regulation or taxation, sustain many people across the globe. In emerging markets informal economies employ up to 80 per cent of the workforce. In many countries the informal sector is expanding – but policymakers often ignore it. 

IIED's Shaping Sustainable Markets (SSM) initiative is providing a platform for discussion on inclusive and green market governance mechanisms for the informal economy. The London conference focused on how best to integrate the informal economy in plans for inclusive green growth. Delegates identified key principles that could help to develop a new policy agenda on informality and green growth.

The photo exhibition provided a vivid illustration of the varied ways in which people earn their livelihoods through informal economic activity. The photos also illustrated how people in the informal sector, from Colombia to India, are beginning to organise to protect their rights and grow their businesses.

Gallery: highlights from the informality photo exhibition

The gallery below shows a selection of images from the exhibition.  Click on the image below to begin the slideshow and use the arrows at the bottom left to move through the images.

A photo of the images on display in an exhibition of informal economy livelihoods at the conference (Photo: Matt Wright/IIED)Caption to introduce Cameroon photosA timber market in Yaoundé, Cameroon. Cameroon's informal timber sector is estimated to contribute more than EUR€45 million to local economies each year (Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR)Workers using a portable saw mill in Cameroon. Much of the timber produced using portable mills by small-scale, informal traders is exported each year to neighbouring countries such as Chad and Nigeria, totalling some 80,000 m3 each year (Photo: Coline Menel/CIFOR)Logs being transported (Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR)Aboubakar Goni, president of a traders' association at the time of this photo, believes it is possible to establish a system that benefits harvesters, traders and the state – and cuts out bribery. In surveys, many informal operators said that they would rather operate legally and pay state taxes rather than bribes (Photo: Charlie Pye-Smith/CIFOR)Caption to introduce Colombia and India photosMembers of the Asociación de recicladores de USME ARAUS – an affiliate of the Asociación de Recicladores de Bogotá (ARB), an organisation of waste pickers' associations and cooperatives that advocates for waste pickers' rights – go door-to-door to collect recyclable materials in Puente Aranda. The pickers providing this service play an important role in educating residents on the recycling process. "We are not disposable, we reclaim recyclables. What is a disposable cup? A plastic that is recyclable..."Cecilia Serrano sorts waste at a collection centre in Bogota managed by ARB. ARB promotes occupational health and safety among its members through training sessions and by encouraging the use of protective equipment such as gloves when sorting waste (Photo: Juan Arredondo/Getty Images for WIEGO)8am in the city of Ahmedabad, India: 25 women set out to collect rubbish from the 6,656 households that make up the slum area of Juna Vadaj. Each woman collects waste from around 250 houses every day, going door to door with a handcart containing six plastic boxes, with a white sack for recyclables. The women earn 2,000 rupees a month, and can make up to 200-250 rupees extra through selling the recyclables (Photo: Pritpal Randhawa for STEPs)A row of self-built dwellings called jhuggies with bags of recyclables from the landfill site (Photo: Pritpal Randhawa for STEPs)Caption to introduce Ghana and Uganda photosVida Ofori has been a trader at Accra's Makola Market for 34 years. Like hundreds of market vendors here, Vida pays daily, monthly, quarterly, and yearly tolls to the Accra Metropolitan Assembly, as well as to Ghana's Internal Revenue Service. The New Makola Market Traders Union, under the nationwide organisation of the Ghana Trade Union Council, represents more than 2,000 workers like Vida (Photo: Jonathan Torgovnik/Getty Images for WIEGO)Chris Byamukama and his wife Rose Biira, 24, have four children. His roadside food vending business in Fort Portal, Western Uganda, earns him enough profit to sustain his family and rent his home (Photo: Sven Torfinn/Panos Pictures for IIED and Hivos)Chris buys flour and cooking oil in the local shop to make chapattis and sell them to people on the roadside (Photo: Sven Torfinn/Panos Pictures for IIED and Hivos)Chris at his stall. His working day starts around 4pm and lasts until 10pm. He employs two helpers and is the chairman of the Fort Portal Food Vendors Association. Fort Portal is expanding fast and food vending is one of the opportunities this growing town provides (Photo: Sven Torfinn/Panos Pictures for IIED and Hivos)At Accra's Kantamanto Market, Aisha Adam, 25, carries heavy loads atop her head. As there is no nursery, she also carries her young son. Aisha is new to head portering, and while some head porters are tied to shop owners and work exclusively for them, Aisha is not and must find customers on her own. This makes it harder for her to earn a decent living. Physically exhausting, the job is poorly paid, with risks of violence and theft (Photo: Jonathan Torgovnik/Getty Images for WIEGO)