Informal Worker Organisation and Social Protection, (SPIWORK) is a 4-year joint research initiative between Roskilde University, University of Nairobi in Kenya and Mzumbe University in Tanzania financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Denmark (Danida).
This collaborative research set out to generate new knowledge on the role of informal worker organisations in enabling access to both formal and informal Social Protection (SP) measures in Kenya and Tanzania, focusing on three sectors (construction, petty trade and transport).
The dominant SP agenda and the literature on SP come with an almost exclusive focus on donor and state programmes. Nonetheless, the coverage of the majority of these formal programmes is limited and people elaborate other means of cushioning against risks and vulnerabilities through different forms of collective self-organizing. These, informal, bottom-up forms of SP are notably absent from SP discussions and little is known about the extent or the format of these informal SP mechanisms or how they compare the SP models conceptualized and implemented ‘from above’ by the public authorities. It is this soaring gap in policy and literary focus that we have started to address.
The project used a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods including a survey, Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) and Key Informant Interviews (KIIs). In total, 1,462 survey interviews, 120 KIIs, 24 FGDs and case studies were conducted in the period between 2018 and 2020. For the survey, we sampled informal workers in four urban areas in Kenya (Nairobi and Kisumu) and Tanzania (Dar es Salaam and Dodoma).
Findings from this rich empirical data has been published in various outlets, but below we tease out key implications of our research:
There is a need to conceptually re-think and broaden both academic and policy discussions on SP in order to recognize and address the restrictive formal/informal dichotomy and one-sided focus on formalization as this
bias renders most existing formal SP measures inappropriate and inadequate for the majority of the working populations.
Representation should be included in SP discourses as it is of key importance in terms of ensuring that informal workers have a say in the elaboration of SP policies and in issues affecting their work and living conditions.
Finally, the immense importance of informal workers’ own associations in meeting (even if inadequately) the SP needs of their members needs to be recognized but also help inform efforts to reframe national SP policies and systems.