Category Archives: Forbes

Forbes: Economies Go Underground

Economies Go Underground

by Robert Neuwirth

This decade belongs to the world’s sprawling shantytowns and burgeoning street markets.

This is the decade of the do-it-yourself city. Already more than 800 million people–almost one in seven inhabitants of the planet–live in shantytowns, often in tar-paper shacks without water, sewers or electricity. There’s no government, no Donald Trump or other real estate mogul anywhere on the globe with the means or desire to build enough homes to make these communities disappear. Instead they will grow by 16,000 people per day, the U.N. has projected in its “State of the World’s Cities 2010/2011” report, to hit a total of 889 million in 2020.

Similarly more than half the workers of the world–or 1.8 billion people–now earn their wages in unauthorized street markets and other businesses that are not registered, not licensed and not counted in official employment statistics. The number of people in these firms will grow to two-thirds of the global workforce by 2020, according to The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a think tank devoted to fostering free market institutions. There’s no government, no Daddy Warbucks, no corporate conglomerate that can rival this scale of job creation.

So the future belongs to the people in the world’s sprawling shantytowns and burgeoning street markets. Over the coming decade, squatters and informal businesses will key their own economic advancement.

Shack dwellers in South Africa are pushing a new community empowerment agenda. The first step: legal access to electricity, because overturned candles and kerosene lanterns have caused many deadly fires. Then, self-determination and development. “The house on its own cannot solve the problem,” says S’bu Zikode, who lives in Durban’s Kennedy Road shack settlement and is president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a squatter organization. “It’s not only money that creates dignity. All governments should accept that our communities are part of the greater society.”

Three thousand miles north, in Lagos, Nigeria, the street markets are like a swap meet on steroids. At Alaba International Market, porters carry stacks of stereos on their heads, barefoot haulers pull handcarts piled high with high-definition flat-panel TVs, and vendors hawk the latest cellphones and accessories from stalls fashioned out of sticks and twine. The better businesses are in pockmarked concrete structures topped with rusting sprouts of rebar. In muddy lots at the rear of the market, workers rake the moldering bric-a-brac of outdated electronics into piles and set them ablaze.

Sitting in his air-conditioned showroom, James Ezeifeoma laughs at the cacophony. He doesn’t extol the disorder, but says it takes time to harness growth. Twenty years back, Ezeifeoma’s business was a crude kiosk in the bush. Today his firm is one of the largest importers of name-brand electronics in West Africa. “Because our market is haphazard and informal, people think we are criminal,” he says. “But we play a very big role in the global economy.”

In the U.S. and Europe, too, street businesses will scale up through the decade. Though the mainstream economy will continue to stagnate through 2015, these moonlighting operations will emerge as a powerful economic engine, helping people survive and thrive during the economic turmoil.

By the start of the 2020s the combined economic might of the world’s quasi-legal, DIY businesses and communities will rival the total economic output of the United States, and they will represent our planet’s best hope for egalitarian growth and sustainable economic development.

Robert Neuwirth is the author of Shadow Cities: a billion squatters, a new urban world. His new book, Stealth of Nations, chronicles the global growth of the informal economy and is due out in 2011.

Forbes: Anti-poverty groups target job loss, homelessness

Anti-poverty groups target job loss, homelessness
By P.J. DICKERSCHEID , 08.10.09, 04:56 PM EDT

SISSONVILLE, W.Va. — John Hough sacrifices time with his family to work 12 hour days, seven days a week as a cab driver in Philadelphia. After paying for his cab, radio and taxi medallion, he earns slightly more than $4 an hour.

Luis Larin was willing to do anything – cleaning, trash collection, demolition work – to earn enough money to support himself and send money home to his mother and sister in Guatemala. After paying for his transportation to and from work sites, the former day laborer said through an interpreter that he was lucky to earn $20 a day, just enough for him to afford a one-meal-a-day diet of Ramen noodles.

Renee Wolf Koubiadis said it took her years to overcome the feelings of shame and isolation she felt growing up in New Jersey, the daughter of a single mom on welfare.

As unemployment and poverty rates rise, health care becomes less accessible and more Americans become homeless and hungry, Hough, Larin, Koubiadis and about 150 others from across the globe are in West Virginia this week to discuss ways to re-ignite the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s war on poverty.

Representatives of more than 40 organizations from across the globe, including Justicia Global in the Dominican Republic, the Shack Dwellers Movement in South Africa and the Church of Scotland’s Priority Areas Project in Glasgow, are attending the Poverty Scholars Program Leadership School at Camp Virgil Tate outside Charleston.

On Monday, the group heard some sobering statistics:

_ Roughly 6.5 million jobs disappeared between January 2008 and June 2009.

_ Home foreclosures in the United States average 10,000 a day.

_ The number of Americans living in poverty jumped by 5.7 million between 2000 and 2007 to 37.3 million.

_ 47 million Americans don’t have health care coverage, including 8.7 million children. The fastest growing group of people without health insurance earn between $50,000 and $75,000 a year.

_ The number of Americans who relied on soup kitchens for meals has increase 9 percent since 2001 to 25 million; 36 percent of them were from households where at least one person worked.

_ Of the estimated 3.5 million people who are likely to experience homelessness this year, the fastest growing segments include families with children and veterans.

_ On average, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies make as much in one day as the average worker earns in a year.

That’s a difficult pill for many to swallow, including Hough who says he’s forced to choose between time with his family and earning enough money to support his family. He is a member of the United Taxi Workers Alliance in Pennsylvania.

“It not only affects my pocket, but it affects my family,” he said.

Larin said it wasn’t uncommon for him to wait two to three hours for transportation to and from work sites, a service for which he was charged $5 for every three miles traveled. The low wages, combined with being forced to eat lunch in a dirty bathroom and paying to live in company housing finally led him to join United Workers in Baltimore, where he met his wife and now works.

Koubiadis said she became a social worker and joined Poor Voices United after watching her mother struggle to support her and her brother after a divorce.

“She got so beaten down by the system,” Koubiadis said of her mother. “It took me a long time to realize I wasn’t a bad person just because I was poor.”

While Monday’s sessions focused on poverty and the economic crisis, Tuesday’s sessions will include tours of Matewan, the site of a violent coal miners’ strike in 1920 in southern West Virginia, and Kayford Mountain 35 miles east of Charleston, where miners have been blasting the mountaintop for more than 20 years to reveal multiple coal seams.

The sessions, which continue through Saturday, will eventually focus on solutions.