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close this bookVolunteer Participation in Working with the Urban Poor (UNDP - UNV, 64 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentNote on terminology and abbreviations
View the documentSummary
close this folderI. Urbanisation: recognition and response
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentUrbanisation and poverty
View the documentResponse to urbanisation
View the documentRecognition of ''Self-help'' initiatives
close this folderII. Insights derived from community-based programmes
View the document(introduction...)
close this folderUrban informal sector
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentMicro-enterprise promotion
View the documentWorking conditions in the informal sector
View the documentThe ILO experience
View the documentLow-income housing
View the documentInfrastructure and basic services
View the documentHealth and HIV/AIDS prevention
View the documentNon-formal education and functional literacy
View the documentWomen, gender and development
View the documentChildren of the street
View the documentImplications for VSAs
close this folderIII. Towards a community-based strategy for VSAs
View the documentParticipation: how and for whose benefit?
View the documentA sense of ''community''
View the documentGeneral characteristics of low-income urban communities
View the documentFactors determining support possibilities
View the documentGeneral characteristics of CBOs
View the documentSupport channels and intermediaries
close this folderIV. Programming concerns for VSAs and UNV
View the documentGuidelines for involvement
View the documentSuccess criteria for volunteer involvement
View the documentTaking the initiative
View the documentFlexibility
View the documentMeeting personnel and associated needs
View the documentChannels of operation
View the documentUnited Nations Agencies and their partners
View the documentFunding and other programme concerns
close this folderV. Principles and characteristics of volunteer use
View the documentFunctions and volunteers
View the documentQualities of VDWs
View the documentTeams
View the documentSkill requirements and experiences
View the documentSelection and placement process
View the documentAcculturation and language training process
View the documentEpilogue: follow-up, 1995
View the documentAnnotated reference list
close this folderAnnex: Excerpts from background papers
View the documentUrban development policy issues and the role of united nations volunteers
View the documentWorking with the urban poor: lessons from the experience of metropolitan Lagos, Nigeria
View the documentBrief account of my experience as a DDS field worker and a UNV in Sri Lanka and Jamaica
View the documentSpecial consultation on volunteer participation in working with the urban poor


One of the main priorities of low-income groups in urban areas is the need for more employment opportunities and income-earning support. The informal sector is where most low-income urban communities find their livelihood, realise their economic potential and develop their skills. Yet because the rigours of the market and other factors make this a volatile and vulnerable arena, it is often difficult to promote community-based programmes in the informal sector.

The "informal sector" is a term loosely used to describe income-generating activities which are not guided by formal contractual relationships, institutions, standards and guidelines, as in the "formal sector." Roughly half the total urban labour force in most developing countries is employed in the informal sector; in several Latin American countries, informal sector production may generate as much as 70% of national GDP. Two major factors account for its continued growth: rapid increase of the urban population and poor macro-economic performance, combined with structural adjustment measures that lead to retrenchment of public sector investments and payrolls.

The main characteristics of the various contractual relationships found in the informal sector -- self-employment, disguised wage-work, home-based outwork, apprenticeship, and unpaid family labour -- are low and stagnant levels of remuneration; insecurity of employment and instability of income (vulnerability on the labour market); excessively long working hours; and abysmal and unhealthy working conditions, including lack of work-space, especially within extremely low-income settlements. Trade and services tend to predominate over construction, manufacturing or administration. Other traits of the informal sector include the existence of exploitative relationships with the formal sector in terms of credit, raw materials and equipment, and markets; and work tends to take place within a hostile policy environment that leads to frequent harassment. In addition, workers are usually young, and a large proportion of them are women, who have almost no access to avenues of education or skill-development.

The urban informal sector is not entirely composed of groups from low-income urban communities, even though they do account for a majority of the individuals involved in it. Studies indicate that there are three broad categories of activity in the informal sector. The largest category consists of small-scale retail trades and services such as street vending and shoe-shining which operating at a survival level with minimal capital. A second large category consists of craft and trade activities which produce cheap goods and services, primarily for the local market. Finally, there is a much smaller category of capital-intensive units which exist on the fringe of the formal sector. In many cases, the output from these activities successfully competes with goods produced in the formal sector.

In developing programme approaches for support to the informal sector, organisations have been divided in terms of the activities and individuals which they have targeted as their primary clients. In part, this has been a function of the kinds of contributions (e.g. credit) the organisations have been willing to make, and the time-frame within which they wished the communities to become economically self-reliant. As OXFAM concluded after a review of income-generating activities in urban areas, organisations have demonstrated some ideological thrust in their support work, which may prejudice the economic viability of the groups being helped. In other words, some organisations have favoured an approach based on a liberal economic paradigm which espouses fair competition, free markets and the principle of comparative advantage. The main thrust of this approach seeks to build the capacity of a viable business community for capitalist development and enterprise promotion -- a "business-oriented" approach -- rather than focusing on principles of community, cooperation and poverty alleviation: a "poverty-oriented" approach.