DSA2017: Sustainability Interrogated: Societies, Growth, and Social Justice
This panel focuses on the benefits and challenges of ICT innovations to enhance economic inclusion of the informal economy. It will examine the institutional ecosystems involved in digital inclusion, and explore how ICTs reshape informal actors’ access to income, decent work and social rights.
Amid jobless growth and expanding informal economies in many developing countries, ICT innovations promise new mechanisms of economic and financial inclusion for those who live and work at the bottom of the economic pyramid. Innovations such as mobile money, trading platforms, and ride-sharing applications for motorcycle taxis are celebrated for their ability to reduce transaction costs, create jobs and increase efficiency and incomes for informal actors in rural and urban areas. However, enthusiasm about the potential of ICTs to enhance economic inclusion for workers and consumers at the bottom of the pyramid (BoP) often overlooks the impact of these innovations on the sustainability of informal livelihood systems. While ICTs can improve access to credit, markets and services in ways that enhance efficiency for some informal actors, they can also disrupt informal value chains, displace livelihoods and undermine incomes for others.
This panel invites papers that explore the benefits and challenges of ICT innovations for the BoP, including digital payment systems, task-sharing, delivery or ride-sharing apps, or other digital innovations. What are the terms of digital inclusion for informal actors? How are the gains distributed, and who is excluded in the process of digital restructuring of informal economic systems? Does digital inclusion promote formalization or increased informalization of work? Are new processes of contestation being unleashed among those who lose out? We encourage papers that examine the institutional ecosystems involved in digital inclusion, and those that explore how ICTs reshape informal economic access to income, decent work and social rights.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Reflection of ICT use and citizen voice in a health awareness campaign amongst informal workers in Durban's Warwick Market, South Africa
This paper is a reflection on an ICT citizen engagement tool used for government accountability amongst informal traders in seeking better sanitation and public health services in their workplace within one of the largest informal markets in sub-Saharan Africa.
This South African paper provides an analytical reflection of a specific micro-level ICT initiative within the 'Empowering Street Traders through Urban Disaster Risk Management' project. Information and communication technology is emerging with services and tools to enhance citizen voice and particularly within participatory structures of government. As a result, sub-populations who are generally rendered "invisible" and underserved in developing countries may be able to put to use emerging ICT mechanisms to demand public services. This project reflects on an ICT citizen engagement tool used amongst traders who seek sanitation and public health services in their workplace within one of the largest informal markets in sub-Saharan Africa. Greater ICT availability in South Africa suggests a growing possibility for citizens to hold government accountable through engagement by mobile phone and internet. Citizen based engagement particularly of local government services can be useful initiatives to providing feedback from local communities on their public service demands. This Durban case study contributes to a paucity of literature on citizen - government engagement via ICTs amongst those in the marginalised informal economy. The study focuses on the re-imagination of the work space for informal traders and the new practices of negotiation opened up by this occupational health and ICT project. Ultimately, the project was built on the premise that ICTs can change the way we imagine citizen engagement with government.
Informal livelihoods and digital connections: inclusion or adverse incorporation?
This paper considers how digital inclusion affects informal livelihoods in contemporary Africa. Focusing on the cases of mobile money and impact outsourcing, it explores how ICTs reshape economic opportunity in ways that intensify as well alleviate powerlessness and vulnerability.
Until recently, information and communications technologies (ICTs) and African informal economies lay at opposite ends of the development spectrum. Since the turn of the millennium, however, rapid technical and infrastructural change have brought ICTs within reach of workers and consumers at the bottom of the pyramid (BoP). Commentators on the implications of ICTs for informal economic inclusion, especially in Africa, are most struck by their remarkable potential for inclusion in markets, services and jobs. ICTs create greater visibility, political recognition and self-organization of informal activities, promoting more inclusive planning and policy making.
Yet assessing the benefits of ICTs for the informal economy requires that we look beyond the hype to consider unintended side effects that may weaken the sustainability of informal livelihoods. Where terms of digital inclusion fail to recognize livelihood needs, organizational systems, economic aspirations, and social or economic constraints, ICTs may intensify rather than reduce the economic vulnerability of informal actors. Digital connections do not only disrupt formal economies, but can also cross-cut pre-existing structures and routines in the informal economy, bypassing and disadvantaging some precarious workers even as they include others.
Focusing on the cases of mobile money and impact outsourcing, this paper considers how ICTs reshape informal livelihoods, creating disconnections as well as connections, and intensifying as well alleviating powerlessness. Through a clearer assessment of the tensions between informal economic needs and digital solutions, this paper examines the key factors necessary for ICTs to support the creation of sustainable livelihoods for workers in the informal economy.
Inclusive innovation intermediaries: exploring their roles in a case of inclusive digital innovation in East Africa
This paper takes an innovation systems perspective on digital inclusion efforts aimed at micro and small enterprises in East Africa. It examines the role of innovation intermediaries focused on tackling the digital divide.
Innovation is considered a driver of development, yet various groups of people face inequalities that prevent them from realizing its development benefits. Consequently, inclusive innovation is increasingly being recognized as a pathway to serving the aspirations and needs of those who are often marginalized from mainstream innovation. A robust body of literature exists on roles played by intermediaries — actors who foster innovation in advanced economies. There is also growing understanding of intermediaries working with the innovation systems of lower income and emerging economies. Much less is known about intermediaries who foster inclusive innovation in lower economies. This paper seeks to contribute to this knowledge gap by exploring the roles played by inclusive innovation intermediaries and the impact of those roles on inclusion. It presents findings of a case study examining inclusive digital innovation aimed at fostering the inclusion of micro and small women entrepreneurs within the digital economy in East Africa. Findings suggest that within these contexts, intermediary roles aimed at inclusive innovation are much more fluid than in other contexts, and that intermediaries take on a more in-depth category of innovation roles than in advanced economies. Through an examination of inclusive innovation intermediary roles, the paper sheds light on the innovation for development discourse and offers recommendations for actors working to tackle the digital divide.
New routes to cashlessness? ICTs, demonetisation, and the Indian informal economy
We investigate the potential of ICTs to integrate informal street sellers in India into a "cashless" system, prospected by the recent demonetisation of currency. Based on data collected in Bangalore, we find several constraints to the ability of ICTs to cope with the backlash of demonetisation.
On 8 November 2016, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced, in a live televised address to the nation, that 500- and 1000-rupee notes in use by then would cease to be legal tender on midnight the same day. In the immediate aftermath of what quickly became known as "demonetisation", government narratives asserted that the use of ICTs would mitigate the backlash of the move on actors operating in the informal economy, who conduct most of their transactions in cash. Mobile-based digital wallets and biometric technologies, obtained through the national Aadhaar database, were framed as the way for informal economic actors to shift to a formalised transaction system.
This paper seeks to illuminate the extent to, and ways how, ICTs allow informal street sellers in India to enter the post-demonetisation "cashless" economy. In the aftermath of demonetisation, we collected narrative and observational data on informal street sellers in the city of Bangalore, seeking to understand their use of ICTs to navigate the new cashless scenario. We found that biometric authentication has affordances (e.g. lowering barriers to formal banking) which have been heightened by demonetisation. However, the ability of ICTs to help informal sellers navigate the new system is constrained by issues of technology ownership, access to informational networks, and infrastructural readiness for cashless transactions. As a result, the financial practices of informal street sellers do not seem to be easily reshaped by ICTs, and digitality should hence be supplemented by other means to reduce the humanitarian backlash of the move.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.