Growing Informal Cities: Mobile Entrepreneurs and Inclusive Growth in South Africa, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe

Migrant entrepreneurs are an important force in the informal economy in southern Africa, but their role is often invisible to policymakers and researchers. New research on the contributions of these migrant entrepreneurs will help to raise their profile in regional, national, and municipal policies on migration, development, and urban planning.

With low rates of formal employment in most of southern Africa, the informal economy has emerged as a major source of income and livelihoods for poor urban households. Even though migrants to and from cities in this region play a critical role in the informal economy, their importance is often underestimated and invisible to researchers and policymakers.

This project seeks to examine and profile the "hidden" role of migrant workers in the informal economy in four southern African cities: Cape Town and Johannesburg in South Africa, Maputo in Mozambique, and Harare in Zimbabwe. It aims to create a new body of knowledge about informal migrant entrepreneurs that may create positive changes in the often hostile environment in which they operate. Gender analysis will be integrated into the research.

In a larger sense, the project aims to build research and networking capacity, meet the economic growth and poverty reduction goals of governments belonging to the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and have an impact on policy implementation as it affects migration, development, and urban management.

The project will be implemented by a new Canadian-African partnership involving the Southern African Migration Program (a network of Canadian and African partners) and the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town. A maximum of eight African and three Canadian master's students will receive training as part of the project.

Allowing migrant entrepreneurs to expand and reach their full potential represents a major support to inclusive growth in the region. Expected outcomes of the research include feeding findings directly into ongoing policy processes at three different levels: regional (through the Migration Dialogue for Southern Africa), national, and municipal (through workshops in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Harare, and Maputo). Other expected outcomes include building the capacity of African researchers and senior government officials in the area of the informal economy and urbanization, as well as identifying the barriers to the growth of migrant businesses.

Project ID


Project status


Start Date

Monday, August 13, 2012

End Date

Thursday, April 30, 2015


24 months

IDRC Officer

Okwi, Paul

Total funding

CA$ 861,500


South of Sahara, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa


Employment and Growth

Project Leader

Dr Jonathan Crush


Queen's University at Kingston

Institution Country


Institution Website

Project Leader

Prof. Jonathan Crush

Project Leader

Dr Edgar Pieterse


University of Cape Town

Institution Country

South Africa

Institution Website