By Jill Akara Bosro, Manager, Help Resources
In 2017 Pacific Peoples’ Partnership (PPP) and HELP-Resources (HELP-R) planned a three-year project to demonstrate effective, district-level implementation of the Papua New Guinea’s Informal Economy Act, and associated government policy and strategy. Funded by the Commonwealth Foundation (CF), this pilot project aims to facilitate education, information and training that will motivate and support emerging vendors organisations and their leaders to find their collective voice while influence planning and budgeting for effective development.
With a population of about 25,000, Wewak town has at least fifteen ‘markets’ and many more informal, street trading hubs of various sizes, operating under different regimes. Only one is managed by local government. Every day, an estimated three to five thousand women are trading under challenging conditions. While some women vendors can build viable, small enterprises, most live precariously from day to day, on small incomes derived from informal trade as many have done for decades. Wewak’s main market has 1,000-1,500 women vendors’ daily – 96% are female or children.
In October 2018 HELP-R with a team of vendors and local community development leaders, completed a baseline survey across Wewak’s only government-managed market and twelve more informal markets. A comprehensive first year report by Elizabeth (Sabet) Cox appeared in the March 2019 edition of Pasifik Currents.
In a new development at the start of Year 2, PNG’s national government decided to include the East Sepik Province in a National Audit of the Informal Economy (IE), and UN Women announced that it will launch a market-based project in another rural district of East Sepik Province, complementary to the HELP Resources project. In addition to the government statistical audits and the UN’s large-scale project scoping, HELP-R’s more in-depth qualitative baseline survey brought a strong gender analysis and rights framework that informs and complements these new efforts to roll out government IE policy.
The findings were presented to key stakeholders followed-up several weeks later with a well moderated seminar with senior government officials and newly elected mayor and local government councilors, vendors leaders, and representatives of local police, public health and commerce. Representatives of both government and vendors had an opportunity to dialogue and made important “in principle” commitments to work together for change.
There were slight delays due to local government elections, and a change of key personnel in the Wewak Town Commission. But interest and commitment to develop structures and processes for the constructive engagement of organised vendors and local government have been shared publicly with an event to formalize this agreement – re-scheduled to the first quarter of year 3 of the Project.
In Year 2, HELP-R has focused more on women vendors ‘education and organisation for constructive engagement with local government. This is based on its comparative advantage in working with women vendors, informing and educating them through a range of popular education strategies and tools.
Throughout the second half of year 2, HELP-R has worked intensively with:
- the local government as duty bearers and administering authority of the PNG Informal Economy policy and law.
- the emerging vendors’ organisation representing the collective voice of citizens active in the informal economy and rights holders under the IE law and PNG Constitution
Both government officials on the ‘supply side’ and market and street vendors on the ‘demand side’, have been supported to learn about PNG Informal economy policy and legislative framework, as well as the (Vendors) Voice strategy of government, launched in 2018, which is directly aligned with the HELP-R Vendors Voice project. Both government and vendors have started to see a way forward.
The baseline survey was extended to include the rural local government areas of Wewak District. Field trips were arranged, and political and practical support was provided by the office of the Governor of the East Sepik. Throughout May and June 2019, a 2-woman research team re-visited the 12 markets originally covered, plus an additional 24 markets, covering all wards and Local Governments in Wewak District. They observed and documented the history, operations, strengths and challenges of these diverse markets and trading hubs. The field researchers met and talked to local community leaders about the social and economic significance of their trade and the trends they had observed over the years. They recorded responses and testimonies and statements by vendors. These were transcribed to give a snapshot situational analysis of 37 markets in Wewak District. HELP-R team has continued to visit and reach out to the rural vendors so that their Voice is not silenced by that of urban vendors and that their specific issues will be recognized. The baseline survey report was compiled in June and published locally in July.
HELP-R has recently been invited by UN Women to bid for a tender to provide capacity development and training for vendors’ organisations in 2020. This would be a welcome supplement to the limited project funds available to strengthen vendors organisations.
Breaking news: HELP-R has just provided PPP with a COVID market impact update, see this here.
Founded in 1999, HELP Resources is currently led by a younger generation of development workers with a mission to work with local government and civil society to deliver more effectively on laws, policies and strategies for social protection and development. You may visit the HELP Resources Facebook page, to follow the project’s progress. All photos are submitted by Help-R
Based in London, England, the Commonwealth Foundation, is the Commonwealth’s agency for civil society, supporting participation in democracy and development. It supports ‘civic voices’ to act together and influence the institutions that shape people’s lives.