Informal women workers’ network Wiego receives award at World Economic Forum

The organisation won the Schwab Foundation’s prize for collective social innovation at the event, taking place in Davos

Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (Wiego), a global network supporting women in the informal economy, has been recognised at the 2023 Schwab Foundation Social Innovation Awards.

The awards, handed out at the World Economic Forum (WEF) gathering in Davos, recognised 16 organisations, including Wiego, which received the foundation’s award for Collective Social Innovation, a new accolade introduced to recognise the growing importance of collaboration in nurturing grassroots action.

A sister organisation to the WEF, the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship was set up by Hilde Schwab and her husband Klaus, executive chair of the WEF – which is meeting in Davos from 16 to 20 January under the theme “Cooperation in a fragmented world”.

“This network of leaders has made huge progress in tackling entrenched challenges in sustainability and consumption, health and education, rural development, and youth training,” said Hilde Schwab, chair and co-founder, Schwab, and François Bonnici, director of Schwab and head of social innovation at the WEF.

Wiego is being represented collectively as an awardee by its international coordinator Dr Sally Roever, Janhavi Dave – international coordinator of HomeNet International – and Lorraine Sibanda – president, StreetNet International. On winning the award means, Wiego will join Schwab’s global community of 435 social innovators operating in more than 190 countries, and be integrated into the WEF’s meetings and initiatives for a three-year period.

Dr Roever said: “At Wiego, we advocate for fairer incomes and better working conditions for workers in the informal economy: the people who feed our cities, stitch our garments, keep waste out of our oceans and care for our young and old. We bring these workers and their democratic, representative organisations together with researchers, statisticians and policymakers to take collective action to change the systems that fail to see them and fail to value them.

 “They are the women and men who are driving the future of work: whether it’s a domestic worker negotiating an international labour standard to protect their rights or women who stitch garments in their homes making sure they are counted in government statistics. Collective innovation for us is about rewriting the rules of the game. That’s the future of work we need to be talking about.”

Janhavi Dave added: “We are dedicated to improving the working conditions, rights, protection, economic opportunities and voice of all the working poor, particularly women, in informal employment”.

Lorraine Sibanda, president of StreetNet, also a member of Wiego, said that informal employment is an important contributor towards any country’s economy. “The informal economy endeavours,“ she says. “Support them. Grow them. And bring them to formality, so they can contribute in a more sustainable manner towards the economy.”

Wiego sees co-operatives as an important form of democratic organisation and solidarity for informal workers, who come together to gain access to services and markets and to engage in collective negotiations. It works with, supports and conducts research on co-operatives in many regions, including waste picker co-operatives in Brazil and women’s co-operatives in India.

The WEF event was also attended by Mirai Chatterjee, chair of India’s Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), who shared lessons to delegates from the co-op federation’s work to organise women in the informal economy – and tweeted her congratulations to WIego.

With thanks to

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