Informal resilience in Congo

5 septembre 2021

A local market stall

The shock of the current health crisis has hindered growth in sub-Saharan Africa and has caused significant economic and social repercussions. Sub-Saharan Africa has lost almost a decade of progress in development and faces a risk of increasing inequalities even between countries, urban and rural areas, rich and poor, men and women.

The COVID-19 pandemic has not spared the Republic of Congo. The persistence of government response measures, in addition to an already fragile national socio-economic situation has considerably reduced the activity of several economic sectors in the country.

The informal sector, because of the great vulnerability of its actors, remains unquestionably the most affected by this crisis. Many actors have disappeared, some are resisting, and others have adapted. Statistics reveal that 88.3% of informal economic units have been unable to pay their employees during the lockdown and nearly 50% of informal economic units have reduced their activities following the introduction of the mandatory mask and physical distancing measures.

In agreement with the UNDP country office, the Acclab Congo has chosen to focus on the issues of "development of the Congolese informal sector" in particular that of the "resilience of actors in the Congolese informal sector in the face of crises." The challenge is therefore to contribute to reducing the vulnerability of actors in this sector by identifying innovative local solutions to, on the one hand, sustainably initiate their post Covid-19 recovery and, to strengthen their resilience in the face of crises on the other. These mapped solutions will then be evaluated to calibrate their operational potential before the experimental phase.

Visit to the coordinator of PCPA Congo

A key element of organizational resilience, sensemaking represents the process by which exploration work has concretely initiated the search for innovative solutions that respond to the complexity of the proposed development challenge. It began with the theoretical exploratory analysis that allowed the acceleration laboratory team to obtain, based on bibliographic research and empirical data, a draft of the problem of the resilience of actors in the informal sector in the face of crises. The first census of active stakeholders was carried out, supplemented by an inventory of some social innovations already implemented by these actors to address the problem presented.

In short, this preparatory survey led to the meeting of 12 actors grouped into five categories: development aid agencies, incubators/labs, academics, United Nations bodies and civil society. Nearly thirty-three (33) possible solutions have been identified among these stakeholders, who intervene from near and far and according to distinct approaches in the informal sector. From the provision of technological solutions for rural craftsmen to the creation of a zero-interest local credit line, to the Youth Initiatives Laboratory project, it can already be said that solutions geared to the informal sector exist and are just waiting to be developed.

It should be noted that Incubators and Labs have truly distinguished themselves from the other categories by the youth of their promoters and the innovative nature of their approach based on new information technologies and support tools aligned with modern human resources management techniques: company hosting, personal development, social engineering.

The added value of Acclab Congo will now be based on its ability to interconnect the various actors of the informal sector via collective intelligence sessions. Specifically, it will be a question of serving as a link between the needs of these vulnerable actors and the effective local solutions already existing or in the design phase.

Based on the strengths and weaknesses highlighted, the conclusions of this preparatory phase are that the Congolese informal sector is a real pool of labour with a tremendous capacity for adaptation and retraining but with enormous organizational shortcomings. These deficiencies have increased with the onset of the disease and the health crisis it has caused, significantly affecting the livelihoods of the actors. Despite a heavy and inadequate tax burden, the Congolese informal sector remains an environment with a high social impact for income-generating activities and a real source of vocational learning for young job seekers.

By Arold Akpwabot, exploration analyst UNDP Congo Acclab