Working Through Violence; SMEs and the SDGs in Fragile Urban Spaces

Led by Benedicte Bull
Jul 2020 - Jun 2024

In much of the world, Small- and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) are the primary providers of employment and livelihoods. This is particularly true for large cities in developing countries – places that will host an increasing share of the world's population. However, many of these same cities also suffer through significant violence and insecurity.

Like citizens, SMEs are often victims of violence and crime, such as extortion and robbery. Or, they may engage in violent activities themselves, for example by collaborating with gangs or laundering illicit money. More inspirationally, SMEs can also help provide more peaceful and prosperous urban communities.

UrbanSME researches how SMEs can support sustainable livelihoods and contribute to safer and more secure cities. It compares their strategies in seven cities hosting different forms of violence: Caracas, Cape Town, Bogota, Kampala, Medellin, Beirut and San Salvador. Through surveys and grounded qualitative fieldwork we seek to learn: What characterizes SMEs that survive and thrive in violent cities? Is it the SMEs that contribute to more peaceful communities that also are able to survive and grow? Or is collaboration with violent actors a better survival strategy? Does their unique exposure to shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic make them more or less likely to engage with violent actors? And what lessons can we draw about contributions by SMEs to reduce violence across our cases?

Our main objective is to unlock the key factors that explain how and why SMEs contribute to development and how this may support or undermine security in violent urban areas. These insights will support progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially related to SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth), SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities) and SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions).

Publications

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Ganson, Brian & Kristian Hoelscher (2020) Theorising MSMEs in Contexts of Urban Violence, Journal of Illicit Economies and Development 2(2): 1–20.