TED Blog

Robert Neuwirth

“In System D, this is a store,” says Robert Neuwirth as he shows a photo of a woman sitting on a plank beside a canal in Makoko in Lagos, a booming shantytown built on stilts over the water. It’s a place where “there are no streets where there are stores to shop, and so the shop comes to you.” Another example of business synergy, global business and a business incubator? A garbage dump where local entrepreneurs congregate and create markets and services around reclaiming materials.

Neuwirth studies the informal economy. Not the illegal economy, but what he calls System D. It’s not a black market, but an open economic arena where anything is available. “There’s nothing underground about it; it’s our prejudgment that it’s underground.”

He shows a picture of Oshodi Market, in Lagos, which he calls the apotheosis of a street market. It’s a highway that is absolutely packed with stalls and…

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