Spotlight Interviews with Co-operators

StreetNet International: Organizing street vendors towards formalization and economic empowerment

“Spotlight Interviews with Co-operators” is a series of interviews with co-operators from around the world with whom ILO officials have crossed paths in the course of their work on cooperatives and the wider social and solidarity economy (SSE). On this occasion, ILO interviewed Lorraine Ndlovu, President of the Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA), President of StreetNet International and a board member of Women in Informal Economy Globalizing Organizing (WIEGO).

Article | 10 février 2023

Could you tell us a bit about your background?

I was born as Lorraine Ndlovu, 9th in a family of 13 children borne by one superwoman. My dad was as super a dad - he named me Blondie after the Chic young cartoon strip character, Blondie. He did so because he was thrilled to have a baby girl after five boys, and he thought this girl was as beautiful as Blondie. For me, Blondie is my official name and Lorraine is my nickname because I met the name "Lorraine" on my first day at preschool.

I was raised in an informal economy supported home. My mother was an industrious woman who did many jobs to sustain her family. She was a skilled baker, cook, tailor, knitter, crocheter and florist among other things. I learnt all these skills from her at an early age. And yes, she dressed outstandingly well and was a stickler for etiquette, for which I am eternally grateful. My father was a skilled bricklayer who applied his trade independently. Although his work was neat and impeccable, clients rarely paid him value for his work. Some actually never paid. They took advantage of his Christian faith and Church leadership. That taught me a lesson to never to sell any goods or services for credit.

Both my parents prioritised the education of their children as an empowerment tool for a sustainable life. My siblings and I learnt English at home. Our father was an eloquent linguist who spoke 12 languages and he taught us well. My mother imparted in us, the culture of reading by reading to us when we were young. She had a collection of novels and books on etiquette, which we also grew up to read. We all frequented the local library. My brother Maxwell had an amazing talent of reading and changing his voice to suit different characters. It was a joy to listen to him when he read us stories.

My background is quite a story and difficult for me to summarise. I am a mother to one daughter, and a grandmother to two granddaughters. My first tertiary training was as a laboratory technologist specialising in Chemistry. My first job was at a travel goods manufacturing company which opened to the injustice and inequality in the world of work. It is at this stage that I joined the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions as a young worker. I was retrenched from my job and went on to teach English at a local college. Looking at the college's conditions of service through trade union lenses, I was dissatisfied and left the job to establish a grocery and food kiosk which worked well for some years. Because I had an avid interest in social sciences, education and working with children I trained as a teacher specialising in English. While at College, I became the first woman President of the Students Representative Council representing over 1,500 students. As a qualified teacher, I taught children all subjects across the primary school curriculum. I also coached pupils in athletics, ball games, music and dance as well as public speaking. When conditions of service continued to deteriorate and became deplorable, I left my teaching job in 2006 to continue selling different wares, tailoring and taking care of my mother whose health was failing until she passed away in 2007, five years after my father.

In 2007, I was elected to be the Chairperson of Women's Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ), Gwanda Chapter, a position I chose to relinquish in 2017. I did voluntary work for WCoZ and other human and women’s rights organisations, facilitating different discussions and training sessions on topical issues such as the national Constitution. I joined ZCIEA in 2007 and was the ZCIEA Gwanda Vice Chairperson from 2008 to 2010. In 2011 I was elected ZCIEA Gwanda Territorial President, a position that I relinquished in 2015 upon being elected as ZCIEA National President. In 2016, I was elected to become StreetNet's first woman President, a post to which I was re-elected in 2019. I continue to volunteer my services to both ZCIEA and StreetNet International, working towards the realisation of dignity, recognition, respect and decent work for workers in the informal economy, the majority of whom are women.

What is the Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA) about?

The Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations is a membership driven organisation, representing informal workers' associations in Zimbabwe. The organization was founded in 2002 by a group of 22 informal workers' associations organised by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. The establishment of ZCIEA was in direct response to the high number of workers who lost their formal jobs through retrenchments brought about by the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP), introduced by the Zimbabwean government in the 1990s. These workers resorted to establishing income generation projects in their homes and public spaces. Some took to street vending while others became market vendors. Harassment, lack of income security, inadequate social protection among other issues accentuated the need for a representative body with trade union values. Hence the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions established ZCIEA to provide a collective, inclusive platform for informal workers.

ZCIEA's Vision is Decent standards of living for all Zimbabweans in a stable economy. Its mission is alleviating poverty through transforming informal economy activities into mainstream activities.

ZCIEA has a 5-pillar approach which comprises of:
  • Organizing informal workers;
  • Representing informal workers and equipping them with tools and skills to represent themselves;
  • Educating training members and other informal workers on a wide range of issues which directly affect their work, rights and lives;
  • Empowerment through a variety of programmes and activities to improve members' lives and livelihoods; and
  • Lobbying and advocating with local and national governments on pertinent issues affecting informal workers.

What are the challenges and priorities of street vendors and market traders in the world?


Because they are generally excluded from labour rights, street vendors and informal workers face a myriad of challenges which include violence and harassment by law enforcement agents. Some of the forms of violence and harassment include wanton confiscation of goods and wares, beatings, arrests and extortion. Exclusion from workers' rights and social protection systems is another key challenge. This means that there is inadequate or zero access to critical needs such as healthcare. Maternity protection, and quality and affordable childcare facilities are among these deficits. Street vendors’ and market traders’ children are forced to spend the day in markets which compromises their rights on multiple levels and puts their health at risk.

Adequate workspace and proper infrastructure for marketplaces is a critical challenge for many countries Some markets are makeshift structures with neither water nor standard ablution facilities. Informal workers with disabilities struggle even more with regard to access to workspace as the markets are neither accessible nor hygienically safe for all. The Covid-19 global pandemic further complicated the life of most informal workers due to loss of opportunities to work and lack of income over a long period.


Despite all the challenges, informal workers continue to work, finding innovative and sustainable ways, relevant to their realities in dealing with the different challenges. Informal workers' priorities include persistent demands for recognition and respect for informal workers through the ratification and implementation of existing international labour standards such as ILO Convention 190 on the Elimination of Violence and harassment in the world of work. Another priority is the fast-tracking and integration of fair and just transition from the informal economy into all post- lockdown economic recovery processes, based on the provisions of the ILO Recommendation 204 on the Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy Recommendation.

Representation and bargaining power is another priority. In many ILO instruments which are relevant to informal workers (C177, C189, R202, R204), direct representation of the workers concerned is stipulated. Hence the need to prioritise the inclusion and self-representation of informal economy workers in tripartite consultation and decision making, where policies that affect their working conditions and livelihoods are designed, implemented and monitored. The global Covid-19 pandemic showed that informal workers are essential service providers but on one hand they are still not valued. One strategy of adding value to informal economy work is to promote cooperatives and other social and solidarity economy (SSE) entities. Access to quality and affordable childcare facilities for our children is another one, and SSE models could be used for those as well We need structural change which ensures access to social protection for "all in need” as per ILO Recommendation 202 “including informal economy workers”.

What do you think is the role of the social and solidarity economy in advancing the rights and improving the livelihoods of informal economy workers?

The SSE is a pathway to sustainable livelihoods as well as development because cooperatives and other SSE entities are enablers for a new model of work. Production which is redistributive and equitable through SSE entities facilitates a structured way for informal workers, as groups to collectively invest time, energy and money into collective and regulated ways of production and income which can be monitored, evaluated and safeguarded by a clear operational framework for particular cooperatives or social solidarity economic units.

Cooperatives and other SSE entities can help reduce or eliminate some forms of violence and harassment which street vendors and other informal workers struggle against on a daily basis. They can be an enabling catalyst towards sustainable, just and fair transition from the informal to formal economy towards decent work for all.