To research his new book, "Stealth of Nations," Robert Neuwirth spent four years among street vendors, smugglers and “informal” import/export firms.

Why you should listen

In his 2012 book Stealth of Nations, Robert Neuwirth challenges conventional thinking by examining the world's informal economy close up. To do so, he spent four years living and working with street vendors and gray marketers, to capture its scope, its vigor--and its lessons. He calls it “System D” and argues that it is not a hidden economy, but a very visible, growing, effective one, fostering entrepreneurship and representing 1.8 billion jobs worldwide.

Before this, for his previous book Shadow Cities (also a TEDTalk), he spent two years exploring one of the most profound trends of our time: the mass migration of the world's population into urban shantytowns. A billion people live as squatters. Life in a favela, slum, shantytown is hard: no water, no transport, no sewage. But in the squatter cities of Rio, Nairobi, Istanbul and Mumbai, Neuwirth discovered restaurants, markets, clinics and effective forms of self-organization.

Our challenge, Neuwirth says, isn't to end squatter cities or shut down gray markets--but to engage and empower those who live and work in them.


What others say

“[Neuwirth shines] an investigative lens into areas of urban life that have seldom been described before.” — Reason magazine

Robert Neuwirth’s TED talks

Robert Neuwirth on the TED Blog
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6 fascinating talks charting informal economies

September 5, 2012

When we hear the phrase “the economy,” often the first images that pop to mind are crisp bills being printed in a government treasury, or suited traders wheeling and dealing on the floor of a stock exchange, or a mall where suburban shoppers buy T-shirts and sneakers before grabbing a Cinnabon. But as journalist Robert […]

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TEDxKibera: From a humble location comes a visionary event

August 19, 2009

On Saturday August 15, a TEDx event was held in Kibera, the largest squatter city in Africa and home to nearly a million Kenyans. Suraj Sudhakar, an Acumen Fellow, hosted the ambitious event. Sudhakar has begun several projects in low-income communities, from improving housing conditions through financial consolidation to sanitation by promotion of the Eco-toilet […]

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Quotes from Robert Neuwirth

The human spirit radiated out from the metal walls and garbage heaps to offer something no legal neighborhood could: freedom.
Robert Neuwirth
TEDGlobal 2005 • 433K views Jan 2007
Informative, Fascinating
When 20 families — 100 people or so — share a single latrine, a boy pooping on a garbage pile is perhaps no big thing.
Robert Neuwirth
TEDGlobal 2005 • 433K views Jan 2007
Informative, Fascinating
The United Street Sellers Republic — the USSR — [would be] the second-largest economy in the world after the United States.
Robert Neuwirth
TEDGlobal 2012 • 635K views Sep 2012
Informative, Persuasive