Creative Kampongs: Mobilising Informal Enterprise and Innovation for Economic Development in Indonesia
Principal Investigator: Professor Nicholas Phelps, University College London
Away from the world cities that comprise a large part of the stock of economic activity globally, many 'ordinary' cities of developing countries nevertheless are home to an inventiveness that is informal and as yet uncharted. In this research we propose to map the extent inventiveness across the informal businesses found in the urban villages (kampongs) in three Indonesian cities (Solo, Bandung and Semarang) to gauge: (a) the extent of innovation; (b) the nature of innovation (incremental/radical, new to individual, new to market); (c) the originators (male or female) and the origin (endogenous or adapted, business or household); (d) the impacts; and (e) the aspirations of entrepreneurs. In light of (e) we also propose to explore in outline terms the potential for these informal business ideas to be commercialized, to form part of alternative social or non-market economies, or indeed for them to be protected against such developments.
The research is important in empirical and policy terms given that the majority of enterprises across the global south are informal in status and organisation. It is important to better understand the dynamics of these informal businesses, their innovativeness and their contributions to economic development, not least in order to better tune policy interventions. This research sits at the intersection of three bodies of literature in three different subject areas – on informal business in development studies, on innovation in economics, and on urban policy and informality in human geography – that rarely have been in much dialogue. The research is important in theoretical/conceptual terms in bringing these bodies of research together.
Three research teams (P5 based at Universitas Diponegoro, Institut Technologi Bandung and NGO Kota Kita, based in Solo) will study the extent and nature of innovation among informal businesses in three Indonesian cities – Bandung, Semarang and Solo. The research design reflects our interest in the geography of informal enterprise and innovation. Surveys of individual businesses in selected industries in the study cities will pay attention to the importance of intra-urban and inter-urban location to the sustainability of informal enterprise across these three city-regions – paying attention to the role of place.
The research has begun to reveal some of the limits of official, central government creative city policies in Indonesia and we hope to show how innovation and creativity extend well beyond a narrow list of industry sectors to industries considered old or low technology. Yet, set against this, it is clear that much informal enterprise activity remains only incrementally innovative – the potential of industry in many ordinary cities may face important constraints in this regard. Moreover, attention needs to be paid to the variable relationships between the real economic geographies of economic activities, the imagined communities of kampongs and the administered spaces of local government in order to appreciate the potential of informal enterprise and better calibrate policy.