Martha (Marty) Chen
Co-Founder and International Coordinator of WIEGO
“In many developing countries, the workforce is overwhelmingly informal—and informal employment is here to stay. What is needed, most fundamentally, is a new economic paradigm: a model of a hybrid economy that embraces the traditional and the modern, the small scale and the big scale, the informal and the formal.”
Areas of Expertise
Employment, gender, informal economy, livelihoods, poverty alleviation, working poor
A renowned development scholar, Marty has steered WIEGO since its inception, turning the research, policy and action network into one of the world’s leading organizations focused on the informal economy. Her specialization includes employment, gender, and poverty with a focus on the working poor in the informal economy. Marty’s expertise is sought globally by a range of major institutions, from the European Commission and the International Labour Organization to the World Bank and the United Nations.
Marty is also a Lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and an Affiliated Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Before joining Harvard in 1987, she worked for two decades in South Asia: in Bangladesh, working with BRAC (now the world’s largest non-governmental organization) and in India, where she served as field representative for Oxfam America. She received her PhD in South Asia Regional Studies from the University of Pennsylvania.
She was awarded a high civilian award, the Padma Shri, by the Government of India in April 2011; and a Friends of Bangladesh Liberation War award by the Government of Bangladesh in December 2012.
In early 2013, Marty spent two days with a street vendor, Devi-Ben, in Ahmedabad, India. These are Marty’s reflections on that exposure visit: Urban Renewal, Heritage Sites & Urban Livelihoods: Devi-Ben, Street Vendor.
Video: Presentation at Harvard India Conference Panel: Empowering Women at the Bottom of the Pyramid: To Overcome Gender Inequality and Poverty in India (February 2016).
Video: Lunchtime Seminar with the Gender & Development and Investment Climate teams of the World Bank Group: Unleashing Women's Productive Potential to Drive Growth: Institutional Reforms, Economic Empowerment, and Women's Informal Enterprises, World Bank, Washington, D.C. (June 2014)
Video: Panel Discussion: The “World Development Report 2013: Jobs” and its Focus on Economic Rights of Informal Workers, Harvard Kennedy School, Cambridge, MA. (February 2013)
In the News
2014. Prof. Martha Chen on Informal Economies, the Working Poor and Being an ‘Activist Academic’. Academics Stand Against Poverty (ASAP) Impact Stories.
Video: Approaches to Universal Health Coverage and Occupational Health and Safety for the Informal Workforce in Developing Countries – A Workshop. US Institute of Medicine, National Academies of Science.
2012. Policy Matters: The Informal Economy Harvard Kennedy School.
2013. Ground Reality: Martha Alter Chen is a champion of forgotten women around the world. Connecticut College Magazine.
Informal Employment and Development: Patterns of Inclusion and ExclusionThe European Journal of Development Research