Small and medium-sized enterprises in fragile urban spaces

In much of the world, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the primary providers of employment and livelihoods. This is particularly true for large cities in LMICs – places that will host an increasing share of the world’s population. Many of these same cities are also affected by significant violence and insecurity.

Like individual citizens, SMEs are often victims of violence and crime, such as extortion and robbery. They may also engage in violent activities themselves, for example by collaborating with criminal organizations or laundering illicit money. 

The UrbanSME project researches the ways in which violence affects SMEs and how SMEs affect violence. It compares these dynamics in seven cities struggling with different forms of violence: Bogotá and Medellín, Colombia; San Salvador, El Salvador; Caracas, Venezuela; Beirut, Lebanon; Kampala, Uganda; and Cape Town, South Africa.

Key Questions
  • What characterizes SMEs that survive and grow in violent cities?
  • How do SMEs interact with violent actors such as criminal organizations?
  • Do SMEs make deliberate efforts to reduce violence in their cities, and if so, how? Are their efforts effective? If so, what factors enable them to be effective? 
  • How can we characterize SMEs’ relationships to violence and violent actors? And what approaches, if any, to engagement with or investment in SMEs might improve outcomes?

Check out the University of Oslo project page: “Working Through Violence: SMEs and the SDGs in Fragile Urban Spaces”

Learning Partners


Primary objectives: Identify and understand the conditions and survival strategies of SMEs in violent urban spaces, and identify and understand the effects of those strategies on violence in those urban spaces.

Secondary objectives:

  1. Develop a comparative framework to understand SME growth and their impacts on violence and stability in urban spaces.
  2. Map and understand SME strategies, capacities, and relationships and analyze how these can affect social cohesion and the rule of law, particularly after crisis events, including but not limited to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  3. Identify actionable areas for policy intervention that might empower SMEs to grow and contribute to sustainable development in ways that diminish violence.

Our People

Ben Miller

Ben Miller, Senior Associate, Responsible Business

Sarah Cechvala

Sarah Cechvala, Senior Associate