Foundation Scholar Susannah Cunningham


The Chicago Chapter is sponsoring Susannah Cunningham to make a circumnavigation in 2005. Susannah's ambitious research is to determine in what ways non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are working to formalize informal markets in developing countries. This is a critical issue because the informal, unregulated economy in many developing countries employs one-third or so of the total labor force. How can NGOs help these countries without understanding one of the most dynamic parts of the economy? A fuller explanation of Susannah's research topic is given below.


Itinerary of Circumnavigation in 2005

Susannah's itinerary includes research in Morocco, Egypt, India, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama, Guatemala, and Mexico. To see the details of her 5 month journey, click here.


Dispatches from Circumnavigation

You can follow Susannah's adventures by reading her dispatches on the web pages that Northwestern University set-up for her. Click here to read Susannah's dispatches on her circumnavigation.


Background on Susannah

Susannah Cunningham is a junior at Northwestern University, double majoring in political science and theatre. She transferred to Northwestern's Communications school after her freshman year from Mount Holyoke College, a women's institution in Massachusetts, where her interest in informal economies began.

Born in Houston, Texas she and her two older siblings were raised by her mother, an English professor, and her father, a social worker. Susannah hopes to continue her studies in political economy and informal markets with possibly a Fulbright Scholarship and graduate school.


Susannah's Research Topic

The field of Susannah's travel-research will be in informal markets unregistered, unregulated, and non-tax-paying economies that illicitly produce and distribute products that are legal, such as street venders or craft makers in rural areas. Undoubtedly, informal markets exist in all countries, whether advanced or developing, and provide unmet services in an economy. However, inflated informal economies are often a sign of governmental failures.

Significant numbers of laborers turning to the informal sector often implies a lack of faith in the political system and disincentives to participation in a formal economy that pays taxes to the ineffectual government. In uncertain terms, people are declaring that the government has failed its duty to justify revenue extraction by providing sufficient social services.

Despite informal marketís ability to fulfill the employment vacuum left by inadequate administration, long-term domination of unregulated markets may provide obstacles to development, e.g., by discouraging foreign direct investment.

With non-governmental organizations playing a growing and influential role in political and economic discourse all over the world, Susannah will research -- through onsite observation and interviews -- these organizations' work towards enfranchising economically marginalized populations in developing countries. Essentially, her research asks: in what ways are non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working to formalize informal markets in developing countries?


Susannah Comments on the Circumnavigators Grant

These comments were published by Foundation President Gregory Rider in December 2005: Because of the grant, ... all the members of the Circumnavigators Club ... have played a wonderful role in my life. With the grant, I have travelled to Morocco, Egypt, Uganda, Rwanda, India, El Salvador, now Costa Rica, tomorrow Ecuador, and eventually to Panama, Guatemala, and Mexico. Although keeping a journal has helped decipher my experiences ... I have no doubt that the impact of my travels and research is more incredible than I realize. Thank you and the Circumnavigators Club Foundation.