Poor urban households in the economic 'south' deploy various livelihood activities. One of these is a Home-Based Economic Activity (HBEA), e.g. sales of home-made snacks or car maintenance. This study examines the prevalence, organisation and relevance of HBEAs in four neighbourhoods in the Caribbean cities Paramaribo (Suriname) and Port of Spain (Trinidad and Tobago). Recent economic developments in these countries diverge; Suriname recovers slowly from a crisis while Trinidad and Tobago's economy is buoyant. These economic features together with local political developments have produced distinct institutional contexts. This gives ground for a comparison between the two cities. In addition, the study discusses the relevance of currently popular policies on entrepreneurship and micro-finance. The above issues have been assessed through use of multiple quantitative and qualitative methods.
The study shows that forty percent of households in the examined neighbourhoods earn money through operating HBEAs. These are mainly operated by women and assist households in improving their livelihoods from a level of survival to a level of security. Most HBEA-operators aim at earning additional incomes and reducing vulnerability. Only a small group meets the image of the classic operator who innovates, takes risk and aims at growth and profit. The two groups organize their HBEA in very distinct ways. Differences between Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago are small. First of all economic growth has limited impact on assets and vulnerability of low-income groups. Moreover, policies aiming at stimulation of entrepreneurship such as micro-credit are relevant to classic entrepreneurs and not to the large group of security-seeking HBEA-operators.