Conventional policy discourses have typically framed illicit economic activity as a law enforcement problem and a serious threat to human development. Illicit economies, for example, frequently pose clear dangers to the health and well-being of individuals and communities. They can drive corruption and failures in governance; undermine institution-building; and create hidden structures of power that further entrench crime, conflict and instability. However, for many communities living in poverty and conflict-affected areas across the globe, involvement in illicit economic activity can also be a ‘solution’ to the real problems of survival they face.

From Afghanistan and Myanmar in Asia, to Latin America and the Caribbean, and across to the Sahel and Central Africa, marginalised communities have shown remarkable resilience to crisis after crisis. Many survive not because of state protection, which may be absent or ineffective; nor because of development aid, which may at-times fail to reach certain areas. Arguably, these communities survive because of their involvement in illicit economic activities. In many cases, this is driven by structural discrimination and social exclusion. These dynamics raises difficult questions around the relationship between illicit economies, policy responses and development. How can the international community more effectively tackle the clear and obvious threats posed by illicit economies, while avoiding further harms to already marginalised communities?

The main aim of the Colloquium is thus to improve understanding of the development implications of illicit economies through a cross-disciplinary and cross-sectoral exchange. This includes discussion of the effects of policy responses and a specific focus on illicit drug economies, as one of the most important illicit value chains, as well as cross-cutting issues of gender and human rights. Key

objectives are as follows:
  • To bring together government representatives, development agencies, international organizations, NGO and academics to share different views and experiences of this topic, discuss emerging research, evidence needs, policy responses and specific challenges; and raise concerns and potential solutions;
  • To highlight new and innovative research in this area, and encourage policymakers and practitioners to consider possible implications for implementation;
  • To facilitate cross-disciplinary and cross-sectoral interaction to establish common guidelines that address the development challenges of illicit economies; and
  • To adapt and further improve development-oriented approaches to policy; building the evidence base to contribute to policy-innovations, sensitive to local development needs and realities.


Julia Buxton

Professor of Comparative Politics at the School of Public Policy, Central European University

Tom Blickman

Senior Project Officer at Transnational Institute, Amsterdam

Daniel Brombacher

Head of Project, Global Partnership on Drug Policies and Development (GPDPD), at GIZ

Allan Gillies

ESRC Global Challenges Research Fund Fellow, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Glasgow

Jonathan Goodhand

Professor in Conflict and Development Studies, SOAS

Paul Gootenberg

Distinguished Professor, and Chair of the Department of History, Stony Brook University, New York

Eric Gutierrez

Senior Adviser on Tackling Violence, Building Peace, Christian Aid

Natasha Horsfield

Coordinator of the BOND Drug Policy Group

Axel Klein

Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute

Alfred McCoy

Harrington Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Patrick Meehan

ESRC Global Challenges Research Fund Fellow, Department of Development Studies, SOAS

Luciana Pol

Senior Fellow in Security Policy and Human Rights at the Center for Legal and Social Studies, Argentina