Glen Robbins

Head of Research: African Trade and Industrialisation

Brief profile:

Glen Robbins is TWIMS’ resident specialist in trade and industry matters (with a focus on the African continent). Alongside this he also works independently as a specialist economic development researcher/consultant to public, private and multi-lateral organisations, and has academic research associations with a number of South African universities. He brings over twenty-five years’ experience to this work, including roles at a senior level in government (in economic development), as an academic researcher and lecturer, and as a specialist consultant, both in South Africa and internationally. His experience spanned matters relating to economic analysis, employment, urban development, informal employment, industrial development, urban governance and public finance and spending.

In the mid 1990s Mr Robbins was part of the establishment team of the first economic development unit in a South African city (Durban Metro Council). During his time in the Durban Metro Council he had responsibility for overseeing an annual metropolitan regeneration budget of R250-350m. In subsequent work, with a number of multi-lateral organisations, he contributed to international programmes to support urban economic development in cities of the developing world. In recent years he had undertaken a number of assignments as an expert advisor for a range of multi-lateral organisations. Including with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). He has also served as a director on the boards of a number of organisations.

Contact Glen


Phone: +27 (0)31 767 5202

Glen Robbins’ research experience has included a wide range of projects across a range of interest areas, including those with both qualitative and quantitative approaches. He continues to collaborate in interdisciplinary teams on research in the fields noted above. In line with his current research interests he is also eager to encourage MBA students to explore topics related to the following:

  • Urban development factors and their influence on the performance of economic clusters/value chains/sectors (including various local or regional strategies);
  • Experiences of South African firms (especially for manufacturing firms/their associated value chains) with respect to trade/investment in the African continent (beyond South Africa); and
  • South African trade and industry policy at the national or sub-national level.


  • BSocSci (University of Natal)
  • Honours in Industrial & Labour Studies (University of Natal)
  • MPhil in Development Studies (University of Sussex)

Selected published research (articles/ conference papers/ book chapters/ books):

Morris, M & Robbins, G. (2006), “The role of government in creating an enabling environment for inter-firm cluster co-operation: Policy lessons from South Africa”, in Oyelaran-Oyeyinka, B & McCormick, D, Industrial clusters and innovation systems in Africa: Institutions, markets, and policy. pp. 243-268.  Tokyo: United Nations University Press.

Robbins, G. (2010). Beyond local economic development? Exploring municipality-supported job creation in a South African city. Development Southern Africa, 27 (4), 531-546.

Robbins, G, (2013). Mining FDI and urban economies in sub-Saharan Africa: Exploring the possible linkages. Local Economy, 28 (2), 158-169.

Robbins G, (2015). The Dube TradePort-King Shaka International Airport mega-project: Exploring impacts in the context of multi-scalar governance processes. Habitat International, 45. 196-204.

Robbins, G & Perkins, D. (2012). Mining FDI and Infrastructure Development on Africa’s East Coast: Examining the recent experience of Tanzania and Mozambique. Journal of International Development, 24 (2), 220-236.

Robbins G & Velia M. (2019). In with the new and out with the old: Industrial estates and the prospects of manufacturing in Durban, South Africa. Urban Forum, 30 (1), 35-55.

Robbins G & Velia M, (2013). Chapter 10: From time definite to time critical? Challenges facing airfreight and port growth in Durban. In Hall PV and Hesse M, (Eds.) Cities, Regions and Flows. pp. 171-187. Abingdon: Routledge.

Scott, D, Sutherland, C, Robbins, G. (2018). Sudafrica. Mecanismos de control y regimen di partido hegimonico. In Isunza Vera, E & Gurza Lavalle, A (Eds). Conteroles democraticos no electoralesa y regimens de rendicion de cuentas en el Sur Global. pp. 195-242. Oxford: Peter Lang.

Scott, D, Sutherland, C, Sim, V and Robbins, G, (2015). Pro-Growth Challenges to Sustainability in South Africa. Chapter in Hansen, A and Wethal, U (Eds.). Emerging Economies and Challenges to Sustainability. pp. 204-217. Abingdon: Routledge.

Velia M, Robbins G & Tsedu, M, (2014). Chapter 6. Transnational Corporations and National Systems of Innovation: The Case of South Africa. In José Cassiolato, Graziela Zucoloto, Dinesh Abrol, and Liu Xielin (Eds.), Transnational Corporations and Local Innovation. pp. 336-398. New Delhi: Routledge/IDRC.


Research assignments and consulting involvement:

Selected recent academic research projects

  • Multi-city international study of urban mega projects and urban finance dynamics.
  • An exploration of dynamics in the South African wind energy value chain.
  • Analysis of twenty years of fiscal changes in the City of Cape Town.
  • An investigation into the skills-related ecosystem in the maritime sector in Durban.

Selected recent consulting projects

  • Report on inclusive urban economic development (international multi-lateral organization).
  • Special Economic Zones – strategic analysis of South Africa’s framework for SEZs (a forum of leading South African CEOs).
  • The grape sector value chain and options for economic diversification in Tanzania (international multi-lateral organization).
  • Assessment of regional value chains (international multi-lateral organization).

Significant Achievements:

Glen Robbins has held Honorary Research Fellow appointments at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the Durban University of Technology. He has previously served on the Statistics Council of Statistics South Africa, the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Planning Commission and the eThekwini City Planning Commission.