Marketplace Literacy Project
Program Type:Non-Profit Organization
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The Marketplace Literacy Project pursues its mission through educational programs. The curriculum was developed on the basis of rigorous, qualitative research of low-literate, low-income buyers and sellers for the past two decades. Using this research as a basis, a curriculum for entrepreneurial and consumer literacy was developed, which culminated in an educational program that was pilot–tested in June 2003. The curriculum was the result of extensive discussion among the members of a research team who combine nearly 2 decades of experience in business education and consumer research at a leading university in the US, and over 3 decades of experience in social work and community development organizations in urban and rural Tamil Nadu. Basic research and curriculum development was conducted by Madhu Viswanathan in his individual capacity as an academic researcher. The program is documented in a book, Enabling Consumer and Entrepreneurial Literacy in Subsistence Marketplaces: Research-Based Education Across Literacy and Resource Barriers (2008), Springer. Different programs were cocreated in different geographies using a bottom-up approach and field teams with deep understanding of the contexts.\
The Founder: Professor Madhu Viswanathan
Madhu Viswanathan is the Diane and Steven Miller Professor in Business at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he has been on the faculty since 1990. He earned a B. Tech in Mechanical Engineering (Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, India, 1985), and a PhD in Marketing (University of Minnesota, 1990). His research programs are in two areas; measurement and research methodology, and literacy, poverty, and subsistence marketplace behaviors. He has authored books in both areas: Measurement Error and Research Design (Sage, 2005), and Enabling Consumer and Entrepreneurial Literacy in Subsistence Marketplaces(Springer, 2008, in alliance with UNESCO). His research on subsistence marketplaces takes a micro-level approach to gain bottom-up understanding of life circumstances and buyer, seller, and marketplace behaviors. This approach should be distinguished from macro-level economic approaches, and mid-level business strategy approaches such as base of the pyramid (BOP) research This perspective aims to enable subsistence marketplaces to move toward being ecologically, economically, and socially sustainable marketplaces. He directs the Subsistence Marketplaces Initiative (www.business.illinois.edu/subsistence) and has created unique synergies between research, teaching, and social initiatives.
Professor Viswanathan also teaches courses on research methods and on subsistence and sustainability. A yearlong, one-of-a-kind inter-disciplinary graduate-level course with students from engineering, business and other areas focuses on sustainable product and market development for subsistence marketplaces and involves an international immersion experience. Other teaching initiatives include a module for all (approximately 600) incoming undergraduate business majors on developing sustainable businesses for subsistence marketplaces, and graduate and undergraduate level courses on sustainable business enterprises. These teaching innovations aim to challenge students to appreciate diverse perspectives across the globe and imagine circumstances beyond one’s immediate experience, while working toward a better world.
Professor Viswanathan is also the founder of the Marketplace Literacy Program. Previous work in research and practice has focused on market access and financial resources (e.g., microlending); two important elements that enable impoverished individuals to participate in the marketplace. This educational program focuses on a third important element that has not been emphasized in research and practice - marketplace literacy. He received the Social Entrepreneurship Award from the University of Illinois and Champaign County Economic Development and the International Humanitarian Award from the Cities of Champaign and Urbana in 2008. He received the Bharat Gaurav (India Pride) Award from the India International Friendship Society in Delhi, India, in 2010, given to people of Indian origin around the world for outstanding leadership in their fields. He received the College of Business Alumni Association Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching in 2010.