Subsistence Marketplaces Initiative

Pioneering a unique bottom-up approach to research, education and practice in low income settings


Subsistence marketplaces consist of consumer and entrepreneur communities living at a range of low income levels, and are concentrated in developing countries and regions such as Brazil, India, China, Vietnam and Sub-Saharan Africa. Additionally, many individuals in developed countries also live in subsistence. The subsistence marketplaces stream of work pioneered at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign is unique in examining the intersection of poverty and marketplaces with a bottom-up orientation. This approach is rooted in a micro-level understanding of life circumstances of consumers, entrepreneurs and communities. More



Our research program has focused on actionable research that combines interdisciplinary perspectives and bridges theory and practice. Whereas social science research has focused predominantly on literate, relatively resource-rich individuals and societies, this research examines contexts that lie across resource and literacy barriers. Specific research projects span topics such as poverty, literacy, and psychology, consumption and entrepreneurship, and marketing and management. This program has led to a book, several book chapters, and journal articles.


Our educational initiatives use the radically different context of subsistence to challenge conventional thinking and emphasize sustainable business practices. Our curricular strategy at the undergraduate, graduate, and executive levels is to introduce students to the topics of subsistence and sustainability early in the program and provide a capstone experience later in the program. 


A unique marketplace literacy educational program has been received tens of thousands of individuals in eight countries – India, USA, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Argentina, Mexico, and Honduras through the Marketplace Literacy Project, a non-profit organization founded in concert with this initiative and other partners.


We have created forums to connect a community of researchers and practitioners in this arena through conferences that bring together researchers, educators and practitioners from a variety of disciplines. We have created outlets for publication of research in this nascent area through a book and a special issue of a journal. We also sponsor campus visits by researchers and practitioners in this arena.


Madhu Viswanathan
Loyola Marymount University