In its August-September edition, Central Illinois Business captured the essence of Madhu Viswanathan’s seventh Subsistence Marketplace Conference, which took place from June 22-24 at the I Hotel in Champaign.
The professor of Business Administration and Diane & Steven N. Miller Centennial Chair at Gies College of Business created the biannual conference 15 years ago. This year’s theme centered on empathy, and conducted various scenarios in which attendees learned the difficulties posed through a life in poverty.
This concept strikes at the heart of Viswanathan’s research, which focuses primarily on literacy, poverty, and marketplace practices.
“The idea (of the subsistence marketplace) is we start at the micro level and not at the macro level. It’s ‘How do they think, feel, and relate?’” Viswanathan told Central Illinois Business.
The conference delivered on this concept through a series of sessions, which included:
- A face-to-face poverty simulation held by University of Illinois extension educator Ron Duncan, who serves Alexander, Johnson, Massac, Pulaski, and Union counties in southern Illinois. Duncan’s simulator assigned attendees to low-income families to deal with specific scenarios.
- A technology and innovations session led by Edward Baars, of the research organization IITA, presented the N2Africa project. Funded through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, this effort improved grain legume production in Tanzania through the use of radio and SMS (a text-messaging service).
- Product innovation in subsistence marketplaces in India with three-wheelers designed for multiple purposes, according to Gurpreet Kaur of Government PG College.
- Social innovations such as the use of drones to “accurately document the Amazon rainforest’s deforestation,” as presented by Myrtille Danse of Hivos, a development aid organization.
- Digital Green’s Rikin Gandhi discussion about “an Uber-like app” that connects farmers to transportation for their crops, resulting in cost reduction.
- A design thinking activity from Niels Bilou of Humanos, which delved into the needs and aspirations of the refugee crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa.
- A photo essay exercise, led by Ronika Chakrabarti of Lancaster University, through which attendees told a story about either northern India or Cairo, IL.
- The use of imagery and video by Gies Business’ Marty Hodges and Killivalavan Solai, of the Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning, brought viewers into the center of life in Tanzania.