Our work extends to social initiatives which represent proactive approaches to disseminate research and apply it in practice. In concert with a non-profit organization, the Marketplace Literacy Project, we have developed nutrition education materials currently being used in the state of Illinois and developed a unique marketplace literacy program in India. Much previous work in research and practice has focused on market access and financial resources (such as microloans), elements that are critical to enable individuals living in subsistence to engage in marketplaces as buyers and sellers.

We focus on the third key element that has not been addressed in research and practice, marketplace literacy. We have developed a consumer and entrepreneurial literacy program based on our research that can empower individuals living in subsistence to participate in the marketplace and engage in mutually beneficial exchanges. A book published by Springer in an education series in alliance with UNESCO documents our research-based approach. After several years of offering and customizing our program, it is currently being adopted by several large non-profit organizations that provide a variety of services to hundreds of villages in India.

In connection with the outreach and engagement initiatives for the College of Business, we teach marketplace literacy around the world. These programs are being implemented through our partners as well as through Entrepreneurs Without Borders, a student organization. Unique to such outreach and engagement is a focus on low-income contexts around the world in terms of teaching business related content in subsistence marketplaces as a means to alleviate poverty. The geographic foci of these efforts are in locations specified below.


ArgentinaMarketplace literacy in Argentina

In Argentina, Francisco Seufferheld and Jeannine Koninckx combine marketplace education classes with family health and disease prevention education for people in rural villages near Mendoza City. They typically teach large groups of women and children, with mothers assisting in the classroom. Because Jeannine is a dentist, she provides free dental care to participants and their children at the end of each lesson. In the short time since the program began, some women have been motivated to start their own businesses. Two successful cases include one who designs decorative items made from recycled materials, and another who has begun a consulting service for women in need.


HondurasLuis  Chavez teaches consumer and entrepreneurial literacy in Honduras.

Consumer and entrepreneurial education workshops are being piloted in a new program in Honduras. The instructor, Luis Chavez, was a student in Madhu Viswanathan’s recent Coursera course on Subsistence Marketplaces and has developed this program by working closely with village communities near the city of Siguatepeque. Dozens of learners of all ages, from middle school students to the elderly, meet on Saturday afternoons when most people do not have to work. This program is still very new, but already several students have enhanced their abilities as savvy shoppers and begun to develop ideas for new business ventures.



Our work in Illinois through the Illinois Marketplace and Maker Literacy Program (IMMLP) centers around three locations: Champaign-Urbana, Chicago, and Southern Illinois.

Students working in groups in a Chicago lessonPrograms in the Western and Southern Chicago suburbs have focused on marketplace and maker literacy workshops led by Philip Fairweather. Students are exposed to 3-D printing and the basics of maker literacy, then encouraged to think of a business they could start in that field. This leads into entrepreneurial education and the basics of starting a business, and how to understand customers. Participants who want to take the lessons further are encouraged to take advanced entrepreneurial or manufacturing training that can help them launch a new career. They are also invited to a family college program that teaches families how to work together to build a more environmentally sustainable future.

Programs in Champaign-Urbana have centered on marketplace literacy classes at the Urbana Adult Education (UAE) Center and 3-D printing education at the Illinois MakerLab in the University of Illinois College of Business. The marketplace education classes, taught by Madhu Viswanathan and students of Entrepreneurs Without Borders, have been offered through UAE’s General Education program. They focus on consumer skills, entrepreneurship, and strategies for saving money through environmental sustainability. Aric Rindfleisch and Vishal Sachdev coordinate efforts at the Illinois MakerLab to teach hands-on 3-D printing workshops to learners of all ages throughout the Champaign-Urbana community, including youth programs for high school students and girls ages 7-10.

A young student in Southern Illinois learns about 3-D printing.Programs in Southern Illinois have been led by Ron Duncan in Anna, Vienna, and Marion, Illinois. As in Chicago, students are exposed to 3-D printing followed by lessons in consumer and entrepreneurial literacy. Students have ranged in age from junior high and high school students to adults in continuing educational programs. A Marketplace Makerspace at a mall in Marion has increased the program’s visibility. A partnership with ITG3D has allowed us to reach the prison population and at-risk high school students; another partnership with the MakerGirls is allowing student entrepreneurs to reach out to girls to encourage them to get into STEM careers.


IndiaStudents in a South Indian marketplace literacy class.

Marketplace educational programs have been offered in the city of Chennai and in several rural areas in the states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. In Chennai and in clusters of villages in Tamil Nadu, a partnership with Marketplace Literacy Communities (MLC Trust) has led to consumer and entrepreneurial education. In Tamil Nadu, the Micro Business Education (MBE) program, developed through a partnership with Madura Micro-Finance Limited (MMFL), has led to a series of video-based lessons for groups of women in rural villages. The lessons use a movie about empowerment that was produced in India for educational purposes as a platform. In Andhra Pradesh, with help from the Byrraju Foundation, we have created a series of video-based episodes that a classroom facilitator uses to stimulate group discussions and presentations by students.



A pilot program has recently been introduced in Mexico. More information about this program will be added as it develops.


TanzaniaMarketplace literacy in Tanzania

We have been working with Oikos East Africa (OEA) to teach consumer and entrepreneurial education programs in tribal Maasai communities in Tanzania. These programs have focused first on creating community-based businesses for women, then teaching consumer skills. On average there have been 25 women per sub-village unit. When repeat sessions are offered, some women come back to encourage new participants to attend and learn what they can. Many students in these programs have applied what they have learned to make their money go further and started businesses making jewelry and clothing to afford a better lifestyle for their families.

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UgandaStudents learn in a Ugandan class.

Consumer and entrepreneurial education workshops have been offered in Uganda to people in a refugee settlement in Nakivale with help from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). These workshops have been taught online via Skype by Madhu Viswanathan. This program is still very new, but some students have already benefited and begun sharing what they have learned.


Additional Outreach

Marketplace Literacy Project

Information available on the project website.


Nutrition Education Materials

Working with the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension, the research was used to develop educational materials for the Food and Nutrition Program, currently employed for the EFNEP program (Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program) in the state of Illinois. In contrast to existing nutritional education materials that are text-based and relatively abstract, we use pictorial representations and a close correspondence with marketplace interactions. The broad objective of such work is to systematically incorporate consumer literacy into adult education. The consumer context is an important arena where basic literacy skills play out in day-to-day life and the development of consumer literacy may in turn facilitate basic literacy.

Relevant publication: Viswanathan, Madhubalan, and Roland Gau (2005), “Functional Illiteracy and Nutritional Education in the United States: A Research-Based Approach to the Development of Nutritional Education Materials for Functionally Illiterate Consumers,” Journal of Macromarketing, 25, 187-201.


SusDevikiSustainable Development Wiki

The Sustainable Development Virtual Knowledge Interface (SusDeViKI) is an online journal and international community for sharing refereed educational materials that are ultimately targeted toward low-literacy learners in impoverished settings to enable sustainable development. SusDeViKI aims to serve the exploding need to share learning and usable educational content being deployed by governmental and non-governmental entities and enterprises with a social mission around the world. A common criticism of education in the realm of sustainable development is the inability to “scale” or even learn from the many innovative experiments being carried out around the world. SusDeViKI is focused on addressing this challenge by reviewing educational content as well as supporting research that is submitted to the online journal and presenting accepted content in a usable form. The larger purpose is to serve as a platform for refereed educational content that can then be used either as is or likely through customization in settings across the world.

In the Media


UN Refugee Agency

In addition to our UNHCR work in Uganda, SMI has been piloting and offering a course for UNHCR staff on Subsistence Marketplaces. Madhu Viswanathan serves on the Livelihoods Advisory Board of UNHCR.