Taking charge: Empowering subsistence-level entrepreneurs to succeed

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Pollay Prize winner says that if communities at subsistence-level fully understood their marketplace, they could become more ecologically, economically and socially sustainable.

Dr. Madhu Viswanathan, renowned for his pioneering research on impoverished marketplace behaviours, is winner of the Sauder School of Business’s 2011 Richard W. Pollay Prize honouring intellectual excellence in research on marketing in the public interest.

In a March 30 public lecture titled, “Taking Charge: Empowering Subsistence-level Entrepreneurs to Succeed,” the Professor of Business Administration at the University of Illinois, defined marketplace literacy and its importance to subsistence-level communities.

Dr. Viswanathan’s micro-level approach has revealed that for individuals at subsistence levels to participate in the marketplace, they need not only access to the markets and financial resources, but also marketplace literacy.

“By understanding their own marketplace environment and being equipped with self-confidence, awareness of their rights and abilities, subsistence consumers and entrepreneurs can successfully maximize their potential,” he said.

Dr. Viswanathan’s presentation recounted what his team have learnt from their extensive research in India and the US, and how they have used it to create social initiatives and classroom teachings on sustainable business.

One such initiative is the Marketplace Literacy Project, a non-profit he founded in 2003, that empowers the poor. Through on-the-ground workshops and multi-media-based education, Dr. Viswanathan and his team are now scaling this initiative to reach subsistence communities worldwide.

About Professor Madhu Viswanathan

Dr. Madhu Viswanathan is Professor of Business Administration at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he joined the faculty in 1990. His research programs cover two areas: measurement and methodology; and literacy, poverty and subsistence marketplace behaviours. Renowned for his expertise in these fields, he has authored two books: Measurement Error and Research Design (2005), and Enabling Consumer and Entrepreneurial Literacy in Subsistence Marketplaces (2008). Dr. Viswanathan holds a PhD in Marketing from the University of Minnesota.

The recipient of multiple awards, Dr. Viswanathan teaches courses at all levels on research methods as well as subsistence and sustainability. His module on sustainable product and market development for subsistence marketplaces was ranked as one of the top ten entrepreneurship courses by Inc. Magazine in 2011.

About the Richard W. Pollay Prize

Awarded annually by the Sauder School of Business at UBC, the Pollay Prize is named for Sauder Professor Emeritus Richard Pollay in honour of his contributions as a scholar, teacher and advocate in the areas of marketing and advertising in the public interest.