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January 4-9, 2018
Chennai and Delhi, India


This is an informal description of the thinking behind the first subsistence marketplaces bottom-up immersion conference. We invite you to read and consider participating in this unique, one-of-a-kind forum.

Why is this conference unique?
This is a bottom-up immersion conference. What this means is that we emphasize field interactions. If we are truly bottom-up in the subsistence marketplaces stream, then our forums should push further and be spent in the field as well, gaining bottom-up insights.
What will happen at the conference?
We will spend much of the day in the field, then return to the city to reflect and regroup for the next day. We remain fluid in allowing ideas from the participants and insights from the field to emerge and guide the process. Our process is bottom-up in this aspect as well, but guided by much experience, which will provide appropriate top-down structure.
What else can we do?
Enjoy sightseeing, shopping, and local cuisines. Have a traditional South Indian meal off a banana leaf. Visit cultural sites. Extend your trip. Visit the Taj Mahal, the Jaipur Palace, or both.
Who makes this happen?
There is a symbiotic relationship between the Subsistence Marketplaces Initiative at the University of Illinois (an academic entity), the Marketplace Literacy Project (MLP), and the Marketplace Literacy Communities, MLP’s partner in India which works in more than 60 villages and many neighborhoods in the city of  Chennai. This is a unique model and these entities are deeply embedded in communities providing marketplace literacy education, which will enable field interactions for conference participants.
What is the process building up to the conference?
We have track chairs recruiting people.  If you are interested in being a track chair and suggest a topic, please write to us. Track chairs will be responsible for leading small groups of 4-8 people to the field with a trained translator. We envision rural and urban South India and rural North India as the venues for observations and interviews, with a period in the Fall when we realign groups based on interests and preferences. We aim for fluidity during the conference, for people to move between groups. We plan to seek initial preferences from each group as to what they want to see and with whom they want to interact – the latter ranging from individuals to households, communities, leaders/experts, and enterprises.
What this conference is NOT
This conference is not a forum for conducting research, which requires a variety of procedures and formalities. Therefore, the focus instead is on field interactions, which are intended to stimulate discussion but do not constitute the basis for any formal research.

How to Apply

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First, complete a simple form that asks the following:

·         An overview of your interests (research, education, social enterprise, business, government, other) as they relate to subsistence marketplaces.

·         An outline of how your topic enhances understanding of and well-being in subsistence marketplaces.

·         A description of how/why immersive experiences will help you develop deeper insights into your topic of interest.

·         Your prior experiences in subsistence marketplaces (if any). Note that prior experience in this area is not a requirement.

In addition to indicating your intention to participate, we will need you to complete a separate registration form to process your payment for the conference. Both forms can be found on the conference website


Conference Description

The stream of subsistence marketplaces has pioneered a unique, bottom-up approach to research, education, and practice at the intersection of poverty and marketplaces. Building on six conferences in the last decade and accompanying publications, we now initiate the first immersion conference on subsistence marketplaces. True to the bottom-up approach that characterizes subsistence marketplaces research, this new series of conferences is envisioned to take place in different continents over time, thus providing an opportunity for researchers, educators, practitioners, and students to engage directly with urban and rural subsistence marketplaces, through conversations and observations.

During the first immersion conference, organizers will enable field visits to explore urban, semi-urban, and rural subsistence communities near Chennai and Delhi. We envision submissions in the form of a statement of interests in the realm of subsistence marketplaces, that would then be discussed and explored through field visits during the conference. The organizers will work with participants to accommodate special requests to maximize immersive learning opportunities. The conference will also feature professional development workshops for junior scholars and doctoral students. The two distinct parts of the schedule, based on geographic locations, will allow for some flexibility to accommodate constraints. Details will be developed over time and the description above is tentative and subject to changes based on responses from potential participants. 

We look forward to hosting you during this unique immersive conference.


Background Information

For more than a decade, the Subsistence Marketplaces Conference Series has been a leading biennial forum for evolving and sharing research, education, and fostering best practices for social and commercial enterprises in subsistence marketplace communities.

Scholars and practitioners around the world have participated in these forums through conferences, publications, and educational initiatives, beginning with the first Subsistence Marketplaces Conference in 2006. Research by this community has appeared in a variety of outlets, sustained through a series of special issues/sections in academic journals (with more than 50 articles in conference-related special publications and many more in other outlets).

Since its origin, subsistence marketplace research has accumulated a substantial body of knowledge paralleling other approaches to poverty, such as the capabilities approach and base-of-the-pyramid research, providing unique and complementary insights.

The term “subsistence marketplaces” was deliberately coined to reflect the need to study these marketplaces across resource and literacy barriers in their own right, beyond being new markets for companies. Business and exchange happens in many different ways across the world. Such exchanges are worthy of study from the inside out as well as the outside in. The term “marketplaces” denotes this focus and emphasizes the need to understand preexisting marketplaces before designing or presuming solutions.

More information on the Subsistence Marketplaces Initiative can be found at

Madhu Viswanathan, Founder and Director

(217) 333-4550 | [log in to unmask]


Roland Gau, University of Texas, El Paso
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Jayshree Suresh, Hand in Hand Academy 
for Social Entrepreneurship

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Tejinder Sharma, Kurukshetra University
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Srinivas Venugopal, University of Vermont
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Madhu Viswanathan                                                              

Professor/Diane and Steven N. Miller Centennial Chair in Business 

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

183 Wohlers Hall, 1206 South Sixth Street, Champaign, IL 61820

Phone: 217-333-4550; Fax: 217-244-7969; email: [log in to unmask]                                    


Subsistence Marketplaces Initiative:

Non-profit website: