Marketplace Literacy Project

The mission of this non-profit organization is to enable marketplace literacy among low-literate, low-income individuals through educational programs and through dissemination of educational materials to improve the practices of businesses, governments, not-for-profit organizations, and educators.  Whereas microfinancing and vocational literacy have been emphasized in recent decades, our emphasis on generic consumer and entrepreneurial literacy supplements these very important efforts in the economic realm and addresses a central need. 

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What is marketplace literacy?

Previous work has focused on at least two key elements that individuals living in subsistence need to participate in marketplaces, financial resources (e.g., microfinancing) and market access.  Marketplace literacy is the third key element, designed based on pioneering research aimed at understanding life circumstances and marketplaces in subsistence contexts in urban and rural parts of South India.  This research was as a basis for developing a consumer and entrepreneurial literacy educational program which assumes that the audience cannot read or write ( 
This program uses the “know-why” or an understanding of marketplaces as a basis for the know-how of being an informed buyer or seller.  Despite the difficulties with abstract thinking that low-literate individuals may experience, such education enables deeper understanding of marketplaces by leveraging the social skills that participants bring to the program and relating educational content back to their lived experiences.  The program uses a variety of methods such as picture sorting, simulated shopping, and role plays.  Such understanding can enable individuals to place themselves on a path to lifelong learning.  The program innovates in terms of the content as well as the delivery method, covering concepts using picture sortings, role plays, and so on, that tap into people's lived experiences (Video introduction at , Powerpoint slides at ).  Topics covered range from consumer skills to choosing an enterprise to start and being customer oriented. 
The approach is documented in a book "Enabling Consumer and Entrepreneurial Literacy in Subsistence Marketplaces” by Springer in an education series in alliance with UNESCO ( ). This book describes research on low-literate, poor buyers and sellers in subsistence marketplaces, the consequent development of our innovative marketplace literacy educational program that enables consumer and entrepreneurial literacy, and implications of the research and the educational program for business, education, and social enterprise.  The program has also been described in press outlets such as the Wall Street Journal (

The first time an MLP program was offered, a woman stood up and said that it had educated not just her but her entire family. Women spoke of pooling resources to buy products wholesale, checking and returning products like expired medicine, starting different types of businesses, expanding existing businesses, serving customers politely, and even adhering to details such as not using plastic for environmental reasons. Women in villages spoke of taking charge of household purchases from their husbands and negotiating with local shopkeepers.  In turn, shopkeepers reportedly identified women right away as those with marketplace literacy training and said they would give them a good deal!  The savings from being informed consumers has been immediate, and almost universal, while many families have benefited from earnings from new or expanded livelihood opportunities.  Self-confidence, social skills, awareness of rights to participate in the marketplace and to shape it while adapting to changing circumstances are the key areas of impact. The effect of such enlightenment is transformative and potentially life-long.

How does marketplace literacy education reach people?

For more than a decade, MLP has influenced subsistence communities in fundamental ways that have great impact beyond simple literacy and vocational skill. Following extensive piloting and assessment, Marketplace Literacy Project - Illinois, and its partner, Marketplace Literacy Communities - India, have provided marketplace literacy education (i.e., skills, awareness of rights, and self-confidence as consumers and as entrepreneurs) to thousands ofwomen in India over the last decade and have recently piloted and/or launched similar programs in Tanzania, Uganda, Argentina and Illinois. Although the starting point was a face-to-face program, multi-media based, teacherless methods have been designed and used for wider deployment.  Such models include a video-based approach using community-produced video episodes, depicting two women confronting challenges in the marketplace as customers and as entrepreneurs.  This facilitator-based model involves a variety of classroom exercises based on the video episodes, with appropriate multi-media support.  A similar video-based approach with an even smaller role for a facilitator emerged in a partnership with one of the largest microfinancing organizations in the world.  Using a movie where a woman empowers herself through the marketplaces as being a starting point, video-based modules were developed and successfully deployed. 14 video-based modules were designed assuming a group of women would be in a setting with a dvd player and a television and no teacher.  A teacher on the screen served to facilitate the program. 

What are the different geographic locations where we work?

In India, education is provided in Chennai and nearby rural areas in Tamil Nadu, India, through our local partner, Marketplace Literacy Communities (MLC Trust). Educational programs are used to evaluate and modify the curriculum and educational materials. Our partner organization, Marketplace Literacy Communities, based in the state of Tamil Nadu, has formed or reactivated nearly 100 self-groups of 15-20 women in different parts of Chennai, providing day-to-day support as well as marketplace literacy education. We also work in three clusters of villages in Tamil Nadu, providing marketplace literacy education to women.

In the state of Tamil Nadu, we are working with Madura Micro-Finance Limited (MMFL) to enable video based self-administered marketplace literacy education to groups of women, using a movie about empowerment produced for educational purposes as an emotional platform.  This Micro Business Education (MBE) program developed with Madura Micro Finance Limited is being continuously tested, modified, and assessed.

In the state of Andhra Pradesh, working with the Byraju Foundation, we have created video-based episodes and support materials to facilitate marketplace literacy education. This program was launched recently to a small audience after extensive piloting.

In the US, in a project with the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension, interviews with teachers and clients of nutrition education and observations of their interactions were used to develop educational materials that are currently being assessed in the state of Illinois.  In a project that combines marketplace literacy with maker literacy, support by the University of Illinois Extension and the College of Business, the Illinois Marketplace and Maker Literacy program has been launched in Chicago and Southern Illinois. 

In Tanzania, we are working with OIKOS, East Africa to provide marketplace literacy in tribal communities and in urban settings.

In Argentina, we are piloting marketplace literacy in urban and rural settings.

In Uganda, we are working in a refugee settlement with the UNHCR piloting marketplace literacy education.

Pilots of the marketplace literacy program have also been conducted by student teams in Uganda and the Dominican Republic.


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Video Introduction

What is Marketplace Literacy?


Powerpoint Slides of Marketplace Literacy with Materials

"Marketplace Literacy: A Key to Unleashing Rural Consumption and Entrepreneurship" - Wall Street Journal - September 2009

Enabling Consumer and Entrepreneurial Literacy in Subsistence Marketplaces (Springer 2008 , In alliance with UNESCO)



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