Viswanathan's new book documents the experience of poverty in India.
written by Phil Ciciora
photography by Alpana Aras-King
Dr. Madhu Viswanathan has traveled the world, often taking his students with him, to learn more about how people conduct business far removed from Wall Street. For Viswanathan, teaching is as much about listening and learning as it is about lecturing.
Viswanathan, the Diane and Steven N. Miller Centennial Chair in Business at Illinois, founded and directs the Subsistence Marketplaces Initiative in the College of Business, a pioneering, bottom-up approach to the study of poverty and marketplaces for scholars and practitioners. He is also the co-author of a new book, “Voices from Subsistence Marketplaces.”
“This book is really about giving a voice to people living in subsistence marketplaces and learning about their dreams, ambitions and search for fulfillment,” said Viswanathan, “The idea is to amplify those voices, with minimal interpretation and academic theory behind it.”
The book, which was four-plus years in the making, including many back-and-forth trips to both rural and urban India for Viswanathan and his co-authors, isn’t prescriptive but is akin to a documentary.
“It’s a first-person account of the day-to-day existence of someone who grew up in poverty,” said Viswanathan, also the founder and director of the Marketplace Literacy Project, a nonprofit organization that helps enable marketplace literacy among low-literate, low-income people.
“Each of the 13 individuals we profiled in this book has shared their lives openly and passionately with us, and we are humbled by the opportunity to share their stories,” Viswanathan said. “We have met these individuals on multiple occasions and they include two of my own team members. Some of these stories were told in the sweltering heat of Chennai, amid the rolling power blackouts. Others were told to us outside small thatched huts next to sprawling rice paddies in rural Tamil Nadu. Everyone involved revisited the most painful parts of their lives in order to simply share their stories with us.”
Meet some of the men and women featured in the book