Empowering Subsistence marketplaces: Enabling inclusive and sustainable growth


We all have access to products and services, which make our lives easier. These include healthcare, education, hygiene care, taxes, movies and what not. Each of these products and services make our lives better and easier, and we have the money to pay for them. But how do people with money enough only for daily subsistence make their life easier?

Enter the friendly neighbourhood entrepreneur. This entrepreneur is NOT the typical suave person fluent in English, with a techie degree. Instead he is the local vegetable seller, or the kirana shop owner, who successfully setup his own venture for sustenance. These smallest of small enterprises usually face many challenges everyday, which limit the growth prospects of the entrepreneur. There are so many such entrepreneurs with only ambition as their resource, that it can create an explosion of revenue generation in the country, resulting in much better living standards for many more people.

This is where Marketplace literacy comes in!

If we could somehow provide resources to these entrepreneurs to ‘manage’ their organizations better, they will in-turn end up providing great solutions to the local market, and generate value both for themselves and the society.

Research is going on in this field to find out methods to provide resources to subsistence marketplaces. These resources include better understanding of market dynamics, management techniques and best practices to help them extract more out of the resources at their hand.

One such initiative by Microsoft is to “understand the ways in which rural and urban low-income households access and use financial services from formal and informal providers, including microfinance institutions”. This project is trying to create a technology tool to ease the process of record management, which will reduce many issues with the existing micro-finance and other lending services used by the subsistence marketplaces.

Another approach to helping subsistence marketplaces is through the NGOs. An organization called Udyogini is helping women be an integral part of the business cycle of their communities. This project approaches two major aspects of the subsistence marketplace: Gender inclusivity and marketplace literacy. If you read Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, you’d notice that he supports lending to (empowering) women for greater financial and social impact on the society.

A third approach is to use technology to disseminate information out into subsistence marketplaces. This project is creating “an online journal and international community for sharing refereed educational materials that are targeted toward low-literate learners in impoverished settings to enable sustainable development”. This is revolutionary because it uses best minds from top universities to connect with people in subsistence marketplaces through a common mobile phone, and disseminate best practices and approaches among them. Watch this TED video for more details.

All these efforts and many more are trying to create a sustainable system where people outside the middle class net get access to more products and services. This not only gives them a shot at a better life, but improves the living standard of the country as a whole.

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