Scott Anderson

(With Video) Maximizing the Micro Approach to BoP: A new book explores bottom-up solutions

While we need both macro- AND micro-level approaches to developing businesses that serve, source from and employ the poor, Madhu Viswanathan believes “bottom up” methods are too often neglected.

Viswanathan, the Diane and Steven N. Miller Professor in Business at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, hopes to shift that imbalance in a new e-book, Subsistence Marketplaces. With a variety of case studies and interactive data, the book explores how people and communities exist day to day, how they engage (or are inhibited from engaging) with the marketplace, and how that knowledge can inform the design of new enterprises and products.

“Our perspective is bottom-up, beginning with a nuanced, micro-level understanding of behaviors and contexts,” writes Viswanathan, who directs the Subsistence Marketplaces Initiative at UI. “This contrasts with relatively macro-level approaches, such as macro-economic perspectives that examine country- and region-level trends or meso-level business strategy approaches, such as the bottom of the pyramid perspective, which examine issues of business strategy of organizations working in these contexts.”

Viswanathan’s research casts a light on poverty and marketplace behaviors. In using the term “subsistence,” he and the research team are referring to a broad range of low-income people who are just barely getting by. The book was developed for students, educators, managers and policy makers as “a starting point rather than a culmination of learning about subsistence marketplaces.” It’s published through and you can find direct links to it by clicking on one of the following sources: Etext,, Amazon, and/or Apple.

Viswanathan also is acting as conference chair for the Fifth Subsistence Marketplaces Conference, set for June 13-15 at the I-Hotel in Champaign, Illinois. More information on the conference and its call for papers is here (pdf).

You may remember Viswanathan as the moderator for one of the panel sessions, “Understanding the BoP: Building Ventures that Incorporate the Local Context,” at the BoP Summit, hosted last year by the William Davidson Institute. That leads me to the other reason for this post: my interview with him from the summit, which is below.

Base of the Pyramid, product design