Madhu Viswanathan



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Madhu Viswanathan
61 Wohlers Hall
1206 South Sixth Street
Champaign, IL, 61820
(217) 333-4550



Site News:

3rd subsistence marketplaces conference. July 9th - 11th. Chicago. ( link )

Madhu Viswanathan


Madhu Viswanathan is the Diane and Steven N. Miller Professor in Business at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he has been on the faculty since 1990.  He earned a B. Tech in Mechanical Engineering (Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, India, 1985), and a PhD in Marketing (University of Minnesota, 1990).  His research programs are in two areas; measurement and research methodology, and literacy, poverty, and subsistence marketplace behaviors.  He has authored books in both areas: Measurement Error and Research Design (Sage, 2005), and Enabling Consumer and Entrepreneurial Literacy in Subsistence Marketplaces (Springer, 2008, in alliance with UNESCO). 

His research program on measurement and research methodology is a striking departure from the existing literature.  Whereas previous work emphasizes a statistical orientation without sufficient analysis of the conceptual meaning of measurement error, his approach provides a most detailed conceptual dissection of measurement error and its consequences for research design.

His research on subsistence marketplaces takes a micro-level approach to gain bottom-up understanding of life circumstances and buyer, seller, and marketplace behaviors.  This approach should be distinguished from macro-level economic approaches, and mid-level business strategy approaches such as base of the pyramid (BOP) research This perspective aims to enable subsistence marketplaces to move toward being ecologically, economically, and socially sustainable marketplaces.  He directs the Subsistence Marketplaces Initiative ( and has created unique synergies between research, teaching, and social initiatives.  All three arenas  involve engagement of large and small businesses and social enterprises, as well as a diverse set of students and faculty across different disciplines.  He has organized conferences in the area of subsistence marketplaces bringing together researchers and practitioners and edited publications of nascent research in this area.

He teaches courses on research methods and on subsistence and sustainability.  A yearlong, one-of-a-kind inter-disciplinary graduate-level course with students from engineering, business and other areas focuses on sustainable product and market development for subsistence marketplaces and involves an international immersion experience.  Other teaching initiatives include a module for all (approximately 600) incoming undergraduate business majors on developing sustainable businesses for subsistence marketplaces, and graduate and undergraduate level courses on sustainable business enterprises.  These teaching innovations aim to challenge students to appreciate diverse perspectives across the globe and imagine circumstances beyond one’s immediate experience, while working toward a better world.

He founded and directs the Marketplace Literacy Project (, a non-profit organization.  After many years of offering and customizing a unique marketplace literacy program in India, it is currently being scaled through large organizations, with plans to expand to other countries and contexts.  Previous work in research and practice has focused on market access and financial resources (e.g., microlending); two important elements that enable impoverished individuals to participate in the marketplace. This educational program focuses on a third important element that has not been emphasized in research and practice - marketplace literacy.  His team has also developed materials for nutritional education programs currently being used in the state of Illinois. He received the Social Entrepreneurship Award from the University of Illinois and Champaign County Economic Development and the International Humanitarian Award from the Cities of Champaign and Urbana in 2008.  He received the Bharat Gaurav (India Pride) Award from the India International Friendship Society in Delhi, India, in 2010, given to people of Indian origin around the world for outstanding leadership in their fields.  He received the College of Business Alumni Association Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching in 2010. He received the Thomas C. Kinnear/Journal of Public Policy and Marketing Award for the best paper in the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing in 2007-09. His course on subsistence marketplaces was ranked one of the top entrepreneneruship courses by Inc. magazine in 2011.