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Subsistence Marketplaces

Gain knowledge about subsistence marketplaces and use it in different parts of the world to make a difference. The broader aim of this course is for you to consider the global challenge of poverty and envision a better world by designing solutions based on sound understanding.


Course at a Glance

About the Course

The foundation for this course lies with unique synergies between pioneering research, teaching, and social initiatives through the Subsistence Marketplaces Initiative. Unique to this approach is a bottom-up understanding of the intersection of poverty and the marketplace.

The goals of this course are to help you develop an understanding of marketplace activity in the radically different context of subsistence where much of humanity resides and survives, and for you to design solutions that can be implemented by individuals, businesses, and social enterprises through economically, ecologically, and socially sustainable products for subsistence marketplaces.

Course Syllabus

Each of the 2 modules is 4 weeks long, covering the following topics:

Module I: Understanding Subsistence Marketplaces
Gain a general understanding of subsistence marketplaces through assigned readings, self-reflections, and interest in sharing thoughts and ideas about the local communities where you reside.

Week 1: Introduction; Thinking in Subsistence Marketplaces

Week 2: Feeling and Coping; Consumers and Entrepreneurs

Week 3: Exchanges and Relationships; Needs, Products, Relationships, and Markets

Week 4: Gaining Marketplace Insights; Local Environments


Module II: Designing Solutions for Subsistence Marketplaces
You have the option to draft a proposal for solutions to local or known subsistence marketplaces and design and develop your proposal as an optional final project.

Week 5: Identifying and Understanding Need, Drivers, and Context Elements; Generating Ideas and Designing Solutions

Week 6: Evaluating Solutions and Designing Ecosystems; Designing, Communicating, and Delivering the Value Proposition

Week 7: Designing Elements of the Enterprise Plan

Week 8: Summary; Poster Session and Reflections.

Recommended Background

No background is required; all are welcome!

Suggested Readings

Reading materials are provided for free in PDF format each week. As an option, participants may want to acquire the Subsistence Marketplaces eText, which was created as a course companion and contains the readings, some videos, and additional materials. The eText ranges from USD $7.99 to USD $9.99 and can be purchased from eTextInk/Acadiem, Amazon (Kindle Version), or iTunes.

Course Format

In addition to watching a few 8–12 minute long video lectures each week, you can participate in the following weekly activities:

  • 2 quizzes per week (required for passing the class)
  • 2 forum assignments per week (extra credit)
  • 1 reading assignment per week (extra credit)
  • 1 project milestone per week (extra credit)


What resources will I need for this class?

For this course, all you need is an Internet connection, copies of the texts (which can be obtained for free as a PDF), and the time to read, write, discuss, and enjoy some marvelous literature.

How do I pass this course and what will I earn if I do?

Earning a final score of 70% or higher in the class will qualify you for a Verified Certificate if you are participating in the Signature Track. In addition, participants that complete 5 of the first 6 project milestones will earn a "Project Starter" badge from Illinois. Completing the 7th milestone (submitting the final project poster) will earn you a "Project Completion" badge from Illinois. (You are not required to join Signature Track to receive these badges.)

See what others have to say about this course!

"I found the course fascinating. I not only learned a lot, but I also feel I'm a better person for having taking this course." -L.P.
"I found the assignments and activities really embedded the learning whilst encouraging creative thinking on the many complex problems faced every day by people in subsistence." -M.Z.
"I believe that my potential for creating good in this world, whether working with wealthy corporations or with poverty-relief programs—has been greatly increased through insights gained during the past eight weeks." -K.M.

Illinois is a world leader in research, teaching, and public engagement, distinguished by the breadth of our programs, broad academic excellence, and internationally renowned faculty.

Join the Illinois community for Subsistence Marketplaces:

Image Sources: Flickr / Thomas Quine, Flickr / Julien Harneis, and Flickr / Thomas Galvez