What is Marketplace / Maker Literacy?

Low-income individuals and communities need financial resources, access to markets, and marketplace literacy to function effectively in the marketplace as customers and as entrepreneurs. Marketplace literacy, a concept developed on the basis of extensive research, is not basic literacy but rather skills, awareness of rights, and self-confidence needed to function in the marketplace. This concept was used originally as a basis to develop a consumer and entrepreneurial literacy educational program in India which assumed that our audience cannot read or write. It has since been offered in Tanzania and now in Illinois. The program uses an understanding of marketplaces as a basis for being an informed buyer or seller. We use a variety of methods such as picture sorting, simulated shopping, and role plays. We believe such understanding can enable individuals to place themselves on a path to lifelong learning and adapt to changing circumstances. Topics covered range from consumer skills to choosing an enterprise to start and being customer oriented. Unique to our approach compared to past approaches is an emphasis on know-why or deeper understanding of the marketplace along with know-how to overcome the effects of low income and low literacy. Whereas we do not teach people what to buy or sell, we provide the broader know-how and know-why that applies to many situations.

Our approach couples marketplace literacy education with the forward-looking technology of digital manufacturing (i.e., 3D Printing) and the notion of maker literacy. We use 3D printing primarily as a pedagogical tool to bring out the concepts and issues in marketplace and maker literacy. Whereas the potential versus actual impact of 3D printing is playing out in the marketplace, it is a great way to have our participants see a product being made, to evaluate it as a customer, and to consider what they would make and build a business around if they had access to this technology as an entrepreneur. To provide deeper understanding of maker literacy, we have set up MakerLabs in different locations to train individuals from impoverished regions to create 3D-printed products and other digital materials. This effort is based on our experience in operating the Illinois MakerLab, the world’s first 3D printing lab in a College of Business.