An Illinois educator is using business and marketplace education to help combat poverty around the world and here in the U.S. Now his program has added 3D printing to the curriculum.
Madhu Viswanathan, a professor at the University of Illinois, conceived his marketplace literacy workshops and presentations as a way to educate the impoverished about commercial trading systems and help them identify new economic opportunities. The program is already active in India and Tanzania, but Viswanathan has brought the Marketplace Literacy Project workshops back to the U.S. with a 3D printing element.
With 3D printing, participants can conceive of new product ideas that they can quickly create and handle.
“It’s miraculous to see how starting at a consumer level first, not product ideation, is really fascinating for this particular audience,” said teacher Ron Duncan in an interview with Co.Exist. “It’s the concrete reality of having that good in your hand that makes the whole thing link back.”
In July, the project partnered with the University of Illinois MakerLab and the UI Extension office to use a $300,000 grant to create two new community-based Makerlabs in south Illinois and the west side of Chicago. There, 3D printing capabilities will be coupled with adult education programs. The two locations are outfitted with six MakerBot Replicator 2 printers.
MakerLab also installed a 3D printer for the Marketplace Literacy Project in a village near Chennai, India.
About 250 students in Illinois have participated so far, and come up with a variety of product ideas, including custom license plate holders and emergency release car seat belt clips.
There are plans to expand the program in Illinois. The original program is also being piloted in Uganda and the Dominican Republic.
You can read more about the program, and the cultural obstacles the project faced in adapting the courses to the U.S., in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.