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Transformative Subsistence Entrepreneurship: A Study In India

Journal of Macromarketing

Srinivas Sridharan, Elliot Maltz, Madhubalan Viswanathan, Samir Gupta


There are millions of “subsistence” entrepreneurs around the world, located primarily in developing countries, engaging in micro enterprise to eke out a survival living when other labor market options become unavailable. However, the vast majority of them are trapped in a “survival and maintenance” cycle. This article focuses on a phenomenon involving a subset of subsistence entrepreneurs who do manage to thrive and grow their enterprise. We label the phenomenon “transformative subsistence entrepreneurship,” reflecting (1) significant positive change in their personal, social and economic well-being, and (2) significant positive influence on their immediate communities. Drawing on 18 in-depth qualitative interviews, we show how the phenomenon plays out and how transformative subsistence entrepreneurs carry out vital marketing activities in their local exchange contexts, rising above substantial life challenges and end up improving the economic capacities of their communities as well. We contend that the contributions of a network of such transformative subsistence entrepreneurs, each seen at a micro enterprise level of analysis, can accumulate and coalesce to emerge as the backbone of the informal economy at a macroeconomic level.


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