Keough School’s McKenna Center launches new entrepreneurship programs to fight global poverty, underemployment

Author: Renée LaReau

Eesa Table Mountain

Two programs that help disadvantaged entrepreneurs in South Bend and South Africa now have a new home at the McKenna Center for Human Development and Global Business, part of the Keough School of Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame. The programs are directed by Michael Morris, professor of the practice, a scholar of entrepreneurship who joined the Keough School in August.

Entrepreneurship and Empowerment in South Africa, a six-week immersion program in townships surrounding Cape Town, South Africa, pairs graduate students and rising juniors and seniors with historically disadvantaged entrepreneurs seeking to develop their own businesses. The program, launched in 1998, is a partnership among Notre Dame and the University of Colorado, Texas A&M University, the University of Florida and the University of the Western Cape in South Africa.

Each year, 28 students from the United States join with 20 South African students to form consulting teams, gaining experience solving real-world business challenges in adverse circumstances. 

“The program is empowering both for the entrepreneurs and the students,” Morris said. “Students make a real contribution to these businesses, and the experience changes them and how they see the world.”

Closer to Notre Dame’s campus, the South Bend Entrepreneurship and Adversity Program seeks to help members of the South Bend community, particularly those facing economic or other hardships, in starting and growing a business. 

The Keough School’s McKenna Center for Human Development and Global Business manages the program in close partnership with local nonprofit groups, government offices, small businesses and other university partners across South Bend. The program builds on initiatives Morris created in Syracuse, New York, and Gainesville, Florida.

“Entrepreneurship represents a viable pathway out of poverty,” Morris said. “Using a unique model, and collaborating with strong partners, we we hope to see 100 sustainable ventures in South Bend started by low-income entrepreneurs over the next five years.

Morris is the first new faculty member at the McKenna Center, which was established in 2016 with a generous gift from Andrew J. McKenna Sr., a University of Notre Dame alumnus and emeritus chairman of the Board of Trustees. A pioneer in curricular innovation and experiential learning, Morris has built three university entrepreneurship programs that have been ranked in the top 10 in the United States and earned global recognition for excellence. 

Morris also is the founder and director of the Experiential Classroom, a clinic that shares best practices in entrepreneurship education with faculty from around the globe, and holds a doctorate in marketing from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech).