Article written by Kate Kirwan
“With entrepreneurship, you’re teaching people to dream and how to pursue those dreams,” says Michael Morris, professor of entrepreneurship and social innovation at the Keough School of Global Affairs.
Last week, South Bend Mayor James Mueller honored Morris’ groundbreaking efforts to eradicate poverty in South Bend with a proclamation recognizing the creation and success of the South Bend Entrepreneurship and Adversity Program. The program, which Morris started in early 2020, seeks to reduce poverty in South Bend by providing one-on-one consulting, mentoring and training programs. These integrated programs aim to form and support small businesses and ventures, particularly for those facing economic or systemic disadvantages.
Morris designed the program after observing the city pour significant expenditures into poverty reduction each year. Despite these efforts, his research finds that the national poverty rate has remained largely unchanged for the past 60 years. Morris saw a specific need in South Bend to adjust the way we combat poverty.
“In places like South Bend, if you look at the minority population, if you look at a disadvantaged population, the poverty rate is twice the national average,” Morris said.
The program aids over 70 entrepreneurs a year, and has expanded to over 26 cities and eight countries around the globe, including Ecuador, India and Uganda. However, Morris believes that without the program’s focus on addressing systemic issues by aiding individuals in South Bend first, global expansion of this program would not have been possible.
“The focus of our program is global. If we’re going to have an impact on other places, then we need to be doing something at home,” Morris said.
Morris entered the Notre Dame and South Bend communities as a professor of the practice in 2019 following his role as a professor of entrepreneurship at Syracuse University, Oklahoma State University, the University of Florida and the University of Cape Town.
His focus on poverty reduction in particular draws from his experience of creating the first-ever academic department of entrepreneurship at Syracuse University and the first school of entrepreneurship at Oklahoma State.
Morris’s transition to the South Bend community drove him to focus on the aspect of entrepreneurship he finds most meaningful — empowerment.
“The opportunity to come to Notre Dame and focus not on entrepreneurship, and instead focus on poverty was very exciting,” Morris said. “Entrepreneurship is a vehicle to help the disadvantaged, whether those are Native Americans, women, inner-city folks or township residents in South Africa.”
Noting that the South Bend Entrepreneurship and Adversity Program “is a program that moves people out of poverty,” Morris hopes his work will not just provide financial growth, but also instill agency and self-confidence in the lives of the individuals he’s helping.
Reflecting upon one of the most memorable impacts he’s observed through the program, he said, “We had a woman on the program here who, a year earlier, spent a month living in a car with her daughter and has found her way and created a business.”
Morris said that current programs don’t do enough to meet the needs of people in poverty.
“There’s a lot of amazing people in our community and they’ve been ignored. Existing programs, even existing entrepreneurship programs are not tailored. And that’s the key. You have to meet the folks we’re serving where they are,” he said.
Morris’ formation of intentional connections with his students and the community at large are the inspiration for his work.
“I mean, when you teach what I teach … entrepreneurship can change people’s lives, especially people who are disadvantaged. It doesn’t get any better than that,” Morris said.
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