5 Questions for Michael Morris about ND’s new student entrepreneurship program in South Africa

Entrepreneurship scholar and McKenna Center Professor of Practice Michael Morris will lead Entrepreneurship and Empowerment in South Africa (EESA): a life-changing experience that enables students to work with entrepreneurs in the townships around Cape Town, South Africa. Students will participate in two, 3-credit courses; one is a classroom-based course and the other involves fieldwork with South African entrepreneurs.

This is Notre Dame’s first year hosting EESA and the program is administered through the McKenna Center for Human Development and Global Business, part of the Keough School of Global Affairs. In this Q&A, Professor Morris explains more about this exciting opportunity.

How did the program come to be based at Notre Dame?

EESA is a partnership involving students and faculty from Notre Dame, the University of Colorado, the University of Florida, Texas A&M, and the University of the Western Cape, our partner in South Africa. The program has actually been running for 21 years and until 2020 was hosted by the University of Florida, where I was previously Professor of Entrepreneurship. When I took the position with the McKenna Center in Summer 2019, I had the opportunity to bring EESA to Notre Dame. I felt that the University’s commitment to education and concern for the common good made it a perfect home for the program.   

What should students expect from this experience?

EESA is an intense six-week Summer program that is transformative for everyone involved. Students work in teams to assist entrepreneurs in developing their own ventures.  The entrepreneurs they’ll be working with are historically disadvantaged, but have incredible passion to build something that will improve their communities. Students will have to bridge a number of economic, social, and cultural divides while solving real problems. It is a very rewarding learning experience.

What are the key requirements?

We look for three things in the students who are accepted: creative problem-solving ability, work ethic, and emotional maturity. This program is for graduate and undergraduate students from all backgrounds, not just business! We’ve had students from social work, economics, sociology, advertising, engineering, accounting, and architecture, just to name a few.

How does the program work?

The program is made up of two, 3-credit courses: one based in the classroom (Supporting Emerging Enterprises) and one based working with clients in the field. We accept 25 American and 20 South African students each year; these students are formed into consulting teams and given two consulting clients. Students are in class in the mornings learning about consulting methods and are applying that knowledge in the field in the afternoon. Faculty from the partner universities teach the modules and work closely with the students as coaches and mentors.  We also have a number of outings where students experience the beauty and amazing culture of South Africa.

What sort of impact does EESA have?

EESA students have assisted more than 350 entrepreneurs in South Africa, 70% of which are still in business today – a huge success in the entrepreneurial world. I attribute this success to our unique consulting approach, which allows solutions to be produced hand-in-hand with the entrepreneurs.  The real success to me, however, is how the mindset of both the entrepreneurs and the students change when the program is finished.