South Bend has a poverty rate more than double the national average. One out of four residents live below the poverty line, while 11% have income that is less than 50% of the poverty line. African Americans in our community experience a poverty rate of about 40%. The ZIP codes in South Bend with the highest concentration of minority residents also have the highest poverty rates. And beyond these striking numbers, the gap between the haves and have-nots only continues to grow.
Poverty is not a characteristic of a person, but of their situation. As such, we must go beyond traditional solutions to poverty and consider other ways in which the poor can change their situations and create their own futures. There is recent evidence to suggest that entrepreneurship can play an important role. One major study found that for every percentage point increase in the rate of entrepreneurship in a state, there is 2% decline in the state’s poverty rate.
It is our conviction that entrepreneurship should not be the exception when it comes to the poor. Instead, it should be a natural pathway, especially for those in poverty. Alternatively, working for someone else, particularly for low wages in a labor-intensive job that does not capitalize on an individual’s talents and abilities, is not a natural state.
Toward this end, we have launched the South Bend Entrepreneurship and Adversity Program at the McKenna Center for Human Development and Global Business (within the Keough School of Global Affairs). It includes six weeks of training, one-on-one consulting, mentoring from successful business owners, connections to community resources, a microcredit program, and process tracking.
SBEAP is a collaborative effort between the University of Notre Dame, the city of South Bend, Project Impact, La Casa de Amistad, the West Side Small Business Resource Center, the North Central Indiana SBDC, INVANTI, the Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative at Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame Federal Credit Union, Ivy Tech, and the Neighborhood Resources Connections. Each year, a mix of educators, subject matter experts, successful entrepreneurs and others will work with entrepreneurs.