Keough Students Awarded Honors for Work in Social Entrepreneurship

Author: April Toler

Two Keough School of Global Affairs students recently earned honors for making a difference as social entrepreneurs, drawing on the skills and passion for addressing poverty they're nurtured as part of their educational experience.

Justin Hur was awarded the Excellence in Social Entrepreneurship Award and Maria Rodriguez Contreras received the Outstanding Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award, both from the Keough School’s McKenna Center for Human Development and Global Business.

This is the second time the center has presented the awards as a way to recognize Notre Dame students who combine their passion for entrepreneurship and desire to address social concerns and needs within their communities.

“These innovative and compassionate students represent the future generation of social entrepreneurs,” said Michael Morris, professor of the practice at the McKenna Center. “Through their work, they have demonstrated how entrepreneurship can provide a solution to poverty and work towards a greater good.”

Cultivating goodness

Photo of Luvuyo Rani and Justin Hur as he receives the Excellence in Social Entrepreneurship Award

Hur, a sophomore studying global affairs, has worked on several social entrepreneurship ventures. He worked with his roommates on Grocero, a startup that will establish fresh produce micro-fulfillment centers in food deserts, empowering local growers and low-income residents. The group made it to the semifinals of the McCloskey Venture Competition and intends to continue the ideation phase.

“I’m grateful to receive the award because to me, the social entrepreneurship and innovation minor is the core definition of using business as a force for good in the world,” Hur said. “Through social entrepreneurship, lower-income people are learning business fundamentals and using these skills to improve their lives and home situations. In the same way that Notre Dame, and more specifically this minor, has allowed me to apply business to social issues, I hope to give back to any community that I find myself in over the course of my life.”

Through the McKenna Center’s South Bend Entrepreneurship and Adversity Program, Hur also worked with three South Bend entrepreneurs, creating websites, new business segments, product ideas and pricing strategies—an experience he found invaluable.

“My partner and I met weekly with the entrepreneurs and by the end, we got really close to them,” he said. “Most notably, we helped one of the entrepreneurs, a small accounting business, open a physical storefront in South Bend.”

Hur has also worked closely with the McKenna Center’s Urban Poverty and Business Initiative to help maintain its central database, conduct phone interviews with the entrepreneurs and has taught at certain events. In addition to his work at Notre Dame, Hur tutors seniors at Riley High School on financial literacy topics like savings accounts and credit spending and helps them navigate college applications.

This summer, through a fellowship program from the Pulte Institute, he will travel to Cape Town, South Africa to work alongside other students, helping two companies with their business models.

Outstanding Social Entrepreneur of the Year award

photo of Luvuyo Rani and Maria Rodriguez Contreras as she receives the Outstanding Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award

Rodriguez Contreras, a sophomore in economics and global affairs from Bogota, Colombia, has also utilized her time to leverage entrepreneurship as a tool to help low-income communities.

In 2020, Rodriguez Contreras started Bare Colombia, where she commercialized mochilas, or traditional Colombian bags, made by indigenous women who had been expelled from their territories by the armed forces. Profits helped pay for grocery delivery in impoverished areas of Colombia.

Rodriguez Contreras is now working with fellow student Michelle Arandia on Blink, a digital wallet that will handle transactions for consumers in Mexico who lack access to financial tools. Unlike competitors, the product is a platform for merchants of all sizes and offers affordable digital transactions.

Rodriguez Contreras and her team have participated in three startup competitions. They are currently enrolled in the Pre-Accelerator program at the Idea Center and are working to launch Blink officially next semester.

“I am personally humbled and honored to receive this award,” Rodriguez Contreras said. “Normally, social ventures are not as celebrated as more profitable ones, and getting this recognition has further incentivized use continue working hard on this project

“We are very grateful to the Keough School and its McKenna Center and to the IDEA Center for the immense support, guidance and opportunities,” she said. “I am passionately committed to social entrepreneurship in my country—Colombia—and across Latin American and the whole world.”

Originally published by April Toler at on April 22, 2024.