Bill Strickland’s Principle: People are assets, not liabilities.

25 05 2009

Bill Strickland changed the face of Pittsburgh’s highest crime rate neighborhood by creating a successful vocational training center which gives disadvantaged kids an opportunity to pursue successful careers in the arts and beyond. I got the opportunity to listen to him speak yesterday night. What caught my attention about Bill was his unfailing commitment to give disadvantaged kids the very best in every detailed aspect of the center: the building had beautiful architecture and design, the latest technology and equipment were used in their facilities, and even the flowers in the building were fresh flowers, not plastic ones. In our cost cutting, profit maximizing world, I had to question the business decision of spending so much on such an elaborate center, with perhaps the alternative of cutting back on some costs in order to build more such centers. However, Bill’s method has been proven to lead to amazing achievements from students – Bill’s principle is that it’s how you treat people that matters, and how you think about people which dictates the outcome. If we look down at these disadvantaged kids and assume that they lack intelligence and skills, then they won’t succeed. However, if we look at them as human beings with potential and simply unfortunate circumstances, then we can realize that people are a function of their environment and can succeed when given the world class tools to succeed.

I think Bill’s principle can be applied towards the solution of many other social problems. Consider Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammed Yunus’ microcredit financial lending model, which lends poor people small amounts of money for their business, and believes in their entrepreneurial ability to lift themselves out of poverty. Instead of looking at poor people as uneducated people who can’t help themselves, Yunus valued their creative entrepreneurial abilities and changed their environmental circumstances to give them the investment they needed to succeed.

Perhaps this principle can be applied to the homeless population in Vancouver. As Sandy Burpee, Chair of the Tri-Cities Homelessness Task Group wrote, “Homeless persons are often seen as objects, rather than persons that need compassion and support.” Perhaps we can design a solution to homelessness which helps change public attitudes and is centered on looking at marginalized people as what they are – human beings with amazing potential.




6 responses

26 05 2009

It could be well worth connecting to the work of Miram Kilali and her approach homeless shelters (as we discussed in class)…what did you make of that?

29 05 2009

Hi Graham,

When I heard your story about Miriam and the beautiful shelters she has made for homeless people in Berlin, her principles of valuing the homeless people and giving them a beautiful place to live immediately reminded me of Bill Strickland’s principles as well. It was interesting that in a span of 3 days I heard about two projects, both helping marginalized groups of people, and both founded on the same principles of valuing marginalized and poor people for who they truly are – human beings with dignity and potential. I think the success of both projects points to what can be achieved when we value marginalized groups of people for who they really are.

Even if a project doesn’t necessarily have the funds to provide for marginalized groups with great abundance, I think that the founding principles of treating the people with respect and dignity can still go a long way.

29 05 2009

I think that Bill’s principle is very inspirational and insightful in that the compassionate yet not condescending attitudes we hold towards disadvantaged kids are the key driver of successful future of these youths. Before quickly jumping to the prejudiced conclusions on disadvantaged kids without even understanding their struggles and difficulties, I believe that we need to try to see them through the eyes of love, understanding, and compassion. This is because I strongly believe that some people are not born with enough resources that we take for granted to get themselves out of unfortunate life circumstances. It is not the fault of themselves but the destiny they were born into. I don’t believe that these youths should simply accept their fate because they have the real great potential to grow and contribute greatly to our society with our help and beliefs in them.

29 05 2009

Hi Christine,

Thanks for sharing your views. I agree with you – that some people are just born into unfortunate life circumstances. I once heard an amazing speaking at a leadership conference – he was an African American man who was the CEO of a large company. Despite his achivements, he was extremely humble and spoke about how he wasn’t someone special – he was just lucky from the circulstances that life gave him, and he even mentioned that if he was born just a few decades earlier than he was, he’d probably be a slave, and not have achieved all of his success. I think his story shows that often people are a function of their environment and their circumstances. And I believe that although complete fairness might never be achieved, it’s extremely important to ensure that people have the basic things that they need in – a loving family to grow up with, food, water, education, etc.

30 05 2009

Hi Jackie,

It seems that there has been a great imbalance in university marketing classes/clubs/competitions in terms of a focus on social problems like homelessness compared to profit-maximizing endeavours. Knowing that how we perceive the homeless is a key obstacle to bringing about change, do you think educators like the Marketing faculty should take it upon themselves to spark dialogues and projects regarding local issues like homelessness in Vancouver? Is it enough to leave such discussions to one class such as our Social Innovation course?


31 05 2009

Hi Hannah,

I completely agree with you on this issue. As business students, I believe we have a responsibility to our society and I hope that more social problems can be related to all of our classes. I remember in one of our classes Graham spent time relating each of the business concentrations and saying how they can have an impact on social problems. I think these ideas should be brought not only to our classroom, but also to the courses of each concentration. This would bring more awareness of social issues to business students for sure. I have to say that our generation of students is definitely becoming more and more aware of these problems and having more of a desire to impact them as well. The increasing trend of fresh graduates engaging in social entrepreneurship is an indicator of this. Also, I know that SFU is trying to incorporate more of these issues in their BUS 303 Ethics course.

For myself, I have gained a desire to learn more about these social issues and what kind of structures our society has that maintains the existence of these problems. I am currently taking a course on capitalism and global problems, with a room full of students from other faculties criticizing marketing (I am a marketing TA for our faculty!) but I have to say that the wide array of viewpoints is a great way to gain new perspectives. I have learned a lot about how our capitalist society came to be, and look forward to learning more views in this class.

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