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.