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Genius at Work- Fast Company- Manaswita

by on October 14, 2007

Genius at Work ( is the story of one man, about his perseverance, assiduousness and about his faith that he can change the world and he can change the lives of desolated kids and adults living in the downtrodden urban areas of America. Bill Strickland, the President & the CEO of Manchester Craftsman’s Guild (MCG) and Bidwell Training Center (BTC), is known to the world as a diligent social entrepreneur and has made a difference in the lives of hundreds of adults and children. He transformed a nearly bankrupt community in Pittsburgh into one of the most successful organizations in the world. His everlasting journey of bringing social change by combining his knack for arts and his flair for entrepreneurship started with the “lump of clay” when he was a 16 year old kid, in the crumbling Pittsburgh neighborhood.

At the age of 16, when Bill was in school he knew he was at-risk and very badly wanted his way out. There was a light at the end of the dark tunnel in the form of Frank Ross, the ceramics teacher who became Bill’s mentor in pottery making for 20 years. Through his new found charm for pottery and art, Bill found his way to bring social changes and from there onwards started the commendable and inspiring journey of this great social entrepreneur.

How he related art and entrepreneurship?
He believes that “artists are by nature entrepreneurs, they’re just not called that”. In 1968 when racial polarization was increasing in the United States, Bill believed in his mantra and for social cause, while still in college, he founded the Manchester Craftsman’s Guild (MCG) for teaching pottery skills to children at-risks, after school. His goal was not profit making, it was not to contribute to the economic growth either and he was supported by local churches, community leaders for funds in his (one man’s) pursuit to change the world. After three years he was entrusted to rebuild the Bidwell Training Center (BTC), a vocational training institute on the verge of getting closed. Bill saw it as an opportunity to build the community and provide social services as on the one end he had at-risk kids at MCG, getting trained in pottery skills with the hope to use this skill to get into the college. On the other end, he had adults at BTC who were abandoned by the society and wanted to start their life again. BTC even trains out of work adults for the pharmaceutical companies and everyone who goes through the training becomes certified and gets the job.

He worked on both MCG and BTC programs and later wanted to give new dimensions to them. He opened a 62, 000 square foot community-learning center by raising funds from foundations, government organizations and community leader.

Art of Learning at MCG classroom:
Bill Strickland’s mission is to get the at-risk school kids to college by making them realize what they want out of life. Some kids get trained from MCG and get employed by leading companies and some find their way into college. Bill believes that artists can make good entrepreneurs as they are imaginative and can see or imagine what others fail to and that is what MCG teaches students at classrooms- to imagine and visualize. Any project starts with the discussion of a fable followed by the moral of the story. Students watch videos on the fable and then are inspired to write their own fable with focus on moral of the story. Then the students are asked to give a creative touch to their fable by constructing puppets or paintings or ceramics. This is the creative phase of learning at MCG.

Bill Strickland gets standing ovation wherever he goes for his principles and his vision. Once he was addressing 145 leaders of non-profit organizations from America and Europe at the Harvard Business School and he said “If this country has a future, it’s because of you guys, because of your ability to form visions and to form partnerships. I believe that we can change the United States of America in my lifetime, and I’m not out of my mind. We’ve got to change the way this country sees itself.” [pg. 2,]

What struck me most in this article is that there is another aspect of change management apart from what we discuss usually in class or with our peers. The senior executives in giant companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Wal-Mart, Google etc have a simple goal for themselves and their company when they talk of change management or of restructuring their strategic plans: the goal is stability in the market. They want to make a little more than the predictable earnings or they want to be ahead of their arch-competitors.

Amidst the changing strategies of fierce and aggressive profit making organizations, we usually tend to forget about social enterprises and non-profit making organizations and the leaders of “social change” such as Bill Strickland, Michael Young and Muhammad Yunus and their other counterparts. People like them used the principles of change management neither to make profit nor to be the part of the endless, pointless pursuit of meeting the target. They used strategic plans to bring social change, to cater to the deprived and underprivileged sections of society in the least possible resources and generate enough volunteer resources. Peter Drucker, the Management Guru once said, “the non-profit organizations exist to bring about a change in individuals”.

There is a lot of planning and communication involved in the functioning of not-for profit organizations. First there has to be a reason for their existence followed by the goals and then the need to market themselves to acquire funds. A good communication between the leader and volunteers is important as the volunteers work not for salary but for their self satisfaction and if they are not satisfied with the goals, mission statement and the desired results then they might see their efforts go in vain. So, a leader of the not for profit organization has to be the motivator for his volunteers because in a social enterprise career growth and pay package are insignificant and non existent.

Social entrepreneurs act like change catalysts by trying to create new solutions to wipe off poverty, unemployment, racism etc from face of the world and alleviate the unfavorable conditions of life in a community and make it a better place to live in, the way business entrepreneurs use their innovative ideas to bring changes in the industry. I believe that even though the social entrepreneurs carry their different vision and mission statement than the business entrepreneurs, both their existence is mutual. For eg., when Strickland made 350 seat jazz concert hall he had a unique plan for live music. The live music was recorded and the pressing was done by Sony Disc Manufacturing. Another example would be of SKS Microfinance in India which has joined hands with Visa International to develop an efficient Point of Sale device for the recording of business transactions. It is looked-for to make this existence more communal in the future.

Who do you think would be thinking of the people in impoverished parts of the world, with less than one dollar of income per day, living in quagmire of malnutrition, poverty, illiteracy and unemployment when the senior executives at Microsoft Game Studios are planning on the release of the next generation of game console for the privileged ones? As I was reading this article it reminded me of the lyrics from Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”- “If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change”.

Related Articles: What One Man Can Do. Published September 2005
What is social entrepreneurship?
How to change the world


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