From A Potter's Hands

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I remember studying about Bill Strickland in business school. It was one of the three case studies that have been done on his Manchester Bidwell Corporation by the Harvard Business Review. What I remember was how amazing it was, in the middle of the late 1990s, to be studying about something as hopeful and inspired as the craftsman’s guild that Strickland created—such a nice change from the crashing Asian stock market, the rising disparities in income distribution, and the information technology bubble.

As a 19-year-old in Pittsburgh, Bill Strickland created a tiny arts studio in “a derelict row house on Buena Vista Street in Manchester.” His plan was to “use the space as a studio where I could teach neighborhood kids to make bowls and pots. I was a neophyte potter myself at the time, and making pottery was one of the great joys of my life. I liked the way the wet clay felt in my hands. Working with clay calmed me and excited me all at the same time. There was a sense of control, but also one of rich possibility. And there was a potent sense of accomplishment and pride once you developed some skill at it.”

Sound like the stuff Harvard Business Review writes about? Hardly. But the story of the Manchester Craftsman’s Guild and the Manchester Bidwell Corporation is one of amazing community and corporate success, success that garnered Strickland the 1996 Macarthur Fellowship (aka the “Genius Award”).

The fact of the matter is that Bill Strickland was a social entrepreneur before social entrepreneurism was cool. And he has the results to prove it: “More than 90 percent of the kids who come to us get their high school diplomas and 85 percent enroll in college or some other form of higher education. Our job-training programs for disadvantaged adults are yielding similar successes: Almost 80 percent of our adult students complete their vocational training and 86 percent of them find employment after graduation…The success of Manchester Bidwell has won us a lot of respect and support from the business community across the country, and it has helped us forge dynamic corporate partnerships with companies like IBM, Alcoa, PPG Industries, Heinz, Hewlett-Packard, Bayer, Mylan Labs, Nova Chemicals, and many more.”

Strickland has shared his story in a recently published book called, Make the Impossible Possible: One Man's Crusade to Inspire Others to Dream Bigger and Achieve the Extraordinary. And, as a person who has spent his life making sure others can share in his successes, he is sharing his book on a blog-by-blog basis, on the Skoll Foundation’s Social Edge Website. Check it out and prepare to be inspired.

Caroline Heine

Posted at 1:00 AM, Feb 06, 2008 in Permalink | Comment