Monday, January 26, 2009

Salvation?

"There have been times when he's wished someone would give him permission to stop trying to sell the notion that poverty has an antidote."

Debra Hall Levy, "A Poverty Antidote Goes Global," Miller-McCune, January-February, 2009.

We should all keep selling, advocating, demanding this notion. The question is whether Bill Strickland and Manchester Craftsmen/Bidwell Training Center are the antidote. Miller-McCune's subhead is "turning research into solutions." Unfortunately, there's not much research in this article.

Let's be clear: Bill Strickland is a terrific social entrepreneur and what he has created at Bidwell is a marvel. But it's not simple, has taken forty years, depends upon a unique entrepreneur and his business/state relationships, and probably isn't, alone, an antidote for poverty.

The article presents no third-party evaluation data that would shed light on the impacts and effectiveness of Bidwell's programs. Nor does the article discuss any of the Bidwell replication failures -- a valuable source of information about the model and the man. I remember in 1993 hearing Russ Tershy of the Center for Employment Training in California talk about creating 1,000 CETs. This replication effort of an admired, well-evaluated training model similar to Bidwell, failed when spread across the country. I guess this is just a part of presidential fever.

Now, Strickland seems to have evolved from past replication experience. Setting up separate replication outfit makes a lot of sense and he's got some philanthrocapitalist heavy heavy hitters to help him out.

The big replication problem is figuring out what is to be replicated. Visitors to Bidwell get mesmerized by the amazing complexity of programs and enterprises. But nobody is going to replicate that in the first instance; other social entrepreneurs will create other complex models over long periods of time. At it's heart, Bidwell is a set of industry-focused training programs aimed (on the adult side) at people with some basic skills. It's a good thing; but these efforts are being widely diffused around the country already, called sector based partnerships, workforce partnerships, employer-linked partnerships,etc. In fact, there is a national venture fund to replicate them and a variety of legislative proposals and programs at the state and federal levels to support these partnerships.

It would be great if Strickland would join that movement rather just market his own secret sauce. We need antidotes to poverty, not marketing campaigns for complex programs that will have difficulty traveling.

No comments: