Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Promise Leadership

"The money would go towards a program called "Promise Neighborhoods." This is modeled after the successful New York program called " Harlem Children's Zone." Obama's program would provide a "rigorous k-12 education" to poor urban kids. The program would also provide many services for the families. These services include, health care, parenting classes, nutrition, family counseling, and preschool."

The True Liberal Cupcake, March 4, 2009

A couple of thoughts on Promise Neighborhoods and the challenges of replicating the Harlem Children's Zone and Geoffrey Canada. So, let's face it: many replications of complicated social interventions fail. Not all, but many. A host of factors account for these failures: not knowing the critical success factors of the model; government dumbing down or simplifying; picking wrong places with wrong capacities; ridiculous timeframes, and the political feeding frenzy for money.

I don't have simple answers to these problems. After reading Paul Tough's Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America, it was obvious to me that another challenge relates to leadership--Geof Canada, of course, but also other HCZ staff and the social investors on the board. Canada was and is relentless about improving outcomes for kids. Not the usual leader in our fields.

Sometimes recognizing this leadership challenge provokes deep skepticism: You can't replicate Geof Canada. Or, it provikes glib bravado: If the model's any good it can be put down anywhere.

My suggestion is that President Obama start with leadership first rather than putting a lot of money on the street. Set up a Promise Neighborhood's academy for key leadership teams (including local public and private investors) from places. They would learn about HCZ, the resources required, how to design, build, and change course for results, and how to start assembling key ingredients.

I would then run an X-Prize type competition with an independent selection committee of investors, educators, replication artists, etc. Of course there would be requirements, etc., including going through the Promise Neighborhood's leadership academy.

1 comment:

celia_a said...

I love your leadership-academy idea. I'm dying to work on a Promise Neighborhood in Boston, but my role would be behind-the-scenes work with databases, etc., not being out front spearheading the effort. So I'm looking for organizations or people whose efforts I can join, and I'm really concerned that I might join up with people who aren't prepared to do what it takes.