8: Leadership from outside the public sector – Bill Strickland and the Manchester Bidwell Corporation

Bill Strickland is the founder and CEO of the Manchester Bidwell Corporation, an arts and vocational training centre in Pittsburgh. It is founded on the following principles: every human is valuable, environment influences behaviour and creativity fuels enterprise. Managers aim to instil a culture of ‘learn, create, and celebrate’.111

And there is a recognition that schools can’t do everything. The centre has an annual budget of $10 million and receives funding from the Department of Human Services, corporate sponsorship (including the donation of equipment) and foundation grants. The Corporation also partners with schools, other CBOs and universities to recruit young people and provide teaching staff. It offers vocational training programmes, working with Heinz in food tech, Bayer in chemical testing and University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre (UPMC) in primary care.

There is a sense among partners that they “are doing something well”, which is evident in the outcome measures the Corporation collates. The graduation rate is currently 98 per cent and the approach has been replicated in five other cities to date.

The experience of cities that have established centres highlights the importance of leadership in maintaining the highest standards and working with others in the local community: “the most difficult element to replicate is the culture. In areas where it hasn’t worked it has been due to lack of leadership and ownership rather than money or resource. Local communities also need to have ownership of it”.111