UN Goal: Reduced Inequalities Opportunities for Everyone

A young adult in a greenhouse.
At the Manchester Bidwell Corporation, young adults and teenagers can try out different areas, here for example in a greenhouse. | Photo (detail): Manchester Bidwell Corporation

Access to the labour market is not equal for all people; in the USA and elsewhere, many people are dependent on social welfare. Bill Strickland founded the Manchester Bidwell Corporation to change this. In the interview, he explains how equal opportunities can be achieved.

By Katja Wiesbrock Donovan, 1014

Mr. Strickland, how do social and racial inequalities manifest themselves in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania? 

In Pittsburgh and elsewhere you find that some people are fundamentally “left out”. They don’t have access to good education and, consequently, to economic opportunities. Their perilous living-conditions, especially among African Americans, sometimes even becomes life-threatening. They permanently rely on public assistance to maintain a minimum level of existence without any chance to beat unemployment and to improve their situation. Children in these underserved communities lack perspectives, they only see and experience constant struggle in a derelict environment.   

What is your mission at the Manchester Bidwell Corporation and what are the programmes you offer to achieve your goal? Can you describe some of the challenges you and your staff experience in your every-day work? What do you like about your work?   

At Manchester Bidwell, we strive to create a culture of aspiration and hope. We want to provide opportunities and show people a path out of poverty. With our free vocational instructions in partnership with Fortune 100 companies who share our philosophy, we train our students in the medical, lab tech, art, culinary and music sectors. Our centre is beautiful and inviting. We teach and demonstrate that being poor doesn’t mean you can’t develop skills needed in high-level jobs. With our jazz programme, for example, Manchester Bidwell is home to a Grammy-winning record label and a world-class jazz performance series.

One of my biggest challenges is to maintain hope in the midst of despair. With a constituency struggling with economic, social, and psychological distress, I have to generate inspiration and energy myself. However, I feel motivated and joyful when I “take the temperature” every day in the centre and feel the community spirit and sense of inclusion of faculty members and student body that prevail in its halls. The centre became my source of inspiration.  
Women engage in artistic activities At Manchester Bidwell, young people learn not only craft skills, but also arts and music. | Photo (detail): Manchester Bidwell Corporation The Manchester Bidwell Corporation has been replicated in many cities. These Centres for Art and Technology have made an enormous impact in providing opportunities for underserved communities. In an ideal world, what more do you think should be done to reduce inequalities? 

There are currently 11 more Centres for Arts and Technology in cities throughout the United States and one in Israel that are replicating our culture and strategy. Ten more centres are being built. After the death of George Floyd, thousands of people worldwide took to the streets. Here is my work force, I thought! If we could build upon this energy, expand our mission even further and create world-wide training programmes to get people into decent work, we could internationally scale unemployment and significantly reduce social inequalities in our lifetimes. 

It is very expensive to keep people in poverty when you think about unemployment benefits, social programmes, costs for recovery from drug addiction, incarceration. Therefore, it also makes economic sense to invest in people and turn them from liabilities into assets. Invest in an education and you will get the return in taxes within 36 months! I am hopeful that companies and governments are doing this maths, looking at our outcome-based and results-oriented approach and helping us create opportunities for everyone.
 
This interview was produced and first published by 1014 in New York City.
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