Changing the Odds


“In inner cities where overcoming the odds is the only way for children to achieve success, [Geoffrey] Canada contends that the odds need to be changed.”

That is the opening line of Jeremy Del Rio‘s fantastic piece on the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) written on behalf of the 2012 Global Leadership Summit.  It is well worth the read and can be downloaded for free here.

I have felt for some time that Geoffrey Canada is one of the great minds of our time, and that HCZ is one of the really important urban models for us all to interact with.

One of the things that I have always appreciated about HCZ is the simplicity, elegance, and transferability of their core principles and philosophy. When you see an organization with an $84 million operating budget, hundreds of paid staff, and an outreach radius that touches over 10,000 children annually, it is easy to assume that they operate in a universe all to themselves. What could possibly transfer from a behemoth like that to a small nonprofit, church, or social service agency?

That’s the magic of their model – at least in my eyes. In this article Jeremy Del Rio distills the HCZ philosophical framework and initiatives into four core pillars. These principles should be studied and discussed by anyone that wants to see the odds changed. Perhaps we will not all agree on these, but I would content they should at least be the starting point for our conversation:

1) Rebuild the community from within by developing indigenous leaders who already live in the neighborhood. “Mostly we found that to change a block, you had to get between 10 and 20 percent of the people engaged.” Hope spreads and negative elements move elsewhere.

2) Start early and never stop. Provide services from before birth through prenatal parenting classes and continuing through the completion of college. “Our theory is you never let the kids get behind in the first place.”

3) Think and plan big. Overwhelm the negative with positive influences. Make success and hard work normative.

4) Evaluate relentlessly. HCZ holds 1,300 full and part-time employees accountable to predetermined results. “If you took a salary to deliver an outcome and you didn’t deliver the outcome, you can’t stay here in the organization.” All programs have ten-year business plans with goals, targets, and timetables.

What do you think?  Do those 4 pillars resonate with you?  If so, why?  And if not, what’s missing?

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