Where others see human failure, Michael and Ann Wilson see human capability and potential.
The Wilsons are the heart of Surrey’s Phoenix Society, which assists vulnerable citizens battling addiction, homelessness, and other complex challenges to ultimately overcome these barriers and participate fully in their communities.
The Wilsons’ tireless efforts to help others have earned them honorary degrees from Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) to be presented on May 31.
“At KPU, we see firsthand the difference the Wilsons are making in our community,” notes KPU president and vice-chancellor Dr. Alan Davis. “Their approach is sound, their success is real, and most of all, they change people’s lives, which is why we are so proud to present them with honorary degrees.”
Scholar-practitioners in action, both have pursued scholarly work to demonstrate research-informed social innovation that improves the lives of the citizens they serve and enhances community well-being. Michael completed a doctoral degree in the Human and Organizational Development program at Fielding Graduate University and Ann completed a doctoral degree in Transformational Change in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University.
Staying close to the lived experience of the citizens they served and the goal of contributing to building an inclusive city as the key to social innovation led to applied design and prototyping work. The Phoenix Centre was their first design prototype of a collaborative cross-sector community social and economic development response to the complex, interconnected issues of homelessness, addiction, crime and unemployment in the community.
An integrated service approach combining addiction treatment with access to educational opportunities, employment assistance and long term post-treatment transitional housing has consistently produced successful treatment outcomes of 80 per cent, and employment outcomes of 70 to 80 per cent, which are more than double the outcomes generally achieved across B.C.
Two partnerships with KPU are creative collaborations that contribute to these results. In the Humanities 101 program, KPU faculty donate their time to present to avid students with the result that adult learners uncover their passion and capability for learning. Students are connected to the Phoenix-Kwantlen learning Centre, which offers literacy, numeracy and educational upgrading to improve employability and transition students seamlessly to KPU or other educational settings. Students flourish in the safe, inclusive, and accessible learning space, and are empowered to realize their capability.
Their most recent design prototype, Rising Sun Villas, is a further demonstration that creative cross sector collaboration can respond effectively to complex community problems. The shared equity home ownership model created through Phoenix’s collaboration with the City of Surrey and VanCity demonstrates that within two years, citizens experiencing addiction, homelessness, and other poverty-related issues can recover, stabilize, and own their own homes, building assets for their future.
Ann Wilson has been the Phoenix Society’s director of program development since 1992, responsible for program design, fund development, community and public relations, project management and human resources. Specializing in creating a diverse portfolio of program development activities that lead their constituents to full participation in the social, economic and cultural life of the community has involved combining adult education, asset development approaches, the sustainable livelihoods framework, behavioural health, community based justice re-integration programs and workforce development strategies.
Michael Wilson is founding and executive director of the Phoenix Society. Recognized for his vision and leadership in many task forces and committees on health, affordable housing and social innovation, Michael was named Surrey’s Citizen of the Year in 2015.
Together, the Wilsons have built a multi-service organization with four facilities actively engaged in countering the complex problems of homelessness, addiction, crime, unemployment, and poverty.
“The Wilsons are directly responsible for outstanding and sustained achievements in social innovation that have enhanced individual and community well-being,” notes Davis. “They are visionaries as well as doers, and that is a priceless combination that has literally saved lives.”
Honorary degrees are awarded to those honoris causa in recognition of dignified achievements or outstanding service to the public. Members of the university community and the community at large are invited to nominate candidates. Nominees are exceptionally distinguished scholars, creative artists, public servants, prominent people in the community and the professions, and others who have made significant contributions locally, nationally or globally.