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Philanthropy’s Outsized Impact on Pittsburgh’s Civic and Economic Life

Posted on: May 13, 2019

Pittsburgh’s foundations have had a major impact on nearly every aspect of the region’s civic and economic life over the past 130+ years. This influence can be traced back to Andrew Carnegie’s essay “Wealth,” which urged wealthy industrialists to feed their fortunes back into the community in ways that would “help those who will help themselves.”

A legacy of continued investment from industrial-age titans such as H.J. Heinz, Andrew Carnegie, R.K. Mellon, Henry Hillman, and Henry Clay Frick has sustained invaluable cultural and educational assets — from the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts to Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). In 2017, Pittsburgh’s 10 largest foundations, with reported assets of $8.8 billion, made donations totaling $456 million.

p4 Performance Measures graphic
p4 Performance Measures

The Heinz Endowments, one of Pittsburgh’s largest and most influential foundations, has positioned itself at the forefront of the national conversation on some of the most pressing issues facing metropolitan areas. In partnership with the City of Pittsburgh, the Heinz Endowments created the organization framework of “p4” – People, Planet, Place, and Performance, to guide new and existing initiatives related to social, economic, and environmental issues.

One such new initiative is the p4 Performance Measures Project, a system of quantifiable metrics designed to inform and improve decision-making about investments in development projects. The p4 Performance Measures are now being used to guide the development of Pittsburgh’s largest remaining brownfield, the 178-acre Hazelwood Green site.

Foundations are also central in supporting innovative community development efforts such as the ONE Northside initiative – an extensive planning and programming effort fostered in partnership with Northside residents and business owners, developed and supported by The Buhl Foundation. This program works to build consensus around the key challenges and opportunities facing the community and the strategies needed to address them.

One Northside community group
Members of the ONE Northside initiative

The leadership and support of foundations also play a key role in Pittsburgh’s global leadership in research and development. The Hillman Foundation provided funding to create Carnegie Mellon University’s (CMU) leading smart cities research institutes, Traffic21 and Metro21. Ongoing support for Metro21 is provided by the Heinz Endowments, R.K. Mellon Foundation, and The Buhl Foundation. The University of Pittsburgh’s Innovation Institute and CMU’s Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship are also supported by philanthropic investment.

Foundations remain essential for economic, community, and technological development in the region, thanks to their ability to quickly fund projects and leverage partnerships with civic leaders that go back generations. LINK leaders will hear about the role of philanthropy in driving innovation and think through how foundations in the Atlanta region could connect with their Pittsburgh peers.