Can a revitalized Pittsburgh benefit everyone there?

    Maxwell King

    Maxwell King

    A foundation in Pittsburgh will dedicate 60 to 70 percent of its grant making to address poverty and disparity in the region. 

    Depending on the news outlet, Pittsburgh is a lot of things: it’s Steel City or the Paris of Appalachia; it’s the new Brooklyn; it’s the best place to eat, it’s the most underrated American city. 

    But for many, the debate about whether or not Pittsburgh merits all this chatter is immaterial: 30 percent of people in the region live at or near poverty.

    “If 30 to 40 percent of the population really isn’t getting an opportunity to participate in [the new Pittsburgh], then it’s not a success,” says Maxwell King, president of The Pittsburgh Foundation.

    Through its new initiative, 100 Percent Pittsburgh, the foundation will direct 60 to 70 percent of undesignated funds — money that isn’t already spoken for by a family or individual philanthropy — to fighting poverty and disparity in the region.

    Along the way, says King, it’s important to change the perception of vulnerable populations.

    “There’s been a tendency sometimes in the US to blame those populations, ‘Well, they don’t have a job because they don’t want to work,” he said. “I think what we need to appreciate is that something very, very small can go wrong in your life when you have no margin for error economically and just totally disrupt the whole rest of your life, tip things into chaos in a way that’s very hard to recover from.”

    Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble coming up with the money to pay for an unexpected $400 expense, and while The Pittsburgh Foundation has always worked to help people meet basic needs, says King, 100 Percent Pittsburgh is different. “The tendency a few decades ago was to treat symptoms of disadvantage. But what we’re really interested in is systems change, changing underlying causes.”

    To do that, the foundation funds nonprofits that work directly to serve individuals, such as the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh’s employment pathway program. They also work with other foundations, nonprofits, businesses, and local governments.

    “We can’t do it ourselves,” says King. “The Pittsburgh Foundation has a lot of resources but not enough to alone put a dent in poverty and disadvantage in this community.”

    But most importantly, says King, the foundation is listening to the people they intend to help, asking them what their biggest challenges are and the best ways to address them.

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