In the early 2000s, the future of culture, sustainability, and opportunity in Pittsburgh began to take shape under wide ranging, and seemingly disconnected, circumstances. In Millvale, devastating floods from Hurricane Ivan forced residents to face their relationship with the environment and an uncertain future.
Over in East Liberty, failed civic planning which hollowed out the neighborhood core was challenged by an emerging cultural nexus. And, on the heels of the dot-com bubble, Pittsburgh’s entrepreneurial ecosystem took root. But, for New Sun Rising, it took an event of historic proportions more than 1,000 miles away to connect the dots.
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and threatening the future identity of the city. For brothers Brian and Scott Wolovich, numerous visits to New Orleans developed a deep appreciation for the role of art and food in building community. Feeling a personal connection to those trying to rebuild, New Sun Rising was launched as an immediate response to help other passionate leaders to create culture, sustainability, and opportunity in their neighborhoods.
While experiencing the traumatic disruption of social and economic ecosystems, the organization’s founders began to question what the future of these communities would become. An immediate response took the shape of practical capacity building, fiscal sponsorship, and mentorship for grassroots leaders and their efforts to rebuild. The outcome of these early projects created networks of hope and an undeniable shift in neighborhood perception.
The Cultural Gumbo, a fundraiser in the tradition of the New Orleans Jazz Fest, was organized at the legendary Shadow Lounge to raise money and support flood victims in New Orleans (Tipitina’s Foundation) and Pittsburgh (North Hills Community Outreach). Soon afterwards, a group of residents were fiscally sponsored by New Sun Rising to bring the Millvale Community Library to reality. Another founding project, The Horizon Experience, helped children from urban and suburban neighborhoods build positive relationships and crush stereotypes through shared summer field trips and mentoring.
For a decade, New Sun Rising’s volunteer board of directors carried the weight of our early mission to improve the social, environmental, and cultural wellness of the Pittsburgh region. Strategic planning and the development of a place-based incubation program led to a 2014 grant from Neighborhood Allies. This initial investment seeded development programs such as Ignite Workshops and a Launch Incubator pilot, while furthering research on models to leverage social entrepreneurship and activate equitable community plans.
The organization observed a lack of support for emerging entrepreneurs in disinvested neighborhoods, especially when compared to the Silicon Valley-inspired high growth tech sector. Skewing investments heavily towards extractive socioeconomic ventures resulted in unbalanced and inequitable opportunity in local ecosystems. And, when positive shifts in local identity and livability eventually do occur, neighborhoods often become the target of large-scale outside investment, which can result in the negative impacts of gentrification and displacement. Following the success of the initial pilot, funding from the Henry L. Hillman Opportunity Fund and Pittsburgh Foundation provided resources to scale up fiscal sponsorship and establish Ignite, Launch, and Grow capacity building services through the NSR Vibrant Communities Framework.
In response to the growing opportunity gap, centralization of wealth, and quality of life disparities created by our current system, New Sun Rising supports innovative approaches to equitable community development. Building upon practical lessons learned while supporting over 400 leaders and managing $15+ million since 2005, the NSR Vibrant Communities Framework has emerged as a roadmap to activate real change through local ownership. This toolkit is adaptive and implemented through local partners to instigate regenerative development: built from the bottom up and from the inside out.
As we move into a new decade, New Sun Rising is focused on improving the effectiveness of nonprofits, social enterprises, and collaboratives in three ways: capacity building, accessible funding, and data + creative advocacy.
We believe that transformational community change requires a commitment to supporting local people to lead and benefit from the change they envision. By unlocking authentic human potential, we’re building an engaged, diverse, and cooperative ecosystem with solutions that not only improve your community – but can improve communities around the world.