Carnegie Mellon University
April 28, 2021

Announcing the Center for Shared Prosperity

Dear Members of the CMU Community,

I am thrilled to announce a sweeping initiative, in partnership with The Heinz Endowments, which will leverage the university’s research to help address barriers to equity and foster economic empowerment in the greater Pittsburgh region. Today, we are launching the Center for Shared Prosperity, a new model for collaboration with our neighbors to make real and measurable progress on the issues facing Pittsburgh. Its ambitious scope will focus on one of CMU’s greatest strengths – the translation of research into practical actions for impact. This means not just conceiving solutions that address inequities, build prosperity and enhance well-being, but also deploying these solutions on a regional scale in a way that can inspire other communities across our nation.

The Heinz Endowments has committed $30 million to support the center’s work, which is the largest grant in its history. The grant will fund the creation and operation of the center, which will be led by inaugural Executive Director Illah Nourbakhsh, the founder of CMU’s CREATE Lab. Building on CREATE Lab’s data-driven, collaborative model, the center’s real-world projects will be designed and implemented with community partners to move the needle on complex issues. A portion of the grant will be used to establish an endowment to support the center’s work in perpetuity.

This exciting initiative is motivated by the extraordinary time we are living through, and the unprecedented digital transformation that is reshaping our economy, society and culture in profound ways. While we have experienced groundbreaking advances, this rapid pace of change is also reshaping the future of work. These shifts are contributing to a widening opportunity gap and the disenfranchisement of a growing segment of both urban and rural populations, a trend that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. This is not just unacceptable on a moral level — it is also a threat to the foundation of our democracy.

I have heard from so many CMU community members wanting to see us respond more intentionally to this moral imperative — and I agree. CMU has the creativity as well as the interdisciplinary expertise in science, technology, policy and the humanities to help address the digital revolution’s unintended consequences. Therefore, the university should, and will continue to, broaden its mission beyond education, research and economic impact to embrace a commitment to ensure the prosperity we create is widely shared with those in our region. The center is one expression of this commitment, which is also reflected in the work of several other university centers and initiatives at the intersection of technology and humanity. It also builds on a foundation of community engagement developed over many years by countless faculty, staff, students and alumni working with, and for, our neighbors.

At the heart of the Center for Shared Prosperity is an enhanced model of collaboration that leverages the strengths and knowledge of both the community and the university. Driving the center’s agenda will be a newly formed Center Community Committee with representatives from Western Pennsylvania community organizations and residents; CMU faculty, staff and students; and Heinz Endowments staff. The committee will be charged with identifying specific equity, economic and social justice challenges facing the Pittsburgh region that will be the focus of the center’s work. This may include housing, education, transportation, healthcare, technology fluency and access to capital.

Then, working groups composed of community members and CMU faculty, staff and students will partner to study these issues and develop, pilot and implement, at scale, social and technical innovations that address them. These working groups will harness community members’ lived experiences and skills, alongside CMU experts in areas when the university leads, including data science, public policy, technology and the social sciences. Like so many other centers and institutes at CMU, this is a university-wide effort that will draw on the expertise and passion of the entire campus. As such, while the center will have its administrative home in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, it will be overseen by a committee of deans.

Professor Nourbakhsh’s vision, leadership and impactful work in Pittsburgh communities, alongside his colleagues in the CREATE Lab and their collaborators across all of the schools and colleges, have been instrumental in laying the foundation for this initiative, which has also been shaped by discussions with the Heinz Endowments over the past three years. To learn more about how to get engaged in the mission of the center, the center will soon hold a series of virtual information sessions for faculty, students, staff, and alumni.

This initiative is a key component of our effort to embed diversity, equity and inclusion across the university and advance deeper engagement with, and economic empowerment of, the broader Pittsburgh community.

The Heinz Endowments’ grant supports Make Possible: The Campaign for Carnegie Mellon University, our multiyear effort to secure $2 billion in private philanthropy to advance CMU’s strategic priorities. This grant is the latest in a decades-long relationship that CMU has had with the Heinz Endowments, and we are grateful for their continuing support. On behalf of the CMU community, thank you to the Heinz family and to the Board of Directors at The Endowments for continuing to believe in CMU. I wish to express my special thanks to Grant Oliphant, the president of The Endowments, for whom this has been a passion project, and to the staff of The Endowments for their partnership. I also wish to thank the members of the Center Community Committee, whose experiences and commitment are truly the heart and soul of this initiative. Finally, as we launch the center, we do so with the enthusiastic endorsement of Carnegie Mellon’s Board of Trustees, and the academic and administrative leadership, especially our deans. I am grateful for this overwhelming support.

When the CMU community brings our expertise, creativity and empathy to bear on a problem, we create extraordinary impact. I look forward to what this center can achieve for Pittsburgh, and what it can inspire in other regions.


Farnam Jahanian
Henry L. Hillman President’s Chair