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January 13, 2015

One of San Diego’s newest organizations, RISE San Diego was established last September with a goal of identifying and developing urban leaders by promoting resident-led civic engagement, strengthening community-based nonprofit organizations, and providing training and support to increase people’s capacity to lead themselves and positively impact the future of their neighborhoods. RISE is designed to take the “neighborhoods first” concept from aspiration to action.

The organization was started by former San Diego City Council President Tony Young and community and nonprofit leader Dwayne Crenshaw, both of whom have a long-term commitment to social justice and equity, deep knowledge of the community and proven ability to engage with residents, nonprofits, business and civic leaders.

Although only a few months old, RISE has already began effectively engaging leaders in San Diego. Its monthly Urban Breakfast Club series began in October and welcomed an average of 150 community residents, civic leaders, elected officials and other stakeholders during its first two sessions. And you won’t find reserved seats or VIP tables anywhere in the room—everyone from CEOs to students to councilmembers all mix among the tables. “We think that’s what’s important,” says RISE CEO Dwayne Crenshaw. “The key to these events being successful is the interaction and diversity of folks—something we’ve already seen working thus far.”

RISE’s biggest goal is to foster community engagement. To do so, the organization has created a variety of forums, including the Urban Breakfast Club, built to create tangible outcomes and real action in urban communities. “These forums are about making information available to as many people as possible and making their voices heard as well,” Crenshaw says. Another forum, the Community Leadership Council, is a monthly roundtable dialogue convened by RISE of leaders of urban nonprofit organizations that come together to discuss community-wide concerns, identify opportunities to collaborate, and develop positions on and strategies to tackle the urban issues of the day. The council is challenged to leave individual or organizational agendas at the door in order to work toward a common agenda for improving the communities they serve as a whole.

RISE has a unique goal and commitment to help identify and empower a generation of leaders who will not only bring our urban communities up, but who will also bring them together. The RISE Urban Leadership Fellows Program is a 12-month program held at the University of San Diego. The program takes civic engagement to the next level by identifying and nurturing rising leaders ready to engage in meaningful community change work. Modeled after Harvard’s “adaptive change” leadership model, the program will explore leadership as a manner of fostering systematic change within urban communities.

In addition to its civic engagement activities and leadership development program, RISE offers services that make it, in a way, a nonprofit determined to serve nonprofits. Too often, organizations are bogged down by paperwork, policy and politics, which get in the way of fulfilling their mission. RISE offers services that alleviate these distractions, allowing more time for leaders to impact the community. Areas of service include: Fiscal Management, Human Resources Resource Development, Communications, Policy and Procedure Development, and Program Design and Implementation. Additional support comes in the form of free nonprofit advocacy trainings offered to urban nonprofit leaders that share resources and tools to be stronger neighborhood advocates. These trainings also help nonprofit leaders fully understand the rules of nonprofit advocacy and become confident in their legal right to pursue their policy goals.

By engaging the community and tackling urban issues from a first-hand perspective RISE hopes to create real systemic change in urban communities throughout San Diego. In the coming months, RISE’s focus will lie in workforce development and job creation within these economically diverse areas as well as welcoming the inaugural class of RISE Fellows.

Applications for the 2015 Rise Urban Leadership Fellows Program are now open. Visit to apply.

To learn more about RISE San Diego, visit

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