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Global poverty research center gets major philanthropic boost

The Stanford King Center on Global Development expands efforts to improve quality of life in the developing world.

The Stanford Center on Global Poverty and Development is changing its name to the Stanford King Center on Global Development in honor of a gift from Bob and Dottie King. Photo: King Philanthropies

In recognition of philanthropic support from Robert “Bob” King, MBA ’60, and Dorothy “Dottie” King, the Stanford Center on Global Poverty and Development is changing its name to the Stanford King Center on Global Development. The support from the Kings, together with investments from other philanthropists, will create new research opportunities for faculty and students, inform public policy, and engage private sector leaders.

The Stanford King Center brings together scholars and students from schools and institutes across the university to pursue innovative approaches based on data-driven research.

“The Stanford King Center on Global Development has an ambitious mission to alleviate poverty and promote global development,” said Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Stanford University president. “Stanford is profoundly grateful to Bob and Dottie King for their visionary support and to the other donors who share a commitment to improving the human condition.”

Launched in 2017, the newly renamed center is a joint venture between the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR) and the Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies (Stanford Seed). It is a focal point on campus for faculty and students eager to explore the opportunities and challenges of the developing world.

The additional philanthropic funding will enable the Stanford King Center to expand the scope and pace of faculty research initiatives and to advance large, collaborative endeavors. For instance, the Data for Development initiative is leveraging satellite imagery, cell phone records and social media analytics to better understand poverty, agriculture, infrastructure and migration. These new data sources and powerful technologies are allowing researchers to build a foundation of knowledge and inform effective policies and programs.

Other work funded by the center is providing evidence on institutions and technologies that can improve the business environment for firms—and consumers—in developing countries. For example, a project led by Meredith Startz, the Stanford King Center’s inaugural postdoctoral fellow, is focused on honey production in Ethiopia. In partnership with the Ethiopian government, her team is examining how incentives to improve the quality of honey for export to developed-country markets can reach up the supply chain to benefit farmers. Startz will join the Stanford Economics Department this fall as an assistant professor.

Jenna Davis, far right, a Stanford King Center faculty affiliate and associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, works with her field research team in Zambia.

A global commitment

For over 55 years, Bob and Dottie have hosted international students in their home close to campus, forging deep ties with students from Africa, Asia, South America, and elsewhere. Drawing inspiration from these relationships, the Kings have a long-standing dedication to global development. Bob King, an alumnus of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, is the founder of R. Eliot King & Associates, an investment management firm based in Menlo Park, and a venture capital company called Peninsula Capital. He and Dottie have made a number of major philanthropic investments to empower students and entrepreneurs working in emerging economies. Today, they continue to organize and advance the pursuit of their philanthropy through King Philanthropies.

At Stanford, in addition to their support for the Stanford King Center, the Kings are founding donors of Stanford Seed, an initiative led by the GSB. Stanford Seed partners with entrepreneurs in emerging markets and provides them with training, coaching and networking support to build thriving enterprises that transform lives. The Kings also have provided generous support for Knight-Hennessy Scholars, the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence, the GSB, Stanford Athletics, and several other areas across the university.

Real-world impact

The Stanford King Center engages a community of more than 100 faculty researchers in fields such as economics, political science, sociology, engineering, and medicine. These researchers also participate in two-way exchanges with policymakers and private-sector leaders, international organizations, and NGOs.

Students participate in a research opportunity offered through the India Program at the Stanford King Center.

“Through innovative new multidisciplinary collaborations, many of which reflect Stanford’s distinctive strengths, the Stanford King Center is able to inform both public policy and private sector decisions that impact people’s lives,” said Grant Miller, the director and a health and development economist and associate professor of medicine. “Everything we do—from catalyzing research and awarding student fellowships to convening conferences and events—is motivated by a desire to help alleviate global poverty.”

The center’s undergraduate and graduate student programs enable students to work alongside faculty members in the field, perform research of their own, and immerse themselves in issues related to global poverty and development. This academic year, a record number of undergraduate and graduate students were awarded research support for in-the-field experiential learning opportunities on four continents.

One of those students, Nikhil Shankar, ’21, spent a summer doing field research in India – an experience he says was transformative.

“After observing firsthand the challenges that individuals and key institutions in developing nations face, my dedication to ensuring equal opportunity in health, education, and financial empowerment is stronger than ever,” Shankar said. “Now, I have specific ideas and experiences that can help me translate that dedication into smart action.”