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Bob and Dottie King honored with Uncommon Citizen award

Longtime volunteers and philanthropists, the Kings have transformed Stanford’s work on global development and other priorities.

Dottie and Bob King smile together

Dottie and Bob King

Robert “Bob” King, MBA ’60, and Dorothy “Dottie” King, who have used their time, talents and philanthropy to advance an array of institutional priorities tackling major societal issues, are receiving Stanford’s most prestigious alumni award, the Degree of Uncommon Citizen.

The honor is awarded only when the president of the university deems it appropriate to recognize individuals with rare and extraordinary service to Stanford. The Kings join a list of just 31 previous recipients.

“Bob and Dottie King inspire all of us at Stanford through their dedication to service and philanthropy,” said President Marc Tessier-Lavigne. “True humanitarians, they have helped leverage the university’s strengths to drive lasting change both in our campus community and across the globe. Stanford is fortunate to benefit from their remarkable counsel, support and friendship.”

The Kings have been actively engaged with the university since their earliest days on campus, when Bob was a student at Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) and Dottie supported the couple by working in the dean’s office. After Bob graduated and began his investment career, he dedicated his time and expertise to the GSB as a reunion volunteer and alumni investment manager for the GSB Trust.

The Kings have developed strong personal relationships across the university through their many forms of service. Bob has served on multiple advisory councils and Dottie has volunteered in support of Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford and the Bechtel International Center. They also have long been known for opening their home to members of the university community, who, according to one dinner guest, would experience “the warmth of Dottie’s embrace and laugh.”

In many ways, these activities have informed and influenced the Kings’ shared passion for addressing global economic inequality. For example, they hosted international students at their Menlo Park home for more than 50 years and, in large part due to their relationships with these students, became animated by a desire to change lives globally.

In 2011, they made a transformational gift to help establish Stanford Seed: Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies, a GSB-led program that is working to improve the human condition through partnerships with global entrepreneurs and targeted research and training. The couple has been actively involved in Seed’s on-the-ground work with individuals and companies in Africa and India. They have developed close bonds with a number of Seed entrepreneurs, which they have nurtured during their visits to Seed sites.

“Getting to know Bob and Dottie King, and witnessing everything they do, has been such a privilege,” said Wandia Gichuru, co-founder and CEO of Vivo Activewear. Gichuru participated in Stanford Seed’s first cohort in East Africa and credits the program – and the Kings – with changing the trajectory of her business. “Their generosity, humility and deep commitment to changing lives for the better inspire me to do more and to have greater impact every day.”

The success of Stanford Seed led to the 2017 launch of the Stanford Center on Global Poverty and Development, which, in recognition of philanthropic support from the Kings, is now known as the Stanford King Center on Global Development. The center brings together faculty and students from schools and institutes across the university to pursue innovative, data-driven approaches to alleviating global poverty.

The Kings were also inspired by former Stanford President John Hennessy’s vision for the Knight-Hennessy Scholars program, which serves an international community of graduate students from all seven of Stanford’s schools. Closely aligning with Bob and Dottie’s own guiding principles, the program seeks to prepare a new generation of global leaders to develop creative solutions to effect positive change in the world. The Kings’ generous gift to Knight-Hennessy Scholars laid the groundwork for the King Global Leadership Program, the programmatic heart of the scholars’ experience. The Kings continue their tradition of forming bonds with students from around the world by holding special events for their cohort of Knight-Hennessy international scholars.

“When I visited Bob and Dottie’s house for dinner, I watched transfixed as they meticulously put away almost two dozen guests’ coats and later handed them back to the owners accurately,” said Ayo Dada, a Knight-Hennessy Scholar from Lagos, Nigeria. “This spirit of humble service underpins the King Global Leadership Program, which rightfully bears their name, a program that will inspire a growing army of visionaries to rewrite the most difficult narratives of our world. It is but one aspect of the Kings’ towering legacy, and I am deeply grateful to be part of it.”

In recent years, Bob’s interest in artificial intelligence – and his own clear-eyed understanding of its societal implications – prompted him to convene and co-lead a series of salon-style dinners where friends of the university and university leaders discussed how Stanford might explore the future of AI technologies and their human impact. The ideas sparked in these early conversations contributed to the 2019 launch of the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (Stanford HAI). Since then, Bob has continued to provide his strategic and forward-looking counsel as a member of the HAI Advisory Council.

The Kings have also been increasingly focused on addressing the world’s climate crisis, sharing Stanford’s commitment to meeting the urgency of the challenge with accelerated policy and technology solutions. As an inaugural member of the Sustainability Task Force – the external advisory committee for Stanford’s new school focused on climate and sustainability – Bob again provided invaluable guidance to a university planning process.

“Bob and Dottie King are extraordinary philanthropists, partners and people,” said Jon Levin, dean of Stanford Graduate School of Business, where the Kings have supported students, faculty, an international experience fund and other initiatives. “Everything they have created at Stanford – from student dinners filled with debate and warmth to new programs and institutes – is infused with their boundless energy, their zest for human connection and their profound optimism. We are fortunate to have them as members of the Stanford family.”

The Kings conduct many other charitable activities outside of Stanford. In 2016, they established King Philanthropies, a grantmaking foundation which aims to improve the lives of 100 million people by 2035. They joined the Giving Pledge community in 2020.

The Degree of Uncommon Citizen, which is conferred by the Stanford Associates Board of Governors, was created in 1953. It was inspired by President Herbert Hoover, Class of 1895, who said: “Great human advances have not been brought about by mediocre men and women. They were brought about by distinctly uncommon people with vital sparks of leadership.” (Until 2021, the award was known as the Degree of Uncommon Man/Woman.)

Stanford Associates, the university’s honorary organization for alumni volunteer service, was established in 1935. Led by its Board of Governors, Stanford Associates recognizes and encourages alumni engagement through awards and grants.

This story originally appeared in Stanford Report.