Broad Interests and a Passion for Science: What This Mega-Donor Is Into

  Bioinformatics is one of Lyda Hill's interests. CI Photos/Shutterstock

 Bioinformatics is one of Lyda Hill's interests. CI Photos/Shutterstock

Lyda Hill has been one to watch in philanthropy for the past five years or so, with some big donations coming from the Dallas oil heiress and her Lyda Hill Foundation. We don’t know how much money Hill has, but she says she intends to give it away in her lifetime, indicating there’s more high-dollar philanthropy to come.  

Aside from inheriting oil wealth from her grandfather H.L. Hunt, Hill’s an entrepreneur and an investor, and has emerged in recent years as a big donor in areas like medical research and conservation. The belief in the power of science, in fact, is a driving force for the self-proclaimed “philanthropreneur,” who backs efforts through individual giving, her foundation, and investments through her firm L.H. Holdings. 

Related: How Lyda Hill Thinks Big on Marine Protection

While she’s probably best known for giving related to oceans and cancer research, donating $50 million in 2013 to MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Moon Shots Program, a recent donation related to brain health and law enforcement served as a reminder that Hill’s interests are pretty diverse. A running theme is support for early-stage and emerging science, as well as research that seeks to solve societal problems. 

Here are some of Hill’s notable science interests. 

Antibiotic Resistance

Hill is a big backer of the Pew Charitable Trusts, including its ocean conservation work, but also for its campaign to address antibiotic resistance. Pew has been running a campaign to counter the health threat of antibiotic-resistant infections, including support for the development of new antibiotics and better use of existing antibiotics, both as they are prescribed to human patients, and administered in livestock. Research by the Bridgespan Group recently cited Hill’s support for the Pew campaign as an example of a successful “big bet” in philanthropy, crediting the funding as integral to the campaign’s success, which includes improved FDA management and corporate reforms. 

Brain Health

Neuroscience is one of the preferred interest areas of the Lyda Hill Foundation, and Hill recently funded a training program to support brain performance of Dallas police officers in areas like tactical decision making and managing emotional response to stress. The program will be run by the Center for BrainHealth and the Brain Performance Institute, which are part of the University of Texas at Dallas. The program will aid 500 police officers, and build a body of research on how law enforcement affects the brain. Hill previously gave $2 million to the UC Colorado Springs to help veterans cope with brain injury and trauma-induced mental health issues, and $2 million to the Center for BrainHealth for similar work. 

Bioinformatics

One of Lyda Hill’s biggest research gifts to date sent $25 million to the UT Southwestern Medical Center in 2015 to establish a Department of Bioinformatics. This field uses computing and data analysis to crunch huge datasets of biological information, and has become an increasingly important tool in making new discoveries and developing clinical applications. The university has received more than $37.5 million in total from Hill, including a donation to establish a genetic mutations database that will be used in research on immunology, inflammatory disease and cancer. 

That’s just a few scientific interests, however, as Hill was a major donor to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas. She also gave $3 million to the work of paleontologist Lee Berger, who led the discovery of a new human ancestor, Homo naledi. 

Hill’s interests are clearly broad, but often driven by a passion for science and personal or family connections to issues. We’ll be interested to see where this funder heads next, especially as the foundation takes shape. 

Related: Meet the 50 Most Powerful Women in U.S. Philanthropy