How Lyda Hill Thinks Big on Marine Protection

Lyda Hill is a fiery Dallas oil heiress, entrepreneur, and philanthropist whose giving will definitely increase in coming years. One big interest of hers is marine protection, and she’s drawn to big groups carrying out big projects. 

Lyda Hill has played many different roles over the years, and isn't too easy to sum up. She comes from big-time Texas oil money, sure, but she also built a hugely successful travel agency, and had a second career as a venture capitalist.

And her philanthropy is similarly hard to pin down, as she’s a huge alumni donor, a supporter of biomedical and cancer research, and an environmental philanthropist. Just days ago, Hill pledged $10 million to a new hospital in Dallas. But one thing is for sure: She has huge enthusiasm and ambition as a philanthropist, and she’s giving away a ton, $62.3 million in 2013 alone. She’s signed the Giving Pledge with the intention of giving away her entire fortune, and last year hired a foundation president, having mostly made personal donations in the past. She’s also a unique female mega-philanthropist who does not give as part of a husband-wife team, having once said of women who let their husbands drive their philanthropy, “Get a life, lady!”   

Strangely, we missed Hill when we put together our list of the 15 most powerful women in U.S. philanthropy, but she'll definitely be on the list next time around. 

While Hill has given some huge gifts to schools and for medical research (she’s a cancer survivor), she has also taken on oceans as one of her pet causes, as many wealthy donors are doing these days.  


So what drives her marine giving? Well, not surprisingly, she’s after ambitious projects, and her marine giving has been dominated by the whales of conservation. She’s also looking for measurable results, taking the term "philanthrocapitalist" one step further and calling herself a “philanthropreneur.” Science is also a driving force in her giving, with all of her funding attempting to back breakthroughs driven by research. All of that makes Pew Charitable Trusts a logical choice as one of her marine faves.  

Pew runs one of the largest global advocacy programs for ocean conservation, with research at the core of its activities. The first thing Hill did with Pew was join the Global Ocean Legacy, a partnership of funders that includes Bloomberg, Waitt, Tiffany & Co., and the Oak Foundation. The program protects some of the largest marine protected areas in existence, and Hill played a role in the protection of Chagos, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean. 

A big fan of how that worked out, Hill also backed Pew’s protection of waters in the Arctic, as well as efforts to end illegal fisheries. As for what she likes about Pew’s work, Hill has said, “They see a problem, identify what can be done about it, and can tell you what the measures of success are.”

Related - Pew Charitable Trusts: Grants for Marine and Rivers

Her other major beneficiary on the oceans front is another juggernaut, the Nature Conservancy. Hill recently pledged $7 million to the gigantic environmental group that is ever-so-popular among green philanthropists, specifically for its marine protection efforts. Prior to that, Hill has contributed here and there to the organization, with her name popping up as a sponsor on various conferences and reports.  

But one big TNC project she’s been connected to is a partnership effort to “map the wealth of the ocean,” which received a lead investment from Hill of $3.8 million. This is a Walton-ish project that fits with her business-like approach to philanthropy, in that it attempts to quantify the value of the oceans as a resource for humanity. This includes dollar values, as well as jobs and food security, in an effort to bring huge economic value into the discussion of conservation.

Will Lyda Hill branch out from the big groups as her philanthropy grows? Possibly, but I think we can most likely expect her to continue to fund the well-established teams with global programs. One thing is for sure—whatever announcement we hear about her marine giving down the line, it will be big. 

Related - Lyda Hill Foundation: Texas Grants