A new $ 50 million gift to the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University, from the charitable foundation created by its namesake, will allow the institute to expand its efforts as it addresses the most critical issues facing the Houston region.
The infusion of funding from the Kinder Foundation, announced Friday, nearly triples its existing endowment and will help the institute double its staff size during the next five years, according to Kinder Institute Director Ruth Lopez Turley. She said it will also help the Kinder Institute become more flexible and responsive to the data and research needs of local government agencies and others – with focuses on community health, economic mobility, education and housing studies along with continued population research.
“We see our research in many ways as a public good,” she said. “We want to make it as accessible as possible not just to direct community partners, but we want to make it accessible to the broader community.”
The Kinder Institute was founded in 2010 and already had received approximately $ 30 million from the Kinder Foundation, the philanthropic organization of Rich and Nancy Kinder. The organization operates the annual Kinder Houston Area Survey, which documents changes in the way residents perceive and understand issues facing the Houston area, along with conducting policy analyzes and other research.
Turley said the additional gift will help ensure the longevity of the endowment while also helping the institute analyze data more quickly during crimes of crisis, such as a hurricane or pandemic. Applying for and receiving money through grants can take as long as a year, she said.
“Timely research is the answer to addressing so many of society’s biggest issues,” Rice University president Reginald DesRoches said in a news release from the school. “The Kinder Institute has done a remarkable job in supporting Houston and cities across the Sun Belt with its transformative work, and thanks to the Kinder Foundation’s continued support, they’re only getting started.”
Turley said the $ 50 million boost will help the institute focus on what she calls inclusive prosperity. The Houston area is among the national leaders in terms of its economic growth during the last decade, she said, but it’s near the bottom in terms of how equitably its wealth has been distributed.
The Kinder Institute also is expanding its network of community partners, such as having recently associated with the United Way of Greater Houston to help it improve economic mobility in the region, and wants to do more research that supports to the objectives of such partners, according this is Turley. She said the new gift also will make it easier for the institute to conduct research for organizations and stakeholders that might not be able to pay for it themselves.
That model has been in practice within the Houston Education Research Consortium, which was founded by Turley and is part of the institute. Turley said it has conducted research tailored to 11 school districts in the region, without charging those school districts for the work.
“Over the past decade, the Kinder Institute has played an integral role in shaping Houston,” Kinder Foundation Chairman Rich Kinder said in a statement. “However, we can do more to inform and more directly address the challenges our communities face.”
Turley said she realizes the $ 50 million could be used to address more immediate needs in the Houston area. But by using it for data and policy analyses that apply to a range of stakeholders and problems, the idea is that the money can help create more solutions that will have longer-lasting impacts.
“The work we’re doing and the research we’re doing is to try to inform efforts to make Houston better,” Turley said. “These efforts are ultimately about eliminating needs.”
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