Stanford University Recognizes Bob and Dottie King with the “Degree of Uncommon Citizen”

Bob and Dottie King, were recently accorded Stanford University’s most prestigious alumni award: the Degree of Uncommon Citizen. Only 31 other people have ever been honored with this award, which is given only when the president of Stanford deems it appropriate to recognize individuals whose service to the university is “rare and extraordinary.”

The degree was officially bestowed on Bob and Dottie by Stanford president Marc Tessier-Lavigne in a festive celebration held at the university’s Bing Concert Hall on September 28, 2022. The event, which included this video tribute, was attended by scores of guests, among them Stanford’s current and former leaders, faculty, and alumni; people impacted by Bob and Dottie’s support of Stanford; King Philanthropies executives; and Bob and Dottie’s family and friends.

Steve Castillo

In presenting the award, President Tessier-Lavigne eloquently gave voice to something we at King Philanthropies all know: “[Bob and Dottie] are distinctly uncommon—uncommonly generous, uncommonly compassionate, uncommonly visionary, and uncommonly driven to make the world a better place.” He thanked the couple for “their uncommon ability to move us and to inspire us” and noted that “their drive to connect with, and to help people everywhere, has shaped Stanford, as it has shaped Bob and Dottie’s own lives as well.”  He then offered some highlights of the Kings’ connection with, and shaping of, Stanford University. 

It began more than half a century ago when Bob received an MBA from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business (GSB) in 1960 and Dottie supported the couple by working in the Dean’s office. The King’s bond with the university only strengthened over the years as Bob began a career in investment and the couple happened to settle near Stanford to raise their family. Bob worked as a reunion volunteer and alumni investment manager for the GSB Trust and Dottie volunteered with the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital and the Bechtel International Center. Dottie’s work with Bechtel proved especially significant because it led the couple to begin inviting Stanford graduate students from around the world to join them at their home for dinners and homestays. As President Tessier-Lavigne noted, “Stories they heard from these students about their lives back home began to shape the King’s perspectives and inspire and inform their philanthropy. These relationships significantly influenced Bob and Dottie’s later work to improve the lives of millions worldwide who live in extreme poverty.”

In 2011, the Kings made a transformational gift to help establish Stanford Seed—the Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies—a GSB-led program that partners with entrepreneurs from across Africa and South Asia to help them build thriving enterprises that transform lives. Wandia Gichuru, the co-founder and CEO of the Kenya-based women’s fashion brand Vivo Activewear, was in the first Stanford Seed cohort in East Africa and travelled to Palo Alto for the award ceremony. She credited Seed with changing the trajectory of her business and said of the Kings, “Their generosity, humility and deep commitment to changing lives for the better inspire me to do more and to have greater impact every day.” Like many others at the event, she also commented on the King’s capacity for bringing people together. “Bob and Dottie are so deeply committed to their purpose that they are constantly looking for ways to not only to stay connected themselves but to also spur these wider and deeper connections across their network,” she said, adding that this network was fondly referred to as “‘Dottie’s Team.’” 

The success of Seed led to the 2017 launch of the Stanford Center on Global Poverty and Development, which seeks to bring faculty and students from across Stanford together so they can turn research into real world solutions for people living in poverty. The center was subsequently renamed the King Center on Global Development. Inspired by former Stanford president John Hennessy’s vision for the Knight Hennessy Scholars, a program that brings rising scholars from around the world to Stanford and prepares them to tackle global challenges, Bob and Dottie also made a gift that laid the groundwork for the King Global Leadership Program. The program offers a variety of workshops, lectures, projects, and experiences designed around the Knight-Hennessy Scholars Leadership Model and is a core part of the Knight-Hennessy Scholars (KHS) experience. President Hennessy, in a videotaped interview shown at the celebration, said of the Kings, “There are people who make investments in institutions and programs that change the world—that’s what they’ve done at Stanford. Through Seed, through their investment in Knight-Hennessy, they’ve changed the world and they’ve made for a better world by making better people who will go out and continue to improve the world we live in.”

Steve Castillo

President Tessier-Lavigne also credited Bob’s interest in artificial intelligence (AI)—and the dinners that he and Dottie hosted at their home for experts in the field to discuss the topic—for laying the foundation of Stanford HAI. The Kings then provided the leading gift to officially establish HAI, which aims to advance AI research, education, policy, and practice to improve the human condition. Finally, he commended the Kings’ commitment to addressing the world’s climate crisis and noted that it played a critical role in the planning process that led to the 2022 establishment of the Doerr School of Sustainability, Stanford’s first new school in 70 years.

In their own remarks—offered in-person and through filmed interviews shown at the event—Bob and Dottie noted that their philanthropy has four guideposts: change, international, calling, and focus. They likewise emphasized that all their giving sprang from their faith and their enduring commitment to one basic precept, from which King Philanthropies also arose: Love your neighbor. 

“We have a faith,” Bob said. “Love thy neighbor is on our heart. And as the world has shrunk… our neighbors are around the world.” Bob expressed the couple’s gratitude to Stanford for all the support and recognition it has given them over the years and noted that their work was far from done: “We are not through. We must run the race and finish strong. Remember the clock is ticking.” Dottie, for her part, shared her pleasure at receiving this particular award. “I like the idea of being uncommon,” she said. “I don’t want to be common.” 

We at King Philanthropies have long known that Bob and Dottie are anything but common—and we are uncommonly proud to see them recognized with Stanford’s Degree of Uncommon Citizen. 

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