Global Impact: Lyda Hill
By every measure, Lyda Hill is a success: a serial entrepreneur in both for-profit and non-profit ventures; a generous benefactor to her communities; a patron to countless scientific causes; and a pioneer in Young Presidents’ Organization.
All of it, she says, has been training for these, the best years of her life, when she awakens each day to ask, “What good shall I do today?”
Hill, who joined YPO in 1975, grew up surrounded by business titans and proved a natural entrepreneur. Since childhood, she accompanied her mother in charitable endeavors. “I didn’t know volunteering was voluntary,” she says. So while pondering next steps, Hill gave her time and talent to an organization that would change her life, the Junior League of Dallas, Texas. There she discovered that she was not just born a member of a prominent family, she was a born entrepreneur and a valuable leader.
“The experience allowed me to prove myself to myself,” she says. “I needed to know who Lyda was. That has been really important to me.”
Armed with confidence, she borrowed USD10,000 from her dad and launched Hill World Travel, growing it into one of the largest travel agencies in the world and earning her the credentials to join YPO.
Where the Junior League experience was focused on the community, YPO helped Hill prove she could be a successful business person. Armed with confidence, she launched more ventures in the travel and hospitality sector, often advised by her YPO forum members, and soon a pattern emerged. Hill discovered that her most successful businesses had a purpose beyond profit. From the poured flooring that kills bacteria, to women’s health, to revitalizing historical landmarks, to funding breakthrough scientific research, Hill has always insisted on doing good while doing well.
“I really like the double bottom line” she says. “People call it social investing, but I’ve been doing it a long time… I was just investing in things I knew could be beneficial to everybody.”
Hill’s heritage and acumen have given her the opportunity to make a global impact. She took The Giving Pledge in 2010, and then took it a step farther, pledging to give not just half but all of her wealth away in her lifetime. Through her philanthropic foundation, Hill feeds her passion for nature and science by funding breakthrough projects in the areas of medicine, archaeology, anthropology and community health. Millions of people benefit by Hill sharing her resources, whether financial backing or entrepreneurial brainpower, on impactful projects, including:
- Breakthrough research (MD Anderson Cancer Center, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, National Geographic),
- Education (Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Smithsonian).
- Public health (Visiting Nurse Association, Meals on Wheels, Parkland Hospital) and
- Community revitalization (Fort Worth Historic Stockyards; Dallas’ Klyde Warren Park; Garden of the Gods Park in Colorado Springs, Colorado; Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge).
Hill says she is not interested in writing checks; she is interested in making a difference.
“My life has wandered through varied pursuits. I can see now that I was developing the knowledge to do what I was intended to do – be a first class philanthropist.”
Hill has been widely recognized for her volunteerism – including by former U.S. President Ronald Reagan – and is part of an exhibit by the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History on philanthropy, along with her fellow Giving Pledgers.
Hill wants the art of sharing to be part of her legacy, so she makes a point of giving each year at Christmas in her nieces’ and nephews’ names to causes chosen by them – so they can develop a love of giving back. “We need to train the next generation in philanthropy,” Hill says. “I want giving to become a habit for them.”
Everyone, she says, can help at some level. “And it doesn’t matter how much you have to give. The child who takes his 50 cents to school for a charitable project, is making a difference. I guarantee you that when he comes home from school… he’s going to be excited. He knows he helped somebody.”
For Hill, the most important thing is spreading the word that everyone can have a positive impact on the word.
“I’ve created a lot of businesses. I’ve volunteered a lot – chairing the largest volunteer agency, the largest non-profit and the largest fundraiser in Dallas. The most fun you can possibly have, is what I’m doing now. I am using my business and charitable knowledge to invest in giving and seeing the difference that it is making.”
As Hill often says, “Fun and philosophy both start with “F.”