The Dakri family has pledged $4 million to support the University of Houston’s new Center for Economic Inclusion (CEI) in the C. T. Bauer College of Business. Just launched in May, the CEI’s programs build on Bauer’s award-winning SURE℠ program (Stimulating Urban Renewal through Entrepreneurship), which trains students in business development while simultaneously educating and enabling under-resourced entrepreneurs in the community to launch businesses.
In recognition of the gift, the center will be called the Musa and Khaleda Dakri Center for Economic Inclusion.
The gift establishes an endowed chair to support the center’s chair/director position and an endowed professorship to expand the institute’s research priorities, which includes research on small business entrepreneurship. It also provides significant support for research costs and graduate research fellowships for students.
Natives of India, Musa and Khaleda Dakri are longtime Houston residents who have been married for 54 years. Musa has been the chairman of Wallis Bank for more than 30 years while their sons, Asif and Faizel, serve as Wallis Bank’s chief executive officer and chief information officer, respectively. The gift was made on behalf of the entire Dakri family.
“We are honored to offer our support for the Center for Economic Inclusion. The work done by Dr. Saleha Khumawala and the University of Houston has been life changing for so many in the Houston area. We hope that this gift will allow countless others within our community achieve their goals regardless of their socioeconomic status,” said Asif Dakri.
Musa Dakri completed his Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Bombay, and served as a managing partner for a mid-sized real estate investment company. Khaleda Dakri received her Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Baroda University. After arriving in Houston in 1977, Mr. Dakri founded and subsequently ran Dakri Real Estate Holdings before becoming chairman and CEO of Wallis Bank in 1991.
Longtime supporters of the University of Houston, the Dakri family is committed to helping solve problems across ethnic boundaries, working for the betterment of the African American, Mexican American and South Asian communities. An endowment in UH’s Center for Mexican American and Latino/a Studies named for Musa and Khaleda, for example, provides support for student scholarships, research and more.
“The Dakri family is passionate about the betterment of Houston, generously offering their time and resources to truly make an impact in the community,” said Renu Khator, University of Houston president. “With this support for our new Center for Economic Inclusion, entrepreneurs from all communities, including those in most need of investment, will get access to education, expertise and training needed to build businesses and transform lives.”
The Center for Economic Inclusion aims to combine experiential education, rigorous academic research, and real-world expertise to train university students in human-centered skills, while economically empowering under-resourced entrepreneurs. At the center’s launch, keynote speaker Henry Cisneros, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), called UH’s model for training entrepreneurs and upskilling students the best he has ever seen.
The CEI will take lessons learned from the SURE℠ program and apply them more broadly across a range of programs including:
- A flagship one-semester course in which students collaborate with community entrepreneurson new product development.
- Cougar Professional Skills Clinic, a program where graduate and undergraduate students teach professional skills to community members.
- Experiential Learning Business Skills Course Lab, where students will develop domain-specific courses that are structured similar to SURE classes.
- CEI will found and develop a Higher Education Economic Inclusion Consortium, bringing together higher education organizations with strong economic inclusion programs to exchange best practices on a bi-annual basis.
“Our newly-established Center for Economic Inclusion will empower aspiring entrepreneurs, who are mostly women and people of color, to chase their dreams of founding a successful new business, just as the Dakri family has done successfully for decades,” said Paul A. Pavlou, dean of the C. T. Bauer College of Business. “Our gratitude to the Dakri family is only matched by our eagerness to get to work and train the next generation of diverse entrepreneurs.”
Since its establishment in 2012, the SURE℠ program has trained more than 400 students and helped launch or grow more than 600 businesses, as well as educate approximately 1,500 aspiring or current entrepreneurs.
CEI Executive Director Saleha Khumawala, Robert Grinaker Professor of Accounting and founding director of the SURE℠ program, has known the Dakri family for decades, and said their support and generosity are vital to the center’s success.
“As the only higher education-based economic inclusion center in the country, we are helping build a more sustainable and inclusive society. This isn’t just about diversity, equity and inclusion, it’s about economic empowerment,” said Khumawala. “The Dakri family and Wallis Bank have been instrumental supporters of our programs for many years, and I am incredibly thankful for their generosity.”