The Dakri family, which includes the leadership of Wallis-based Wallis Bank, 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. 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.
Natives of India, Musa and Khaleda Dakri are longtime Houston residents who have been married for 54 years. Musa Dakri has been the chairman of Wallis Bank for more than 30 years while their sons, Asif Dakri and Faizel Dakri, serve as Wallis Bank’s chief executive officer and chief information officer, respectively. Musa completed his BS degree at the University of Bombay and served as a managing partner for a mid-sized real estate investment company. Khaleda Dakri received her BS degree in chemistry from Baroda University. After arriving in Houston in 1977, Musa founded and subsequently ran Dakri Real Estate Holdings before becoming chairman and CEO of Wallis Bank in 1991.
The gift was made on behalf of the entire Dakri family. It 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.
“We are honored to offer our support for the Center for Economic Inclusion,” Asif Dakri says. “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 to achieve their goals regardless of their socioeconomic status.”
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 the University of Houston’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,” says 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, called UH’s model for training entrepreneurs and upskilling students the best he has ever seen.
“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,” says 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 educated approximately 1,500 aspiring or current entrepreneurs.
Saleha Khumawala, CEI executive director, Robert Grinaker professor of accounting and founding director of the SURE program, has known the Dakri family for decades and attests that 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,” Khumawala says. “This isn’t just about diversity, equity and inclusion, it’s about economic empowerment. The Dakri family and Wallis Bank have been instrumental supporters of our programs for many years, and I am incredibly thankful for their generosity.”
Established in 1906, Wallis Bank operates 13 banking offices in Texas, California and Georgia. In June, the bank announced the opening of a Wallis Bank loan production office in Tempe, Arizona.