A Bold & Inovative Solution
The Turkana Basin Institute (TBI) is a privately funded, non-profit initiative, founded by Richard Leakey and Stony Brook University. It is a collaborative, international, multi-disciplinary enterprise that seeks to facilitate fieldwork within the Lake Turkana Basin by providing logistical support to researchers. The primary research focus is human prehistory and related earth and natural science studies. As the most important repository of fossil evidence for human evolution, a major commitment of TBI is to safeguard the extensive fossil deposits in the region through engagement with the local communities.
Over the past four decades, interdisciplinary field research in the Turkana Basin has been focused almost exclusively on prehistory. With the establishment of TBI, the research has broadened considerably in scope to include modern studies such as botany, limnology, entomology, alternative energy, linguistics, development studies and health care. Historically, it has been difficult to study or address these projects due to the formidable logistics entailed. TBI provides the physical and human infrastructure to enable scientists to conduct research in this challenging environment, in much the same way that creation of Antarctic research stations opened that region to the scientific community at large.
TBI works with founding university partner Stony Brook University, which also serves as TBI’s International Academic Headquarters. Additionally, the University College London, American University, and University of Helsinki have partnered with TBI and additional partnerships expected in the future.
Leadership, with an Eye to the Future
In 2005, Richard Leakey outlined to Stony Brook University his concept for an institute that could provide permanent infrastructure to enable year-round research in this remote region of sub-Saharan Africa. The University enthusiastically endorsed the idea of TBI, committing funds for the Stony Brook end of the project. Additional fundraising began in 2006; construction of basic facilities for a long-term field camp at Ileret commenced in 2007, the camp was fully operational by year-end, and was the site for the first Kenya-based Human Evolution Workshop in 2008. Construction of the first full field center at Turkwel was completed in 2012, and the facility has hosted international workshops every year since 2009. Construction at Ileret commenced in 2012, and is scheduled to be completed in 2015.
Formally, Turkana Basin Institute, Ltd. is the title holder for the fixed assets in Kenya known as TBI-Nairobi, TBI-Turkwel and TBI-Ileret (together known as “TBI Kenya”) and is under an agreement with the Government of Kenya through the National Museums of Kenya, to serve as a repository for the heritage collections of the Lake Turkana area.
In March of 2006, Stony Brook University, the Stony Brook Foundation, and TBI Ltd. entered into an agreement whereby the University established TBI as an official institute at Stony Brook University and the Stony Brook Foundation was established as the US-based not-for-profit that processes philanthropic donations on behalf TBI. A 2014 agreement between the same three parties ensures that Stony Brook University will continue to provide an academic home as well as research and administrative support for TBI for the foreseeable future.
A clear next step came with the 2013 establishment by Richard Leakey and Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley, of the TBI International Advisory Board. Comprised of prominent philanthropists and science thought leaders from around the globe, this group meets twice a year to provide useful insight on how to raise money needed to ensure the success and secure the mission of the Turkana Basin Institute. This dynamic group has agreed to take a lead role in TBI’s fundraising efforts through their own generous contributions.