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Irwin and Joan Jacobs

Irwin and Joan Jacobs

Irwin and Joan Jacobs

Amount donated: $636m

Philanthropic Causes: Education, technology, arts.

Region of philanthropic focus: United States

Ranking: 17th on Forbes’ America’s 50 Top Givers list in 2014

Net Worth: $1.19bn in April 2016 according to Forbes

Source of wealth: Telecommunications

Since retiring from the board of his company Qualcomm in 2012, Irwin Jacobs, alongside his wife Joan, has turned his focus to giving a hundreds of millions of dollars of his wealth away.

Both Irwin, 82, and Joan were born to Jewish families and both graduated from Cornell University with degrees in electrical engineering and nutrition, respectively. The couple married in 1954 and went on to half four sons: Gary, Hal, Paul, and Jeff. They now reside in La Jolla, California.

While New York City native Joan enjoyed a successful career as a dietician, Irwin, who co-founded Qualcomm in 1985, was responsible for building the majority of the family’s wealth – being at the helm of the telecommunications company which has been credited for revolutionising wireless technology.

In 2012, Jacobs’ son Paul took over as the company’s CEO and remains executive chairman today. Meanwhile, Irwin, who worth $1.19bn, has turned his attention to giving back.

The Jacobs’ modest backgrounds and family life has been a big inspiration to their philanthropy. In August 2010, the Jacobs’ became signatories of the Giving Pledge, vowing to give away over 50% of their wealth to philanthropic endeavours. At the time, the couple wrote in their pledge letter: “At college, we benefited from state and scholarship/ fellowship support for our education, a key enabler of our ability to participate in the Giving Pledge. Thus, education – K-12, university, libraries, and the use 24/7 of mobile technology – was an early and remains a key component of our philanthropy.”

The added they were keen to make giving a family affair, continuing: “Passing on the joy of philanthropy to children and grandchildren is essential to us. Beyond the ability to set an example by personal leadership, we have successfully encouraged grandchildren to attend sessions sponsored by the Giving Pledge and by our financial advisor Merrill Lynch.

“After careful consideration, we also chose to establish a donor-advised fund for each grandchild to enable them to follow their own interests and individually make a difference. We continually receive great satisfaction from our philanthropy and stimulation from the many with whom we come in contact.”

The Jacobs’ have made education their primary focus, contributing millions in donations and grants to several schools and organisations. The family have also funded a number of scholarship and fellowships prorams for promising students in the San Diego area, leading the San Diego Union Tribune to dub Irwin the ‘Philanthropist in Chief’ in 2011.

As well as supporting education in their local area, including a $120m pledge to the Jacobs School of Engineering at the University of California, the couple have supported the arts, culture and health within San Diego by donating to the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Fund at the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego. They also funded the city’s public library, the San Diego Natural History Museum, Balboa Park, the San Diego Symphony and the La Jolla Playhouse. In recognition of their generosity to the city of San Diego, the Jacobs received the Woodrow Wilson Award for Corporate Citizenship in 2004.

Former-professor Jacobs has also made generous donations to two of his former work places, gifting $31m and $125m to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California respectively.

In 2013, the couple made their biggest donation to date, pledging $133m to establish the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute in New York City. The graduate school aims to foster new business ventures between academia and industry.


America’s 50 Top Givers

Irwin Jacobs Forbes

Irwin and Joan Jacobs Philanthropy

Irwin M. Jacobs Wikipedia

The Giving Pledge