Irwin Jacobs

NET WORTH: $1.23 billion


FUNDING AREAS: Education, Health, San Diego Community

OVERVIEW: Jacobs, a signatory of the Giving Pledge, gives primarily to educational institutions and the San Diego community as a whole. He and his wife Joan were awarded the Carnegie Medal for Philanthropy in 2015.

BACKGROUND: Irwin Jacobs came from modest roots, growing up in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He attended Cornell University, receiving a degree in electrical engineering and computer science, and a masters and doctorate from MIT. After spending more than a decade in academia as a professor at MIT the University of California San Diego, Jacobs moved into the private sector. He had already co-founded a company called Linkabit in 1968, which specialized in satellite encryption services, but it was not until 1985 that he founded Qualcomm. Jacobs led the company for 27 years, turning it into a telecommunications giant before leaving the board in March 2012 and handing the company over to his son Paul. 

PHILOSOPHY: Jacobs says he derived his philanthropic vision early on when, as a child during the Great Depression, his family kept a little box on the table that everyone would occasionally drop a few coins into. Although they had little money, they always felt it was important to provide some support for those who were even less fortunate. He's signed the Giving Pledge, but it hasn't really changed his strategy with regards to his money. Jacobs' plan had already been to give away more than half of his wealth, but he signed the Giving Pledge anyways in order to lead by example, hoping others would do the same.


SAN DIEGO COMMUNITY: Much of Jacobs's philanthropy over the years has been focused on arts, culture, and education in the San Diego community. As a key player in San Diegans 4 Great Schools, Jacobs has been behind several efforts to remake the San Diego Unified School District board so that it is more responsive to the community. He's also been a key contributor to plans to give the city's Balboa Park a makeover and a major contributor and organizer in planning for a new central library in downtown San Diego. Here's a short list of a few of Jacobs' larger donations: 

  • $110 million to the University of California at San Diego to build an eponymous engineering school
  • $75 million to the University of California, San Diego health system to build a new medical center
  • $39.1 million to the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Fund at the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego, where Jacobs's wife, Joan, serves as vice chairwoman of the board of directors
  • $5.7 million to the High Tech High Foundation, which is associated with San Diego's charter school system
  • $100 million to the San Diego Symphony, where his wife Joan is chairwoman of the symphony foundation’s board of directors
  • $320,000 to the Dunaway Foundation, a small, San Diego-based nonprofit focusing on local issues

HIGHER EDUCATION: In addition to his support for San Diego area schools, Jacobs has given $30 million to MIT to create fellowships in electrical engineering and computer science. He's also given $16.6 million through two grants to the Salk Institute for Biological Studies to fund two professorships, one in genomics and the other in neuroscience. In 2012, the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Fund was a sponsor of the Clinton Global Initiative's CGI University, in which more than 1,000 students from 82 countries and more than 300 universities committed to changing the world in various ways. Recently, Jacobs announced a donation of $133 million to Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology to establish the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute. The gift will create initiatives to support graduate students and faculty. 

HEALTH: Many of Jacobs' contribution to higher education involve supporting research that may lead to medical breakthroughs, particularly his involvement with the Salk Institute. Among his other donations in the health field, he has given $1.2 million to the Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma Research Foundation. He's also supported Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.


  • Qualcomm, 5775 Morehouse Drive, San Diego, CA 92121, 858-587-1121