Irwin and Joan Jacobs

NET WORTH: $1.31 billion


FUNDING AREAS: Education, Health, San Diego Community

OVERVIEW: Irwin and Joan Jacobs, who are signatories of the Giving Pledge, give primarily to educational institutions and the San Diego community as a whole. The couple was 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. 

Joan Klein Jacobs also attended Cornell and worked as a dietician. She serves as vice chair of the board of directors of the Jewish Community Foundation in San Diego and as chair of the board of directors for the San Diego Symphony, of which the couple are major supporters. Joan's other board affiliations include the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, the San Diego Opera and the La Jolla Playhouse.


SAN DIEGO COMMUNITY: Much of the couple's philanthropy over the years has prioritized 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. He has 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 is a short list of a few of Jacobs' larger donations: 

  • $110 million to the University of California at San Diego to build an 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 their Giving Pledge letter, the couple stated, "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."

In addition to their support for San Diego area schools, the Jacobs have made $30 million in grants to MIT to create fellowships in electrical engineering and computer science. He has 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. In April 2013, the couple gave $133 million to Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology to establish the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute, which is part of Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island in New York City. The grant will create initiatives to support graduate students and faculty. 

HEALTH: Many of the Jacobs' contributions to higher education involve supporting research that may lead to medical breakthroughs, particularly their involvement with the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, where Irwin is chairman of the board of trustees. Among their other donations in the health field, he has made $1.2 million in grants to the Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma Research Foundation. They have also supported Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

LOOKING FORWARD: Expect the family to continue to steadily fund their select interest areas, with San Diego remaining an important region of giving. 

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

LINKS: Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego