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  • Writer's pictureAri Betof

Salk Institute $500M Expansion Fundraise Is Launched with $100M Pledge from the Jacobses

In November 2021, the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California announced that it received a pledge of $100 million to launch its $500 million campus expansion fundraising campaign. The gift comes from Irwin and Joan Jacobs, longtime supporters of the institute. It is the Salk Institute's largest-ever gift and is structured as a 1:2 challenge match, meaning the Jacobses will add $1 to every $2 pledged by other donors up to June 30, 2022.

At least $250 million of the funds from the campaign will go toward the construction of the 100,000-square-foot Joan and Irwin Jacobs Science and Technology Center on the eastern edge of the campus, along North Torrey Pines Road. The additional $250 million is being sought to support scientific programs in aging, neurodegenerative diseases, cancer, and plant biology, and increase the number of active faculty members from 50 to 55.

The Jacobses Have Profoundly Impacted San Diego Health, Science, and Arts

The Salk Institute pledge is the latest in a decades-long history of philanthropy on behalf of the Jacobses. The couple, who live in La Jolla, California, are signatories of the Giving Pledge, meaning they are committed to giving away 50 percent of their wealth to philanthropic endeavors. To date, San Diego County has benefited upward of $700 million.

Irwin and Joan are both Cornell graduates; Irwin holds a degree in electrical engineering and computer science and Joan holds a degree in nutrition. The couple married in 1954 and have four sons. Irwin obtained his master's and doctorate from MIT, where he was a professor before moving to the University of California (UC). In 1985 he co-founded Qualcomm, a wireless telecommunications company that helped revolutionize the industry. At the time of his retirement in 2012, Irwin was worth over $1 billion and, alongside Joan, made giving back the focus of his attention.

Both Irwin and Joan grew up in modest Jewish homes and benefited from state and fellowship support to obtain their education. Therefore, education, as well as the use of mobile technology, form key components of their philanthropy. Their donations to the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Fund at the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego help support health, culture, and the arts within San Diego. The couple has also funded the public library, the La Jolla Playhouse, and the Natural History Museum.

The Jacobses have contributed millions to educational organizations and funded several scholarships and fellowship programs in the San Diego area. This includes a $120 million pledge to build the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC. Their total contribution to the university exceeded $300 million and enabled the creation of the Jacobs Medical Center. Dr. Jacobs has also donated generously to his other alma mater, MIT, gifting $31 million.

In 2013 the couple pledged $133 million to establish the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute, a graduate school focused on fostering collaboration between academia and industry. One of their most notable and publicized gifts was a $100 million donation to save the San Diego Symphony in 2002. For their work, they received the Woodrow Wilson Award for Corporate Citizenship in 2004.

Irwin and Joan are proud to make philanthropy a family affair. They have set up separate donor-advised funds for each of their grandchildren, encouraging them to attend sessions sponsored by the Giving Pledge and the family’s financial advisory firm.

The Salk Institute

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies is a scientific research institute founded in 1960 by Jonas Salk, who developed the polio vaccine. It is considered one of the top institutions in the US in terms of research output and quality in the life sciences. In 2004 the Times Higher Education Supplement ranked it as the world's top biomedicine research institute, and in 2009, ScienceWatch ranked it first globally in the

neuroscience and behavior areas.

Irwin Jacobs served as a trustee on Salk’s board from 2004 and as chair from 2006 to 2016. He led the institute’s first capital raising campaign of $360 million, and the Jacobses helped fund the Crick-Jacobs Center for Computational and Theoretical Biology and Salk’s Innovation Grants program. They regard the institute as an effective nonprofit that exhibits exemplary leadership and well-defined goals.

Recently, the Salk Institute has focused on practical ways to counter climate change, including getting plants to sequester greater amounts of carbon. In addition, it is investing heavily in computational biology, as the world is facing significant, complex problems resulting from population growth. If science can't solve these issues, humans won't be able to inhabit Earth much longer. The Jacobses’ gift makes finding solutions that much easier.

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