Press Release
OCT 7, 2021

Academy Receives Major Gift from Joan and Irwin Jacobs to Advance Democracy in America


The American Academy of Arts & Sciences has received a $5 million gift from pioneering engineer, business leader, and philanthropist Irwin Jacobs and his wife Joan. The American Academy was founded in 1780 to honor excellence and engage leaders from across disciplines, professions, and perspectives to address major challenges. Jacobs, elected in 2001, directed this gift to the Academy’s work to reinvent American democracy.

From elected officials to young children, democratic engagement has been a vital responsibility for all Americans since our nation’s founding, and we must accept responsibility for ensuring a broad participation to strengthen our democracy for generations to come,” said Jacobs, the Founding Chairman and CEO Emeritus of the telecommunications company Qualcomm, and chair emeritus of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. “Thanks to its long history and valued members, the Academy is uniquely positioned to champion America’s most indispensable value – our shared belief in democracy – into the future.”

The funding will support work underway to advance the recommendations proposed by the Academy’s crosspartisan Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship in the report, Our Common Purpose: Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century.  The Academy has committed to a comprehensive multi-year implementation plan leading up to the nation’s 250th anniversary in 2026.

Released in June 2020, Our Common Purpose sets forth 31 specific recommendations to help a nation in crisis emerge with a more resilient democracy. Since its release, the report has been viewed online more than 160,000 times and downloaded more than 25,000 times. The Academy is collaborating with a diverse set of over 60 organizations to champion the report’s recommendations around the country.

The gift will also endow the Joan K. and Irwin M. Jacobs Program Officer for American Institutions, Society, and the Public Good, a new position which will support facets of Our Common Purpose and advance current and future Academy projects in democracy and justice.

“We are grateful to Irwin and Joan Jacobs for their generous recognition of the Academy’s historic and recent contributions to the American experiment in self-governance and our shared commitment to creating a more resilient, responsive, and representative democracy,” said David Oxtoby, the president of the Academy.

The Academy’s founding charter is rooted in 18th-century ideals that recognize the importance of learning in an array of fields (including – at the time – civil and natural history; mathematical, astronomical, and physical sciences; and medicine) and the application of knowledge to improve the well-being and happiness of society. Reflecting on that founding vision more than 240 years later, Oxtoby said “Irwin Jacobs is a trailblazing scientist and industry leader. His support for our work strengthening democracy is a testament to our founding vision and an opportunity to do more for the public good.”

To learn more about the Academy’s work to reform to political institutions, invest in civil society, and transform political culture in America, visit Our Common Purpose.

Read 31 Recommendations for Reinventing American Democracy