When one of the most prominent philanthropists in the world’s largest country wants to transform his hometown, where does he look? Thousands of miles away to a small Start-up Nation and a world-renowned university with a quickly growing global reputation for innovation and excellence. In other words, the Technion.
Last month, I had the privilege of seeing this remarkable story unfold up close as I joined lay leaders and senior staff of the American Technion Society on a delegation to Shantou, China for the groundbreaking of the Guangdong Technion Israel Institute of Technology (GTIIT). A partnership between the Technion and Shantou University, the GTIIT will be the first campus of an Israeli university on Chinese soil. It is scheduled for completion in 2017, with enrollment slated to begin next year.
The GTIIT would not have been possible without a visionary like Li Ka-shing, who is one of the world’s most successful businessmen and generous philanthropists. His philanthropic work demonstrates the potential of a single person to change many millions of lives – from children with cleft palates and disabilities in China, to earthquake survivors in Nepal, to cancer patients in America.
Seeking a partner institution of higher education to develop a world-class research university in the Guangdong province, Mr. Li chose the Technion.
Like many others around the world – including the City of New York, home of the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech – China’s leaders are now actively looking to build strategic partnerships with Israel. They see how the country has become a powerhouse of science and technology, attracting more venture capital and launching more startups per capita than anywhere else on the planet. There is no doubt that Israeli educational institutions – the Technion in particular, which Mr. Li described as “Israel’s greatest treasure” during his remarks at the groundbreaking – are at the center of this success.
After more than two decades of extraordinary growth driven by industrialization, China’s leaders recognize that developing human capital is key to their country’s continued economic expansion. GTIIT’s three academic departments – engineering, physical sciences, and life sciences – will equip graduates with the powerful knowledge and knack for out-of-the-box thinking that comes with a Technion education. This investment in the Chinese people will spawn new companies and drive economic activity in Guangdong, while advancing solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing the country – from reducing air pollution, to developing alternative energy sources, to addressing health crises like cancer and lung disease.
The groundbreaking at GTIIT also represents an important step forward in the development of Israel-Chinese ties. On hand to mark the moment was former Israeli President Shimon Peres, who established official diplomatic relations with China as Foreign Minister in 1992. He spoke about the vast potential in the emerging relationship between the two countries.
As Technion President Peretz Lavie said during the groundbreaking, combining Israel’s innovative spirit with China’s scale and resources will produce a powerful partnership. The new institute’s Chinese faculty will spend their first year at the Technion campus in Haifa, where they will develop classroom materials and launch new research collaborations with their Israeli counterparts. GTIIT will also provide a strong basis for business collaboration, including plans to build the China-Israel Innovation Industrial Park in Shantou.
The GTIIT will also yield benefits that ripple far beyond both countries and extend to all of mankind. Science is not a solo sport. Bringing together the most talented researchers in Israel and China will advance progress on challenges from fighting cancer to developing clean energy technologies that could change the way we live.
In so many ways, the great promise of the GTIIT brings to life the truly transformative power of philanthropy. Our whole delegation came home incredibly proud of our organization’s many decades of support for the Technion, which provided a crucial foundation for the university to grow into the world-class institution it is today – and attract investments and partnerships with visionaries like Li Ka-shing. Together, we will continue to strengthen the foundation of science that propels the Technion – and Israel – to the forefront of the global stage, offering light to nations everywhere.