Lei Jun, the billionaire co-founder and CEO of smartphone giant Xiaomi, has donated a record $183 million to his alma mater Wuhan University to support one of China’s leading research universities in tech innovation and talent cultivation.
The school announced the fund, the largest individual donation ever given to a Chinese university, on its 130th anniversary.
At a signing ceremony for the donation attended by Xiaomi executives and university managers, Lei – who graduated in 1991 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science – said it is a “birthday gift to the alma mater”, through which he hopes to see the appearance of “more outstanding engineers, scientists and technology entrepreneurs” in China, according to a post on the university’s official WeChat account.
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Lei said the fund will support the university in three major areas: basic research in the six major disciplines of mathematics, physics, chemistry, literature, history and philosophy; scientific and technological innovation in the computer field; and the cultivation of students.
The 53-year-old entrepreneur said his desire to make the donation dates back to his school days.
“More than 30 years ago, as a representative of outstanding students, I was awarded the highest scholarship at Wuhan University at that time, which was 2,000 yuan, sponsored by a company,” he said. “For a student from an ordinary county family, this was really a huge sum of money.”
“I swore in my heart then: no matter how much I receive today, I will pay it back 10 times, 100 times, or 10,000 times in the future,” he added.
In his annual speech in August, Lei said he found a copy of the book Fire in the Valley at the university library in 1987. He credited the work, which recaps the origins of the personal computer with a focus on Apple and Microsoft, with igniting his desire to start a great tech company.
Wuhan University is one of the most prestigious higher education institutions in China. It was ranked No 8 in the mainland in the QS World University Rankings this year, and 194th globally.
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Lei, whose net worth is estimated at $14.3 billion, has emerged as one of the most outspoken tech entrepreneurs in China in recent years.
In contrast, his peers such as Alibaba Group Holding founder Jack Ma, Tencent Holdings founder and CEO Pony Ma Huateng, and ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming have kept a much lower profile since the government kicked off two years of sweeping crackdowns on the tech industry in late 2020.
Since then, multiple tech tycoons have made big donations as Chinese President Xi Jinping touted his ‘common prosperity’ drive. JD.com founder Richard Liu donated US$2.2 billion in shares to charity at the beginning of 2022 and ByteDance’s Zhang donated US$29 million to an education fund in his hometown earlier this year. Philanthropy has also been a focus for Ma since he retired from Alibaba.
Meanwhile, Xiaomi has been ascendant in the face of a smartphone market slump as it focuses on expanding into new areas like electric vehicles. The company posted its first year-on-year revenue growth in six quarters, owing to an uptick in smartphone sales, as it managed to stand out in a quarter that saw the launch of Huawei’s popular Mate 60 and Apple’s iPhone 15.