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Hong Kong-based business magnate, investor, and philanthropist Li Ka-shing
Hong Kong-based business magnate, investor, and philanthropist Li Ka-shing
Harel Eilam

TEL AVIV — "One of my mentors and a very dear Jewish friend once shared with me the meaning of the Hebrew words Tzdakah ("alms') and Tikun Olam ("healing the world")..."

So began Chinese billionaire Li Ka-shing, speaking in Tel Aviv recently, just before his Hong-Kong foundation signed a $130 million grant to the Technion, Israel's Institute of Technology. The donation was the largest ever received at the Haifa-based Institute, and one of the largest ever granted to Israeli higher education.

The Technion, the country's oldest university, has long been a center of scientific study, and has evolved in recent years into an internationally recognized high-tech hub, considered "Israel's Silicon Valley.

"Had I held a magic wand, I would have convened all world leaders together. I would have seen how education opens doors to youth in Israel and in China, and how they solve the 21st century's biggest challenges," Li, considered Asia's richest man, said in the speech in late September.

In addition to the direct financial support, a joint academic-technological institute with China's Shantou University (STU) will be established.

A new Israeli-Chinese tech hub

The Chinese province of Guangdong and the city of Shantou have allocated 900 million RMB (approximately $147 million) for construction and initial operation of the joint institute. It will be built on a 33,000 square meters plot next to the Chinese university's campus.

The memorandum of understanding for the establishment of the new Technion Guangdong Institute of Technology (TGIT) was signed this past Sunday by the Technion president Peretz Lavie and STU Provost Professor Gu Peihua.

The joint institute is set to open its doors for the 2014 academic year, offering undergraduate programs in civil and environmental engineering, as well as computer sciences. Instruction will be in English and staff members will be recruited from leading universities around the world, according to a press release.

Within 30 years, vowed Professor Gu, the TGIT will be renowned around the world as an institute of research and education excellence, and as Guandgdong's high-tech hub.

"What Technion has done to advance the Israeli economy through student and staff research and innovation is an example for Chinese universities to follow," Professor Gu was quoted as saying in the press release. "If many universities in Guangdong and China do the same as Technion has been doing in Israel, an innovation-based economy will emerge."

Li Ka-shing acts as the chairman of the board of Hutchison Whampoa, a Hong Kong-based investment holding company. He regards the foundation he established in 1980 as his "third son," and has so far given it a third of his assets. Until now, the foundation has allocated over $1.86 billion for donations, of which 90% are intended to support initiatives for reforming education and promoting healthcare services in China.

Representatives of the Li Ka-shing Foundation first visited the Technion in 2011. During that visit, Li's hedge fund Horizons Ventures invested in Waze, the Israeli start-up behind the successful smartphone navigation app. In June, Waze was bought by Google for $1.3 billion, and Horizon's profits from that deal now make part of Li's donation to Technion.

"In this new world of dynamic boundaries it sometimes seems that technology's rapidly-changing, amazing and immense power is like a magic wand that brings new methods and new opportunities in many fields, and creates new solutions for longstanding problems in a speed we can hardly keep up with," Li declared in his Tel Aviv speech. "We have the responsibility to invest in education reforms that empower those inner capacities and enable the continued realization of human potential, the establishment of the information society and the creation of sustainable quality of life for all. If we fail, it would be a crime against the future."

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