Richard Blum, Blum Center founder, benefactor, and friend of the university, passes away

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Laura Tyson, Chair of the Blum Center Board of Trustees and S. Shankar Sastry, Blum Center Director, issued this statement on the passing of our beloved Richard Blum:

The University of California, Berkeley, mourns the loss of Richard C. Blum, alumnus, business leader, philanthropist, UC Board of Regents President Emeritus, Berkeley Medal recipient, and founder of the Blum Center for Developing Economies at UC Berkeley. Richard died on February 27 at his home in San Francisco.

As a UC Berkeley alum, Richard Blum combined a fierce love for his alma mater with an equally fierce passion for addressing global poverty with the establishment of the Blum Center for Developing Economies, a multidisciplinary research center addressing urgent global challenges of poverty and inequity through education and technology. The Center was built on and continues to live out this vision and dedication. He will be missed tremendously, and all of us offer our sincere condolences to his family – particularly to his wife Dianne and daughters Annette, Heidi, and Eileen, who together with Richard have been great champions of the University and the Center. 

Richard Blum graduated from Berkeley’s Haas School of Business (BS ’58, MBA ’59), becoming a successful investment banker and founder and chairman of the private equity firm Blum Capital Partners. As a financier and philanthropist, he served on the boards of many companies and organizations, sharing his business acumen and his generosity.

Left to right, Shankar Sastry, Richard Blum, George Shultz at the 2010 Grand Opening of Blum Hall.

His life was transformed by extensive travels and mountaineering in the Himalayas starting in the 1960s, which inspired his commitment to improve lives in the impoverished region. He established the American Himalayan Foundation in 1980 to build hospitals and schools, to combat the trafficking of girls, to combat poverty and to support culture, art and the environment in Tibet and Nepal. In this work, he met His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the two became lifelong friends. 

In 2006, a gift from Blum launched the Blum Center for Developing Economies. Describing his vision, Blum said in an interview at the time, “A lot of people don’t help with poverty around the world because they don’t know about it, they don’t feel it in their bones. With the center, we’re going to… inspire students here on campus to learn about the developing world, take courses, have an interest in the field – and hopefully, it will bring about an awareness that may lead them to develop careers working to make life better in different countries.”

The Center’s Global Poverty and Practice program, which has graduated almost 1,000 students, with practicums in more than 70 countries, is now one of the most popular minors on the Berkeley campus. From this beginning, the Blum Center has launched the new field of Development Engineering, expanding academic offerings to a Masters program and a Designated Emphasis for the Ph.D. program in Development Engineering. Also under Blum’s wing is the UC-wide Big Ideas Contest.

Research programs at the Center range from designing the Berkeley-Darfur Stove to reduce risks for women gathering firewood, to testing remote wireless technology in a village in New Guinea, to diagnosing tropical diseases – and other maladies common in low-resource settings – with accessible mobile phone technology.

The Center has since expanded to all the campuses of the University of California and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, with each campus having its own special focus. Our federation of Blum Centers has a shared commitment to bringing development and prosperity across the globe.

In 2007, groundbreaking began for Blum Hall, a bold new reconstruction of the Naval Architecture Building and construction of a dazzling new adjacent building to house the Center, tying all together in a new front door for the campus. Nobel Prize winner and Former Vice President Al Gore addressed the crowd, saying, The faculty and students at the Blum Center can change the world – their efforts can have a truly significant impact on global poverty for years to come.” 

With construction completed in 2010, Former Secretary of State George Schultz and member of the Blum Center’s Board of Trustees gave the inaugural address, giving tribute to a center combining a spirit of can-do technology innovation with an understanding of America’s place in the world. Also in 2009, Richard Blum was awarded the Berkeley Medal, the university’s highest honor, with the 14th Dalai Lama in attendance.

Blum served on the boards of many distinguished organizations including the Wilderness Society, the Brookings Institution, the National Democratic Institute, the American Cancer Society, and the National Geographic Society. He was a trustee of the Carter Center in Atlanta. Both Jimmy Carter and the Dalai Lama are honorary members of the Blum Center Board of Trustees.

Fellow Blum Trustee Arun Sarin, former CEO of Vodafone Group, says Richard Blum was “a big man in every sense of the word, and he will be missed in a big way. He was a successful businessman, generous philanthropist, and a global diplomat at his core. His ability to attract people of differing views to serve a common cause was extraordinary – the sign of a great leader.” 

Richard dedicated his life to programs to combat poverty through compassion, innovation, research and education. We, along with the outstanding professional staff at the Blum Center, are honored to continue his mission and to honor his legacy. 

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