A Wharton Dropout Gives $10 Million For Full Rides To Israeli MBA Students

Yuri Milner was the first student from the Soviet Union to gain acceptance to a U.S. MBA program. In 1990, he joined Wharton and then dropped out.

A Wharton MBA dropout and self-made multi-billionaire Yuri Milner and his wife Julia, today (Sept. 15) made a $10 million pledge to create the Friends of Israel MBA Fund. The new fellowship will fund full-tuition financial support to Israeli MBA students at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Over the next decade, more than 60 students are expected to benefit from The Friends of Israel MBA Fund with a full ride on tuition over the course of the two-year MBA program.  The fellowship is dedicated to Israeli students – including those who have completed Israeli military service, attended an Israeli undergraduate institution, or worked at an Israeli company. The school said that “the term funding will provide immediate support, enabling the school to reach, welcome, and support exceptional international students through offering generous financial aid packages.”

In 1990, Milner was the first student from the Soviet Union to be admitted to a U.S. business school. He applied on the advice of his father, an economist in Moscow. It was an eye-opening experience for someone who had been working two jobs to pay the rent on an apartment and who drove a car around Moscow selling gray market computers out of a trunk. Ultimately, Milner never completed his MBA program. He dropped out of Wharton. Some 25 years later, in 2016, he was invited back to give the commencement speech, during which he joked about having dropped out of university twice: at Wharton and from a Ph.D. program in the Soviet Union.


Milner is Russia’s most influential tech investor, one of the most successful backers of social media, with an estimated net worth of $4.4 billion, according to Forbes. He is among the world’s billionaires who have taken the Giving Pledge to publicly commit to giving the majority of their wealth to philanthropy. A citizen of Israel, he was an early backer of Facebook and Twitter through his venture fund, DST Global. He has also invested in Spotify and Airbnb as well as such Chinese tech companies as online retailers Alibaba and JD. Com, and mobile phone maker Xiaomi. Milner and his wife Julia partnered with Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, and Anne Wojcicki to launch the Breakthrough Prizes – the world’s largest scientific awards, honoring important, primarily recent, achievements in Fundamental Physics, Life Sciences and Mathematics.

“As a former international student myself, I know the transformative impact that an education in America and at Wharton can have,” said Milner in a statement. “Israel, too, has been an important home for me and my family, and our bond with the country remains strong. My hope is that this scholarship will support talented individuals to look beyond the horizon and pursue their vision of what the world can be, and that the state of Israel will benefit from the expertise in business and entrepreneurship that Wharton program graduates will bring back home.”

The school called Milner’s commitment “a historic investment in student aid,” an area of focus for the Wharton School’s current fundraising campaign. “Fellowship funding provides the means for Wharton to provide competitive financial aid to the world’s best and brightest students, breaks down barriers toward their attendance, and enables their full immersion into the Wharton MBA experience,” according to the school. “International students like those who will benefit from the Friends of Israel MBA Fund bring their global experience to enrich the student community and ultimately the Wharton alumni network and business community at large.”


“Yuri’s philanthropy has been as visionary as his distinguished business career. He is one of the founders of the acclaimed Breakthrough Prize, which recognizes pioneering achievements in the sciences,” added Penn President Amy Gutmann in a statement. “Now, with his exceptional gift creating the Friends of Israel MBA Fund, the foundation through Yuri and Julia has created another forward-looking philanthropic initiative. We are profoundly grateful to Yuri and to the foundation for supporting the graduate students who will become tomorrow’s global business leaders.

“Israel has become a global center of innovation and Wharton has long helped train the top entrepreneurs and business leaders across the world. This is a perfect match,” said Ron Dermer, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States. “As a Wharton alumnus, I’m delighted that other Israelis will benefit from this unique experience.”

“We are thrilled by the foundation’s commitment to supporting the best and brightest MBA candidates from the Israeli community,” said Wharton Dean Erika James. “As part of the Wharton family, Mr. Milner’s dedication to welcoming international talent advances the School’s mission to foster a diverse and inclusive student cohort benefitting the entire community.”

In July 2015, together with Stephen Hawking, Yuri launched the $100 million Breakthrough Listen initiative to reinvigorate the search for extraterrestrial intelligence in the universe, and in April 2016 they launched Breakthrough Starshot – a $100 million research and engineering program seeking to develop a technology for interstellar travel. All these philanthropic initiatives are funded by the Breakthrough Foundation established by Yuri and Julia Milner. Mr. Milner was the keynote speaker at the 2017 Wharton MBA Graduation Ceremony.



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