BY ALEXIS WONG
Philanthropy in China is growing at a rapid and inspiring pace. In the past decade alone, the volume of Chinese philanthropy has quadrupled from US$ 44 million in 2007 to a new high of US$ 23.4 billion in 2017, allowing China to emerge as an important contributor to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
In light of China’s emergence as a rich ground for potential philanthropic activity, and with APC members having highly active impact projects in the country, APC organised the China Philanthropy Online Forum to spark greater interest in international collaboration, and to examine what meaningful partnerships might look like.
APC invited eminent experts and leaders within the philanthropy sector in China to share their perspectives on the landscape of philanthropy in China, examples of successful philanthropic action, and how to navigate international collaboration towards creating a sustainable, prosperous, and inclusive future.
The COVID-19 pandemic has fostered a short-term aversion to globalisation especially from Europe and the US, noted Hu Guanghua, Secretary-General of the China Social Assistance Foundation. However, it remains important to build and maintain connections between China and the international community as actors on both sides have much to learn from each other, and collective action will achieve greater impact in the attainment of SDGs.
Prof Wang Zhenyao, who heads the China Philanthropy Research Institute, outlined three main challenges to sustainable development in Asia that could form the basis of collaboration: addressing climate change, popularising clean energy, and rethinking the current economic model, where individualistic attitudes have caused fragmentation of society. However, these challenges can be effectively tackled by exchanging information through forums and networks, increasing collaboration and interaction among Asian philanthropists with similar interests to pilot more diverse projects, and lastly, capitalising on Asia’s strength in innovation to develop models for a sustainable economy for the region.
A major benefit to the international community engaging with Chinese philanthropists is the ability of both parties to learn from each other. While philanthropists within Southeast Asia can reference the success of their Chinese peers in digitalising their philanthropic models, Chinese philanthropists, who have relatively newer wealth, can benefit in learning from peers in Southeast Asia, whose families have more experience with multi-generational wealth transfers, and longer traditions of philanthropy.
Liu Wenkui, Secretary General of the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation, also shared about “Beautiful Villages”, an innovative Chinese philanthropic project on community tourism. The initiative’s success was enabled by the foundation’s active involvement of the local community to ensure community buy-in and engagement. By organising villagers into a cooperative to whom the project was eventually handed over to, the foundation ensured local ownership of the project. Furthermore, the project’s profits were also distributed to villagers through the foundation’s model of granting villagers shares in the development.
Entrepreneurs also benefit from participating in philanthropy. Alice Lau, former Secretary-General of Alashan SEE Foundation, shared how the organisation was founded as a response to a natural disaster in Northern China—which had led Chinese philanthropists to examine their responsibilities towards society and the environment. The integration of society and environmental considerations into business strategies will allow businesses to create impact through businesses, and entrepreneurs to become true industry leaders.
Part of effectively navigating the landscape of cross-border giving and international collaborations with China is understanding and adhering to regulations regarding the flow of funds. Hu Guanghua noted that philanthropists should find reliable partners and organisations to work with to ensure their programs are aligned with the needs of the local community, and that the partner organisation can guarantee effective use of funds to achieve expected goals.
Given the disruption caused by COVID-19, collaboration is now more necessary than ever. During the Forum, it was heartening to see great interest amongst APC members and amongst Chinese philanthropists to learn more about how to better collaborate—both across the region and within China. APC hopes that this forum will serve as the beginning of greater partnerships and mutual learning with each other, and ultimately benefit the greater good.