Last week, we held our inaugural Asian Philanthropy & Sustainability Forum at the beautiful Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. A small group of funders, nonprofit executives, and social innovators gathered to connect with and learn from one another.
Social Innovation in China – the story of Half the Sky Foundation
Jenny Bowen, President and CEO of Half the Sky Foundation, shared her inspiring story of how she started with a simple premise to find a way to improve the livelihood of orphaned girls in China. In the 16 years since she began her efforts, her organization has built 51 training centers in 23 municipalities and provinces, trained 22,174 caregivers, and impacted over 100,000 children all across China. Not bad for a former Hollywood screenwriter who spoke no Chinese and had barely visited China when she first got started.
Jenny’s story is about not letting the impossible stop her. She learned to not take “no” as an answer and with her Hollywood training, she learned to anticipate when that “no” would come – then finding a way to step around it. Through gaining the confidence of Chinese government officials, being flexible in how things got done in China, she was able to work within the system to make a significant difference for so many children. Over time, the Foundation transitioned from running its own programs in orphanages to training workers for the orphanages. What resulted was its training program was written into China’s 12th Five Year Plan as the national standard for child welfare institutions in 2012. As Jenny put it:
We [Half the Sky Foundation] didn’t want to [take the credit] for success, we wanted to give the government the credit. We would not be there if they didn’t allow us to.
As for the role of private philanthropy in China, Jenny believes that “there will be solid philanthropy in China.” Part of the challenge is helping donors to see and understand the impact of their wealth, and to help donors see past the transactional nature of a gift. Many donors have the financial ability, they just need to be asked, and they need to know it’s okay to say yes, and to do it for China.
Jenny’s story is told in full detail in her recently released book, Wish You Happy Forever: What China’s Orphans Taught Me About Moving Mountains.
Trends in Asian Philanthropy – the Central Role of Families
Terry Farris, the Chief Development Officer at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, followed Jenny Bowen’s presentation. Terry spoke of the rising numbers of millionaires in Asia, soon to overtake the United States. While there isn’t a lot of research on Asian philanthropy, there is still significant philanthropy taking place, much of it through families. Families also control about 80% of companies in Asia, thus the families that run and own the businesses also largely determine corporate philanthropy. The wealth transfers taking place to the next generation are also changing how philanthropy is being shaped. The 1st generation are the donors, the 2nd generation are the managers, and 3rd generation is interested in doing more through impact investing and investing in social entrepreneurs.
Terry concluded his thoughts by sharing about how philanthropy and social entrepreneurship can change the region. The philanthropy is already there, it’s about unlocking the potential. As economies continue to grow, as philanthropy becomes more mainstream with each new generation that is increasingly engaged, the role families can have in changing society is significant.
You can find photos from the event on our Facebook page!
Andrew Ho is a philanthropic advisor with an extensive background in research, program design, and strategy at Kordant Philanthropy Advisors. He previously served as lead global philanthropy program staff for the Council on Foundations, where he led the Council’s global outreach efforts through identifying, developing, and stewarding collaborative relationships with foundations and stakeholders engaged in global philanthropy. He has also worked closely with family philanthropies to advise on philanthropy strategy and best practices, and developed programs for next generation foundation trustees and staff. Andrew is a frequent speaker on philanthropy and has presented on topics such as global philanthropy trends, and philanthropy in China.