Last weekend, more than 100 scholars, researchers, practitioners, and students convened for the China Philanthropy Summit at Indiana University’s Lilly School of Philanthropy. It was an opportunity to hear from Chinese and American perspectives about the current state of philanthropy, as well as considerations for the future of philanthropy in China. One central theme I noticed cutting across all of the sessions was the role of the government.
In some ways the conference generated more questions than answers – and reinforced the need for more research and discussions on this topic. Generating new questions from both a research and practitioner perspective stimulated new discussions and energy, which led to the furthering of relationships and ideas of working together to improve the practice and research of philanthropy in China.
Professor Scott Kennedy, Director of the IU Research Center for Chinese Business & Politics, kicked off with four questions that guided the discussions at the Summit.
- What are patterns of philanthropy in China?
- How is China’s philanthropic sector, relative to other parts of the world? What is China teaching the world about philanthropy? What are innovations in philanthropy coming out of China?
- Is philanthropy in China making a difference in people’s lives? If not, what can be different?
- What are the political system’s constraints and opportunities for philanthropy?
Indeed, one of the central questions throughout the summit was about the current system of governance – and what the future of Chinese governance would look like, and how that would affect philanthropy. There were wide-ranging views on this. One spoke of grassroots philanthropy developing in China – and an emerging platform for everyone to participate in philanthropy. Another discussed a new “co-governance” system based on legal and self-regulation. Others spoke of the government’s central role in determining the promotion and management of philanthropy, as well as in some cases creating obstacles and suppressing the development of nonprofit organizations and foundations. Given the large role of the state, how can philanthropy be most effective in China? Is philanthropy in China better for funding service provisions, or is there a role for influencing and promoting public policies, as there is in the United States?
No doubt philanthropy should look different in China, largely because of the outsized role of the government. We in the West often presume that our model of philanthropy is the standard – but we need to take a step back to allow for a different model in China to take hold, one that works for the Chinese. There were discussions on corporate social responsibility (CSR) in China and how it is practices differ compared to the U.S. and Europe. CSR is much more oriented to meet government expectations, and not necessarily business goals. It’s not just about a difference in culture that makes up the differences in philanthropy. There are often institutional factors beyond cultural – corporate interests, organizational values, and others may seem more important.
The role of the government extended to discussions about the moral and ethical underpinnings of philanthropy in China. If there really is a ‘new’ standard of Chinese morals and ethics due to the accelerated creation of a Chinese middle class, what are these new standards? How do you build this? And what is the interplay of ‘new’ Chinese morals and ethics with a co-governance model in China?
The Summit was an outstanding event to build community around these important questions about philanthropy in China. As such Summits continue here in the States and in China, I have no doubt that more answers will come, and we will all see the growth and maturity of Chinese philanthropy will shape society and philanthropy globally.
Next post: The next generation of philanthropy in China
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.