Bamboo Network



Asia's Biggest Philanthropist
- Li Ka-Shing

Asia's richest billionaire

Gates, Buffett struck by generosity of China's super rich

"In terms of the rich people here in China, the thing that's unusual is that 30 years ago there really weren't people of great wealth so what you have is first generation fortunes"  - Bill Gates

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and billionaire investor Warren Buffett yesterday said that they were impressed by the passion that they saw among China's super rich for giving back to society during a dinner for Chinese millionaires. The American businessmen said that they will try to hold a similar event in India next year.

Sweet offerings: Mr Buffett (left) and Mr Gates want to start a discussion about the best ways to give in China as the country develops mega-fortunes for the first time

The dinner to discuss philanthropy - hosted by Mr Gates and Mr Buffett in a mansion on the outskirts of Beijing - initially sparked concern among some of China's wealthy that they would be pressured into contributions.

But the Americans repeatedly said that they merely wanted to start a discussion about the best ways to give in China as the country develops mega-fortunes for the first time.

'Overall, it was fantastic to see the energy and interest,' Mr Gates told a news conference of predominantly Chinese journalists here yesterday. He said that two-thirds of the rich Chinese who were invited to the event attended, and that the discussions about charity were candid and broad ranging.

There are at least 875,000 US dollar millionaires in China, according to Shanghai-based analyst Rupert Hoogewerf, who studies China's wealthy. Yesterday, his Hurun Rich List announced that beverage billionaire Zong Qinghou, the founder of Hangzhou Wahaha Group, was China's wealthiest person, with US$12 billion.

The list also said that China may now have the most billionaires in the world. But over the past decade, the distribution of wealth has grown increasingly uneven - incomes averaged just US$3,600 last year.

Mr Gates and Mr Buffett commented on how young fortunes in China were and how charitable habits were just being formed, creating a window of opportunity to encourage good practices.

'In terms of the rich people here in China, the thing that's unusual is that 30 years ago there really weren't people of great wealth so what you have is first generation fortunes,' Mr Gates said. 'It's natural that they are thinking through in this society in general - 'What do you do in terms of giving it away, creating a foundation?'

Mr Buffett said that patterns of giving were much more solidified in places such as Europe where there is considerable old wealth.

'We did not pressure anyone, obviously, in China,' Mr Buffett said. 'We never had the intention to . . . It's just not our style to do something of that sort.'

Mr Gates said that he and Mr Buffett may hold a similar philanthropy event in India next year. He said that it would also be aimed at generating discussion but gave no other details.

In the United States, Mr Gates and Mr Buffett have helped persuade 40 super-wealthy American families to sign what they call the 'giving pledge' to return most of their fortunes to society, but Mr Gates said that type of drive might not be the right model of giving for China.

The private dinner, in a mansion modelled after the baroque 17th century Chateau de Maisons-Laffitte in France, drew 50 business and philanthropy leaders for a 90-minute discussion, said a news release issued on Wednesday. The list was not made public to protect the privacy of the guests, Mr Gates said.

The state-run Global Times newspaper said on Wednesday that Pan Shiyi and Zhang Xin, chairman and CEO of property developer SOHO China, and Niu Gensheng, founder of Mengniu Dairy, were among the invitees.

Some of China's super rich are sceptical about Mr Gates and Mr Buffett's approach. China's wealthy don't have to 'copy the US charity model', billionaire Guo Jinshu told Xinhua in a story published on Wednesday.

'In China, an entrepreneur's top responsibility is to keep his own business sound, to fulfil taxation payments and create jobs. This is also out of a philanthropist heart.' -  2010 October 1    AP

The art of giving

Chew Gek Kim of the Tan Chin Tuan Foundation says philanthropy is far more effective when it's run - and assessed - like a business. 

In Philanthropy, as in business, good stewardship is essential. And this philosophy, alongside her grandfather's simple wish 'to help his fellow man', shapes the legacy of giving that Chew Gek Kim carries on as deputy chairman of the Tan Chin Tuan Foundation.

'In both business and philanthropy, we are giving up a valuable resource, putting it in the hands of another, in the hope of getting something better,' says Ms Chew

Back in the 1970s, its brief was 'to help the poor, the needy, the widowed, the orphaned', Ms Chew says. That meant providing basic necessities - food, shelter and education - to the many in need. But in today's affluent Singapore, the government can ensure basic needs are met for all, and many other charities have sprouted.

'In essence, we applied a system used in business to assess the allocation of capital for profit, to the allocation of capital for social service,' says Ms Chew, who, as executive chairman of publicly listed Straits Trading Company, oversees the group's resource, property and hospitality businesses.

That business savvy has influenced and disciplined the way the foundation gives to a range of causes - from services for children, the elderly and the disabled, to education and health programmes. 'In both business and philanthropy, we are giving up a valuable resource, putting it in the hands of another, in the hope of getting something better,' says Ms Chew, a lawyer by training, who serves on several other boards.

She thinks imposing the rules of capitalism and efficiency on the foundation and its beneficiaries gets charities to think through what they need funds for and make sure aims are attainable. 'It is trite but true - the path of failure is often paved with good intentions,' she says.

With each non-profit articulating its outcomes, the foundation can also be more objective in prioritising requests, and assessing whom to help. And for charities, too, accepting a higher degree of social accountability makes future appeals for funding from others easier.

'The questions we ask of charities we donate money to should be no different from the questions we ask companies we invest in,' Ms Chew says. 'Are you going to spend $90 on the needy and $10 on administration, or the other way around? Will there be a multiplier effect? Will the $100 given to you go to help five people who will then go on to help another five? The multiplier effect is crucial.'

For instance, instead of buying a table at a Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) charity dinner, the foundation - using the same sum of money - chose to ask students from the schools it gives scholarships to, to take elderly people from the homes it supports to a concert by the SSO in Anglo Chinese School's hall. 'That created a platform for people to get together, get to know each other. It generated a multiplier effect that was quite gratifying,' Ms Chew says.

But the highlights of philanthropy do not lie in the numbers - whether on cheques or evaluation forms. Instead, they surface in Ms Chew's encounters with people and their stories.

'It makes philanthropy real,' she says, sharing memories of visiting old folks' homes as a girl, to more recent ones of watching orphan children of refugees in Vietnam laugh at an amateurish skit and realising how resilient children can be.


She shares also the story of a paraplegic whose husband left her, who had lost both legs and a young son to illness, but today makes her own living while encouraging others as president of the Society for the Physically Disabled in Perak. It is more than inspiring, Ms Chew says. 'It is humbling when I know I could be her. After all, who can choose when or where they are born, and who their parents are?'

Philanthropic foundations are not yet as common among Singapore's rich as they are in other developed economies like the US. And now that estate tax has been abolished and companies and individuals receive a double tax deduction on donations, the financial imperative to set up one is less compelling.

But Ms. Chew sees strategic advantages in foundation-based giving. 'I have given money personally as an individual, and when I do so, I often find myself more lax, giving because of sentiment and less inclined to do it in a systematic, structured manner,' she says. Professionalising the foundation can ensure continuity, and provides longer-term objectives to take stock against.

She believes more foundations will emerge in Singapore with time, 'each developing and nurturing their own niche and contributing a great deal' as they have in other countries. While growing philanthropy may be indicative of Singapore's progress, there are other questions that can be asked, Ms Chew says.

'Have we as a people progressed intellectually? Have we created a people who can just earn more, or have we also created groups of thinkers, scientists, philosophers who will contribute to the body of social thought? Have we progressed in our perspective of life? Have we progressed with the way we deal with our neighbours - whether they are individuals or countries, whether they are of different creed and colour? Have we become more civic minded?'

A few years back, she read something that first struck her as morbid, but on reflection as profound: 'To decide how to live, you must first learn how to die.'

She says: 'Life is finite. When we are clear about what we wish to have achieved when our days are ended, we will know how to live. I wish to use my time, the resources that have been bestowed on me, in a way that will make the world a slightly better place by the time I leave it.'   - 2010 July 31   BUSINESS TIMES

China's Richest Philanthropist Sets Example
Donation of US$470m to charity by China tycoon

Nothing for kids: 'This will be my last donation... It will all be for charity, no part of it will be inherited by anyone,' Mr Yu tells a press conference in Shanghai

(SHANGHAI) A Chinese tycoon is donating his fortune to charity in a gesture that has cemented the real estate magnate and hotelier's position as China's top philanthropist.

Yu Pengnian, 88, told a news conference yesterday that he was donating US$470 million in cash and property assets to the Yu Pengnian Foundation, bringing the total he had given to the Hong Kong- registered charity to US$1.2 billion.

'This will be my last donation. I have nothing more to give away,' he told reporters.

'It will all be for charity, no part of it will be inherited by anyone, no part will be used to do business nor for investments,' he said.

The donation ensured Mr Yu's position as China's top philanthropist, said Rupert Hoogewerf, founder of the Shanghai-based Hurun Report, which tracks China's wealthy.

Mr Yu has topped the Hurun Report's Philanthropy List for five consecutive years.

His foundation, which supports health and education charities and disaster relief, has funded over 150,000 cataract removal operations across China since it began in 2003.

'China's top wealth creators are now making significant donations,' Mr Hoogewerf said.

'While there still remains public scepticism of some of their motives behind many donations, it is now no longer possible to ignore Chinese philanthropy, which has landed on the world map,' he added.

Mr Yu said he hoped his move would encourage other Chinese billionaires to do more - adding his fortune paled in comparison to some other magnates in Hong Kong and on the Chinese mainland.

'My fortune is just a drop in the bucket compared to them but I have a point of view that is very different from others, I will not leave my fortune to my children,' he said.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates, the world's richest full-time philanthropist, said last year he would launch a campaign to encourage China's wealthiest to take up the practice. -- 2010 April 23  AFP

S'pore philanthropists turn more hands-on

They use their professional skills and even visit projects abroad for a first-hand look

A GROWING number of well-heeled Singaporeans are now going beyond cheque- book philanthropy for a more hands-on approach to the development work they are pouring money into. So they apply well-honed business acumen to international development projects, give of their professional expertise, or travel to less developed countries in the region to witness first-hand the work they fund.

Khoo Hock Tin, a local philanthropist who has given to schools and universities here, says he 'was keen to be part of the new wave of wealth and expertise going out from Singapore, benefiting Asia's poorer regions'. After accompanying Lien Aid, the international development arm of Lien Foundation, on a trip to Cambodia to see for himself the work on the ground, Mr Khoo decided to direct his passion for education towards another drive for clean water and sanitation in schools in China. He has given $131,000 so far to help install hygiene and sanitation facilities in two Sichuan schools there, and will give $177,000 more to another three schools this year.

But, he says, 'funding overcomes only one hurdle; in international development work, a focused approach with clear goals is very important. We need to ensure that resources are not spread too thin, so that the aid extended is effective and maximised.'

Wealthy and business-savvy philanthropists are naturally more targeted with their giving, but more so when it comes to work abroad. Jenny Santi, UBS head of philanthropy services, Southeast Asia, whose unit advises wealth management clients on how to give effectively, says: 'Many of the philanthropists we work with realise that, as in business, money given to charity can be used both wisely and unwisely.'

To ensure their large donations go further, more are now travelling out into the region to give of their time too.

'When they see the projects for themselves and meet the ultimate beneficiaries of their gifts, they also get a sense of reward that they would not have otherwise gotten from a written report alone,' Ms Santi says.

'Site visits also enable donors to understand the circumstances and root causes of problems that make philanthropy necessary in the first place,' she adds.

Local architect Tay Kheng Soon, who has run his own practice Akitet Tenggara for over 30 years, would agree.

He now frequently travels to Thailand with Lien Aid, a partnership which began with building an eco-community centre in Lam Plai Mat. On these visits, he has come to know the children from that community and now speaks with pride of the 10-year-olds - 'some of the poorest children of Thailand but so incredible, so confident' - who now run the centre's radio station and came up among the top in a recent national exam.

'The learning process is really a privilege - that's my payoff. As a result, I'm not just an architect anymore,' he says. It was voluntary work on projects like these that helped him craft his 'rubanisation' strategy of developing areas which are neither rural nor urban but combine traits of both in a sustainable way - an approach now used by Indonesian and Sri Lankan authorities too.

With his technical expertise in non-traditional architecture, Mr Tay persuaded the Thais to use locally available materials of rammed earth and bamboo (initially disparaged as cheap) to save costs and build the environmentally sustainable Lam Plai Mat centre.

Similarly, Philip Wang, a professional engineer and a relative of Mr Khoo's who visited the Sichuan schools, says: 'I'm quite keen to see how local architecture or building engineering consultancies can use some of their skills to benefit international development. It's not always that easy, because of the different contexts.'

There is the benefit of philanthropists' own interests sustaining longer-term needs of a development-type project too. 'We have found that by getting involved, philanthropists are able to retain their interest in the real pleasure of philanthropy,' says Ms Santi. 'When they do get involved and apply their talents, they are able to inject the energy and sustained focus to overcome the challenge of creating durable positive change.'

Peggy Goh, co-founder of listed offshore services firm Ezra Holdings, says that motivated by 'God's higher commission to bless others, especially those who are needy and less fortunate' and her 'passion for Cambodia and her people', she sees the tertiary education she helped build for the rural community in Takeo as a dream fulfilled.

Madam Goh, whose family is 16th on Forbes Singapore's 40 Richest list, gave US$795,000 to the St Paul's Institute, which officially opened last month. But finances aside, she was heavily involved in the actual work of roping in Lien Aid to manage the project and oversee construction together with the Catholic Church of Cambodia, and then getting Ngee Ann Polytechnic to share its educational know-how with the new institute.

Firmly convinced of the value of development work and the impact it can have, Madam Goh says her experience with overseas development in the area of education will now spur her advocacy of other ways of doing philanthropy, like micro funding and improving healthcare.   - 2010  April 3     BUSINESS TIMES


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