Is Philanthropy Education in China Moving Beyond the Elite

Disclaimer: The article is based on personal observation. Views expressed are solely my own and do not express opinions of the foundations mentioned in the article.

Three foundations in China have recently taken on the challenge of philanthropy education, each targeting a different segment. It’s too early to say philanthropy education in China is about to take off, but I can’t stop wondering whether it indicates some trend.

For a long time, philanthropy education in China is mostly delivered at the executive level. In 2012, the nation’s first philanthropy major was established at Beijing Normal University ZhuHai campus (BNUZ). Since then the space for college-level philanthropy programs has been more active, but players are sparse.

When Youth Philanthropy Academy (YPA) entered the space, we described youth philanthropy education field in China as a vacuum. Surprisingly and amazingly, three foundations reached out to us almost around the same time in the last 3 months. I’ve had the privilege of learning about their amazing work, and feel compelled to share what has inspired me.

1. Three New Entrants to the Philanthropy Education Field

1.1 DunHe Foundation to build a pipeline for social sector professionals

DunHe Foundation has made CNY 800 million (USD 120 million) in grants since its inception in 2012, which makes it one of the largest grantmaking foundations in China. It is also one of the founding foundations of China Global Philanthropy Institute, along with Gates and Melinda Foundation, Ray Dalio Foundation and two other Chinese foundations.

They have identified the talent gap as a major challenge to Chinese philanthropy, so they are launching a brand new initiative in March, 2019 as a prelude to their plan to build a pipeline of talent through formal education at the university level.

For this initiative, they have committed a research project on the current status of philanthropy education in China; they will convene a forum in June to share insights and best practice in this field; and they will fund a few projects on curriculum development related to philanthropy education.

1.2 ZiJiang Foundation to build social-minded citizens

ZiJiang Foundation, founded in 2015, is a relatively new player in philanthropy, and in essence a corporate foundation, but they have done something really interesting.

In 2017, they made a CNY7.5-million (USD 1.1 million)grant to East China Normal University to set up the ZiJiang Philanthropy Institute, providing credited courses as electives on nonprofits and philanthropy to undergraduate and graduate students at ECNU and beyond.

The goal is not to prepare students to become social sector professionals, but to grow social-minded citizens in whatever career they end up choosing.

At their recent annual meeting, the board expressed intention to expand this kind of mind-shifting philanthropy education to elementary and middle school students.

1.3 Shanghai United Foundation to grow intentional donors

Shanghai United Foundation is one of the most respected public foundations in China. It has just hit its CNY 100 Million revenue milestone right before their 10th anniversary. This is quite an achievement for a Non-GONGO (GONGO is Government Organized NGO ).

Their educational goal is to grow intentional donors among their existing and prospect donors. They have been experimenting with new vehicles, such as giving circles and Donor Advised Fund.

Their current donor base is mostly middle class professionals, but they plan to expand the base to a much more diverse population, including youth, seniors, and High Net Worth Individuals.

2. What Makes Them Significant

Three is a magic number in China. As Lao Tzu put it, three begets all things(三生万物).

When these three foundations all connected with us within the last three months, it says something.

As someone who watches closely the advancement of philanthropy in China, I see something very unique about these foundations, which makes them significant to the growth of the field of philanthropy education in China.

2.1 They deliberately pick a challenging path.

In today’s China where philanthropy is still at its nascent stage, many paths can lead to huge impact, including lots of low-hanging fruits.

Education is never an easy path. Philanthropy education in China is even more so, as it requires a complete mind shift.

These foundations didn’t go for the path of least resistance. Instead, they all choose a path that requires determination, hard work, and patient capital, and a path that may involve uncertainty, complexity, and even vulnerability. They have all seen the importance of planting seeds of philanthropy education here and now.

When it’s all done, it will benefit generations to come.

2.2 There is alignment with who they are.

If you know about these foundations, you can easily see how their strategy fits their mission and resources. In my opinion, a very important part is their choice aligns with who they are. This alignment can carry them a long way.

DunHe Foundation is committed to promoting Chinese culture and building a strong social sector. Human Beings (人)are the core of culture, as well as the center to the foundation.

Ms.Chen Lin, the Executive Director at ZiJiang Foundation, received her bachelor’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling from Boston University ( Yes, BU! ) and master in International Policy from University of South California. She brings an international perspective to the foundation’s strategic focus on philanthropy education.

When strategizing for the next 10 years, Shanghai United Foundation has clarified their core values as audaciousness, grassroots, down-to-earthiness and diversity. Their move on the education part obviously reflects their values.

2.3 They are all doers.

Last but least, all the three foundations don’t aim to puff up what they do, but they all have a track record of getting things done.

3. A trend that should not be missed

Right now is a very important timing in China, in terms of philanthropy education. I have observed it through my first-hand interactions with a wide range of people, be them parents, kids, college students, young professionals or accomplished executives.

Fast economic development, broken social fabric, internet, global connection are all pushing people to start asking questions about their purpose and to seeking purpose through contributing to the society.

I see this trend across generations. This is when philanthropy education could lead to an enormous impact, an impact which may go beyond our imagination.

There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in. - Leonard Cohen

4. Lesson from YPA and the Road Ahead

When we started YPA, I thought we could simply take the wonderful youth philanthropy education programs in the States and adapt them to Chinese reality. I was wrong. We almost had to build the entire thing the Chinese way from scratch.

However, the connections we made in the States played a vital role in our building YPA here in China. The expertise they shared significantly increased our knowledge; the insights they provided guided us through vagueness; the doors they opened broadened our horizon, and even the check-ins have made us feel that we are not alone.

Although YPA is still at its infant stage, it seems to be on the right track with good potential. We couldn’t have made this far in such a challenging setting without all the support we’ve got from home and abroad.

Despite the bright prospect and these foundation’s determination, philanthropy education in China faces lots of challenges, and can’t be tackled in silos. I think how YPA is working with international experts should also work with these foundations.

I asked the program manager at DunHe Foundation what support they would like to have from outside China. She shared that they would really like to have a holistic view on philanthropy education across age groups, and would welcome opportunities to explore exchange programs and study tour programs. They are also looking for overseas speakers for their forum in June, 2019.

It’s my strong belief that together we can really leave a footprint in the field of philanthropy education in China, if we take actions Here and Now.

If you are interested, drop me a line!

– ChangeLog

  • 200201 Copy from Global Philanthropy Common with minor edits.
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