Charity in China, Where Giving Begins on Your Phone

Shen Bin (Sixth Tone)

As the largest economy in Asia and only second to the United States in the world, China boasts a technologically advanced society. The use of mobile payment is just as common as swiping a credit card or spending cash. Homegrown high-tech manufacturing firms, software conglomerates, and creative startups such as Tencent, Xiaomi, and Alibaba are at the forefront of China’s economic growth and are an integral part of Chinese citizens’ day-to-day lives.

The reach of China’s technological ecosystem is now seeping into the industry of doing good. With a few touches on their smartphones and free mobile applications, individuals can make quick donations to charitable causes and organizations. Furthermore, these tech companies are applying their creative abilities and ideas to promote individual philanthropy on an unprecedented scale. From matching donations as part of their corporate social responsibility to hosting social media donation competitions, China is making philanthropy cool and trendy.

Shen Bin’s article in the online publication Sixth Tone provides a comprehensive snapshot of and introduction to this intersection between technology and philanthropy in China.

Click here to read the full article.


The Business of Green

Society of Ecology & Entrepreneurs (SEE): Creating the conditions for environmental philanthropy to thrive

A community of like-minded business leaders joined forces to fight deforestation and drive forward China’s environmental movement.

“It started with planting trees,” said Zhang Li, the current secretary general of SEE Foundation. The original aim of the association was to mobilise the resources of China’s newly rich entrepreneurs to take on the problem of desertification in the Alashan Region.

But this would be merely the opening act of an organization that grew into a national network of nearly 600 entrepreneur members, including high-profile figures from the real estate, construction, manufacturing, and financial services sectors. SEE’s members would come to include some of China’s most successful and prolific corporate faces, including Wang Shi, chairman of Vanke, the world’s largest real estate developer; Feng Lun, chairman of real estate leader Vantone Holdings; Chen Dongsheng, chairman of Taikang Life Insurance; and Pan Shiyi, chairman of property company SOHO China. The work of the organization would expand to include support for national ecosystem conservation and nature education, green supply chains, pollution prevention, and development of China’s grassroots environmental NGOs.

Asian companies develop new forms of philanthropy

Nikkei Asian Review

Anxiety about the gap between rich and poor has spread to Asia.

Rising joblessness led South Koreans to replace the dominant Saenuri Party in April. Even in the Philippines, with the healthiest economic growth since 1970, voters rejected the ruling elite in favor of the anti-establishment Rodrigo Duterte, who campaigned on profanity-laced vows to cut poverty. Yet not all solutions to social problems are political. Around the world, companies are seeing community engagement as not only in their own interest but also as an important part of their role in society.

Donations already play a large role. Corporate philanthropy has been on the rise for a decade and continues to grow. In 2012, 66% of all charitable giving in China came from corporations, as estimated by the Conference Board, a non-profit business research group.

India now requires top companies to pay 2 percent of after-tax income into certified philanthropic activities. According to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, such giving totaled Rs 8,347.47 crore in the last year, about $1.5 billion USD. We do not know if the money is being spent wisely or efficiently, but it is clear that the bottom line is massive and will trickle through to increase the impact of many charitable programs throughout India.

Companies can help in at least four other ways, starting with sharing technical expertise. Some companies are already using their skills alongside financial resources to build capacity and bring about sustainable change. In India, the Axis Bank Foundation (ABF) opened a strategic partnership with Dilasa Sanstha, an organization devoted to helping farmers increase production and earn stable livelihoods. The ABF helped Dilasa expand rural credit, strengthen internal budgeting and create an evaluation system. For the first time, Dilasa could collect critical data on beneficiary income, household assets, education levels, diet and investment plans.

Similarly, support from Khazanah Berhad, Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund, helped improve the capabilities of Mercy Malaysia, a medical response group active after natural disasters. Khazanah helped Mercy develop systems that assist it in managing people and resources and deploying them efficiently to disaster zones. The partnership has helped Mercy become an internationally acclaimed provider of disaster assistance.

Social delivery organizations may be non-profits, but they need to think more like businesses. To maximize their impact, they should be concerned with transparent accounting, financial forecasting, strategic planning, organizational management and development and a host of other skills that have traditionally been labeled as business skills. The private sector has plenty of these skills. In both of these cases, the companies provided financial resources and technical resources. They committed to the social delivery organizations for the longer term.

Another way companies can help is through shared value initiatives. Shared value, a term coined in 2006 by Harvard professors Michael Porter and Mark Kramer, is a strategy in which companies bring economic value to themselves while addressing a social need. In the Philippines, Manila Water figured out how to decrease siphoning and protect the pipeline so that clean, cheaper water reached those in the poorest districts of Manila. This successful project improved water access for the poor and increased Manila Water’s bottom line.

Uniqlo owner Fast Retail provides another example of shared value. With garment factories in Bangladesh, Fast Retail knows first hand the difficult circumstances facing many workers there. Uniqlo has launched a line of products inspired by traditional designs. Proceeds from these clothes go toward continuing education for women working in their factories.

Not surprisingly, there is considerable excitement around the notion of shared value. When the company and the community both prosper, the initiatives are more sustainable. Still, shared value initiatives are new globally and very new in Asia, and we can expect to see much more innovation of this kind.

A third strategy for community engagement is when companies work on their own. They believe and with some justification, that they have the skills to deliver a social good more efficiently than by working through an NGO. Shopping mall operator SM Prime Holdings in the Philippines is building clinics and schools, through its BDO Foundation, in the typhoon-ravaged areas of Leyte and Samar. The Reliance Foundation, the philanthropic arm of India’s Reliance Industries, carries out work through its own rural development, health and education initiatives.

Lastly, in some cases, corporations find it useful to develop alliances to bring about change. In China, corporate leaders have come together to create the SEE Foundation to work on environmental issues and the Ai You Foundation to provide medical aid to children. The Philippines’ largest conglomerate, the Ayala Group, and the telecommunications firm PLDT together created the Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation to build a disaster operations center to coordinate the private sector relief efforts during major disasters.

How can companies evaluate whether they are doing enough? There are several key questions to ask.

First, how robust is your volunteer program? According to a Deloitte survey, 90% of HR managers believe that volunteering aids in building an employee’s leadership skills and according to a Price Waterhouse Coopers study, employees are less likely to resign if they feel engaged with their companies including through volunteer programs. A robust volunteer program can assist local charities while at the same time boosting employee company pride and loyalty.

Second, what subject areas best align with a company’s strengths and goals? Community engagement is much more sustainable when aligned with key competencies. It makes sense for Uniqlo to be utilizing clothing to engage with the community or for Axis Bank to focus on livelihoods and financial inclusion. Not everything a company does must be aligned with its interests and strengths, but it is helpful to know what these are and how they can be utilized to benefit the community.

Third, tone from the top is critical but innovation at all levels of the company is equally important. Employees have ties to the community and understand the needs of those living there. Creating programs that allow some latitude in addressing community concerns can harness this knowledge.
The rise in corporate involvement is clear. There is no question about whether a company should engage with the community, the only question is how. With their technical expertise, shared values and productive partnerships, Asia’s corporations are poised to be constructive, long-term stakeholders in the region’s continued growth.

Ruth Shapiro is chief executive of the Centre for Asian Philanthropy and Society, an organization dedicated to facilitating excellence in philanthropy.

This article ran originally in the Nikkei Asian Review.


Landwasher: Guardian of the Blue Earth

Leveraging business solutions for environmental impact in China

Recognizing the severity of the environmental challenges facing China, investor-turned-entrepreneur Hao Wu set up an environmental enterprise for waterless toilet solutions to directly address issues of water scarcity, sanitation and hygiene.

Under Wu’s leadership, Landwasher has become China’s top waterless toilet-solution provider, growing from a team of three to a RMB 60 million (around US$10 million) company employing some 160 people by 2013. Landwasher has so far installed more than 10,000 of its toilets across the country, posting average annual revenues of RMB 40 million (around US$7 million), making it China’s market leader in environmental toilets. The environmental value of its waterless toilets has been at the heart of Landwasher’s mission from its inception, which according to Wu, has helped to differentiate the product from the competition.

Trading Up

BN Vocational School: Giving China’s marginalized youth a shot at success

By providing free-of-charge vocational education to the disenfranchised children of migrant workers and ethnic minorities, BN Vocational School (BNVS) has helped to improve their career prospects — and meet the growing need for well-trained and confident workers in China’s burgeoning services sector.

Since its first Beijing school was founded in 2005, BNVS has expanded to nine branches in
the cities of Chengdu, Nanjing, Sanya, Wuhan, Zhengzhou, Dalian, Yinchuan, and Lijiang — and now one far from home, in Luanda, Angola. The Angolan branch has embarked upon a program of vocational training that has been tried and tested by 2,500 underprivileged young people from across China who have graduated from the BNVS network, armed with a set of vocational skills to help them navigate their way through the country’s competitive labor market.

From its inception, BNVS has offered the option of free vocational training to those who might otherwise lack the opportunity to continue their education. The organization’s original focus was on the children of low-income migrant workers, whose movement from the countryside to the cities has underpinned China’s remarkable urbanization story.

Back in Sight, Back in Mind

HANDA Rehabilitation & Welfare Association: Healing Wounds for the Traumatized and Stigmatized

In partnership with people taken from their families and confined to remote camps before a cure was found for a destructive disease, HANDA Rehabilitation & Welfare Association helps the leprosy-afflicted find comfort and dignity while contending with the emotional and physical consequences of lives lived in isolation.

HANDA Rehabilitation & Welfare Association, a NGO headquartered in Guangdong province provides services to leprosy villages in 12 of China’s 23 provinces, but mainly focuses on Guangdong, Guangxi and Yunnan provinces, the three with the most villages.

The NGO is commonly known as simply HANDA. The first three letters come from the surname of a Norwegian doctor, Gerhard Hansen, who in 1873 identified the bacteria that cause leprosy and which typically breed in areas with low-quality water and sanitation. The last two letters of HANDA are a tribute to the first name of Damien de Veuster, a Belgian priest who devoted his life to helping residents of a leprosy village in Hawaii. The organization’s name was the idea of a Chinese professor and doctor, Yang Lihe, HANDA’s founder, who spent his professional life researching the treatment and prevention of leprosy.

Curing Blindness and Building Trust

Lifeline Express: Transforming Eye Care and NGOs in China

The case of Nellie Fong and Lifeline Express tells the story of the creation and expansion of a unique social delivery organization in China. The story illustrates how one person can bring about meaningful change by building partnerships with government in China and by recognizing the need to grow and evolve as circumstances and opportunities arise.

Lifeline Express was founded to provide mobile eye care – delivered by Eye Trains – in China which has a history of chronic cataract disease and where access to treatment for most people was nonexistent.  Lifeline’s other programs include the development of a network of 36 cataract surgery centers in hospitals in cities visited by the Eye Trains that are staffed by surgeons partly trained on the Eye Trains and the creation of a network of 15 eye care training centers for doctors and would-be doctors in capital cities of less developed provinces, and providing them learning resources, scholarships and lectures and training by
visiting ophthalmologists from around the world.

Blending her business acumen, people skills, public positions and relationships with top government authorities on the mainland and in Hong Kong, Nellie Fong enabled Lifeline to overcome barriers that traditionally hinder civil society development in China. It formed partnerships with two state-level ministries and with multiple provincial and local officials and with doctors and nurses and others with the potential to support Lifeline’s trains and programs and its “Mission of Light.” All the while, Lifeline retained its non-governmental identity, a unique accomplishment for a charity on the mainland. It became a model for what a NGO can be in China today.

Improving Choices and Outcomes

Saving Newborns in China’s Countryside

By focusing on a single mission, Children’s Medical Foundation shows how an organization can form partnerships with government and hospitals to help train doctors and nurses to improve care for babies in China who are in danger of dying from treatable and curable diseases during the first weeks of their lives.

Partnerships between hospitals in China and a small non-profit organization in Hong Kong, Children’s Medical Foundation (CMF) has helped to improve neonatal care in 12 provinces and is currently focusing on three – Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou – where it has determined the need for care is the greatest.  With its partners, CMF has extended quality care from hospitals in capital cities to hospitals in regional population centers by creating special neonatal care units and by helping train the specialists to staff them as well as by establishing emergency ambulance service to the units for babies from the countryside and  by providing assistance for families in particularly acute financial distress.

With a staff of only five and with only about US$530,000 a year to fund its current programs at eight locations, CMF has fought beyond its weight class, thanks in part to a strategic decision it made in 2007 to move away from its other programs and focus exclusively on neonatal care. It also has succeeded in spite of a challenging fund-raising environment in Hong Kong, where quality neonatal care is taken for granted, making it difficult to raise public awareness.