Giving by itself can be its own reward, just ask Alibaba's Jack Ma

China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-02-07 11:45

Gratitude is probably one of the most widely cherished virtues in every culture.

In China, children are taught from their earliest days that "A drop of water should be returned with a gushing spring", meaning that one should return even the smallest favor with everything they have to offer.

I'm not sure how many people these days still follow this commandment. But if there's one thing all of the agitation and revolt in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland over the election teaches us, it's that as human beings, we still need the power to heal and have hope and positive energy.

I just heard about a wonderful example. On Feb 3, Australia's University of Newcastle (UON) announced the establishment of a $20 million scholarship program, its largest ever. And it comes as the result of a three-decade-long friendship that transcends ideological differences and geographic distance.

Giving by itself can be its own reward, just ask Alibaba's Jack Ma

The program is funded by Alibaba founder Jack Ma and is his foundation's first philanthropic donation in Australia. But the story really starts 37 years ago.

In 1980, on his first trip overseas with his parents and the Australia-China Friendship Society, Newcastle teenager David Morley met a Chinese youth Ma Yun, 17, who used to hang around tourist attractions in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, hoping to hone his spoken English skills by speaking with native speakers who were visiting.

After playing Frisbee in the park, the two decided to become pen pals. David's father Ken, a retired electrical engineer, took the time to correct Ma's English in the double-spaced letters he wrote to David. Little by little, Ken became an influential figure in Ma's life, instilling core values and opening his eyes to the world beyond China, which, since 1979 and Deng Xiaoping's opening up and reform policy, was coming more and more into view.

The Morleys were generous enough to subsidize Ma's living expenses when he was enrolled at Hangzhou Teachers College and happened to mention that he was short of funds. Ken would send checks of a few hundred dollars now and then to help Ma complete his course.

In 1985, the 21-year-old Ma, at the invitation of the Morleys, traveled outside of China for the first time on a 29-day visit to Australia.

It turned out to be a defining moment for Ma. It was during that trip that his vision for his business plans solidified and he would go on to become one of the richest people in China, with an estimated worth of $33 billion. Ma and the Morleys have remained close friends, even after Ken, his "Australian dad", passed away in 2004.

Decades on, the Morleys' generosity has yielded fruitful results.

"I'm very thankful for Australia and the time I spent there in my youth," Ma said on Friday at a ceremony commemorating his first trip to Australia. "The culture, the landscape and, most importantly, its people had a profound positive impact on my view of the world at that time."

"For an unknown reason, I was lucky enough to make it. I have been wanting to do something for UON, for Ken used to talk about it all the time," Ma said. "I want to be just like Ken, staying ready to help strangers, to help some young fellow he just happened to meet on the street."

UON Vice-Chancellor Caroline McMillen said the program would have a transformational impact on the lives of students and shape the next generation of leaders.

"Through this remarkable friendship spanning decades, a new generation of talented students will have the opportunity to reach their full personal and professional potential," she said.

The program in its initial year will support 30 new UON scholarships - 20 to support students throughout the duration of their degree and 10 to support educational exchanges, internships or immersion activities. When the program reaches full capacity, it will support 90 students a year for at least 20 years.

"This scholarship program will exemplify the shared values between Mr Ma and Mr Morley, and aims to develop the next generation of globally aware and socially conscious Australian leaders," McMillen said.

Generosity can be a gift that keeps on giving.

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(China Daily USA 02/07/2017 page2)

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