Charity is changing

Updated: 2015-04-13 22:54

By JACK FREIFELDER in New York(China Daily USA)

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The concept of having wealth and giving to charity in China is very different from what it is in the United States, according to a pair of high-profile international philanthropists.

Nonetheless, "the biggest philanthropic market in the next 10 to 20 years is going to be China," according to Ronnie Chan, chairman of Hang Lung Group Ltd, a Hong Kong-based real estate firm.

"Money can do a lot of harm, but it can do a lot of good too," Chan said. "It's really just a matter of figuring out what can you do that is really meaningful. The common ideology [in China] does tell people to give back to society."

The attitude towards charity and philanthropy in the US has "changed a lot", according to Stephen Schwarzman, CEO and co-founder of Blackstone Group LP — a private equity and asset management firm.

"In America, people very much understand that there's really a concept of 'recycling'. It's your obligation in America to do these things," Schwarzman said.

Chan and Schwarzman made their comments on April 10 during a panel discussion on global and cross-border philanthropy. The panel was part of a summit hosted by the Committee of 100, a non-profit organization that works to serve as a bridge between the US and China.

Chan said he grew up in a family that did not believe in inherited wealth.

"The most important things you can give to a child are a good moral and academic education," Chan said. "Through our childhood, we always accepted that money was to be given away. A lot of good things can come from that."

In September, Chan and his brother Gerald donated $350 million to Harvard University's School of Public Health through their educational organization, the Morningside Foundation. It was the largest single donation in the school's history.

Schwarzman said a key part of the philanthropy equation for China is just general knowledge of the country both inside and out, he said.

"You need to have people in the West and in other parts of Asia who understand China," he said."There are a lot of misunderstandings. It's just a question of being engaged.

"It's a real credit to China and the country's place in the world that people all over the world are responding to this," he said. "The desire to have a better connection is a testament to China and its influence."

In 2013, Schwarzman contributed a personal sum of $100 million to the Schwarzman Scholars program, an international scholarship program that he established with the help of Tsinghua University in Beijing.

The program looks to meet a fundraising goal of $350 million.

China has prepared a draft law for charities to register directly with the government, making it easier for them to raise funds and gain tax exemptions, while allaying public concern over the way they are run, following some high-profile scandals.

If it were passed, the law would allow organizations to register directly with the Ministry of Civil Affairs, according to a scholar and a charity executive involved in the drafting process.

The draft law underscores official concern about anemic charity donations in the world's second-largest economy, which ranked 133 among 135 countries rated by the World Giving Index 2013, an annual survey by the Charities Aid Foundation, a non-governmental organization.

Reuters contributed to this story.