Tao Ze—setting a new standard for foundations in China

Tao Ze is one of the newest members of the WINGS Board of Directors. He holds a certificate of Global Entrepreneurial Leadership from Stanford University, a certificate of Philanthropic Leadership from Harvard University, and a Master’s degree from the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden. As the vice president of the China Foundation Center (CFC), he manages relationships with more than 2,800 foundations and overseas organisations. The CFC Foundation Transparency Index is set to create a new standard for the ethical conduct of foundations in China.

The CFC, established in 2010, was modeled in part after the US-based Foundation Center. The organisation not only shares a similar name, but is also complementary in purpose; its mission is to bring transparency to philanthropic markets through access to the highest quality data, news and analytics, thereby enhancing social impact of philanthropy in China. Previously Tao was the vice president of NPP, China’s first venture philanthropy fund initiated by McKinsey, Ogilvy and Deloitte, where he gained an insider’s view on what it means to communicate across cultures and sectors—something essential, one might say, for advocating a more transparent system of information-sharing.

In a recent email exchange, WINGS Managing Editor Chris de la Torre asked Tao Ze to explain the Index and give us an idea of the expertise required to manage such an ambitious project.

mr-tao-zeWINGS: The CFC Foundation Transparency Index (FTI) ranks all 2,700+ Chinese foundations against a comprehensive checklist of 60 ‘transparency indicators’. Can you tell us more about the Index and the CFC’s involvement with the Global Philanthropy Data Charter?

TAO Ze: FTI ranks more than 2700 Chinese foundations against a remarkably comprehensive checklist of 47 ‘transparency indicators’. The index will band foundations according to the level and quality of publicly disclosed information about their activities, finances and governance to meet growing demands for transparency in the digital age. CFC updates the FTI ranking according to statistics of CFC’s foundation database every week to illustrate the status quo of transparency of foundations.

Since China Foundation Center (CFC) was established in 2010, CFC has changed the landscape of Chinese foundations’ transparency by establishing new standards. As a result, in 2013 more than 90% of foundations disclosed financial statements (as compared to 16% in 2009); more than 60% of foundations disclosed project information and expenses (as compared to 1% in 2009); and more than 15 government bureaus disclosed information relating to the foundations they managed. In 2009 only 3 did.

As philanthropy grows around the world, maximizing this impact becomes more than a shared vision for the sector. There is widespread belief that access to readily available, high-quality data will improve philanthropy’s efficiency, influence and impact. It was an honor for the president of the China Foundation Center, Mr. CHENG Gang, and I to join the first Global Philanthropy Data Charter meeting in Rio de Janeiro in 2013. We had the opportunity to share the lessons we’ve learned in China with other network leaders.

WINGS: You fashioned the China Foundation Center after the Foundation Center in New York. Which elements of the organisation did you find inspiring?

TZ: Actually, the Chinese foundation leaders started working on transparency and governance in 1990. The emeritus CFC’s Chairman XU Yongguang and Mr. CHENG Gang registered the website (www.foundationcenter.org.cn) in 1998 when they heard about the Foundation Center in New York for the first time. At that moment, they thought they would definitely build the China Foundation Center one day. When Mr. XU Yongguang led a private foundation delegation to visit the Foundation Center in New York in 2009, Brad Smith, a visionary leader, presented the Foundation Directory Online to his Chinese counterparts.

The 20-year dream came true. Now the delegation had only to learn how to build the China Foundation Center. In March 2010, Mr. CHENG Gang and I returned and studied in-office for one week, before coming back to launch the China Foundation Center on 8 July 2010. Passion, professionalism and vision are the elements that really impressed us. The whole FC team loves data and knowledge. When we talked to them, we could see how they are proud of what they are doing. In addition, they are professional data people, no matter hardware or software. Furthermore, Brad Smith is such a global leader. He told his staff to share all the information we asked for—even the database codes and financial sheets. He has a globalised approached, both in theory and practice.

WINGS: Previously you were the vice president of NPP, China’s first venture philanthropy fund initiated by McKinsey, Ogilvy and Deloitte. What lessons from NPP have helped shape the CFC programme?

TZ: Bridging leadership and efficient communication are the most important lessons I learned. On one hand, bridging leadership is the capacity to make it possible for people to come together across divides and work as partners. As the vice president, I involved talents from consulting, PR, finance and law firms to offer pro bono service to enable the sustainability of the social enterprise we invested. In the NPP’s four years, I helped the organisation build an informational network of more than 500 active Chinese nonprofits, and assisted 300 executives to provide pro-bono services to social enterprises.

On the other hand, I got intensive training and programmes to work together with brilliant talents from McKinsey and Ogilvy, which gave me the qualifications to understand communication cross cultures and sectors. In the past ten years, I have always worked in an environment where I need to collaborate with leaders from China and overseas, as well as with the government, business and non-profit sectors. I love diversity and inclusiveness, and I have become a true global citizen.

WINGS: You are attending WINGSForum 2014: The Power of Networks in Istanbul next week. As a new member of the WINGS Board of Directors, how do you see WINGS evolving as a thought leader in transparency?

TZ: Transparency and good governance are worldwide trends. As a new board member I will selflessly share the perspective from China and the Asia pacific region with global leaders. I am also looking forward to learning more about the environment, culture, challenges and solutions of other countries. The WINGS board has convened a group of global leaders who are passionate and capable, so it is becoming a world thought leader by nature. We are at the starting point of turning data into knowledge and then, into action. We believe that WINGS is creating a history of philanthropy.


Road to Istanbul—A journey through networked philanthropy charts the course of global philanthropy over the days leading up to WINGS Forum 2014: The Power of Networks, where WINGS will launch its new report, “Infrastructure In Focus: A Global Picture of Organisations Serving Philanthropy.” Infrastructure of Philanthropy is one of six event plenaries. Follow on Twitter with #WFnetworks. More WINGS interviews here.

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