Global perspectives on Asia-Pacific philanthropy

Following a recent meeting in Beijing, we asked WINGS board members Tao Ze (China Foundation Centre), Jenny Hodgson (GFCF) and Michael Liffman (Asia-Pacific Centre for Philanthropy and Social Investment, Swinburne University) to share their perspectives on philanthropy in the Asia-Pacific region. Included is an excerpt from a recent article by WINGS Chairman Atallah Kuttab, published by Alliance following that meeting.

ze_250Tao Ze, vice president of China Foundation Centre

There are two types of foundations in China, public foundations which raise fund from general public, and private foundations which are established by corporations and wealthy families who give their own money back to society. So far there are over 4,400 foundations registered in mainland China, including 1,500 public foundations and 2,900 private foundations.

With the boost in China’s economy, the foundation sector develops really fast, with more than 600 new foundations registering every year. The total assets of all foundations will be more than 20 billion USD by the end of 2016, with annual giving at about 7 billion USD.

It was our pleasure for China Foundation Centre to host the WINGS board meeting in Beijing and to introduce global leaders to Chinese foundation pioneers. WINGS board members witnessed the effort and impact of the Chinese foundation sector to promote transparency and build infrastructure. The Chinese foundations meanwhile learned to how build a robust ecosystem and engage in global philanthropy.

The size of civil society organizations (CSOs) is still small and lack resources and capacity, so over 99% of Chinese foundations execute projects by themselves, rather than making grants to other CSOs. China Foundation Centre is working on a new campaign to advocate for more grant making models to support the development of CSOs in order to ensure the diversity of civil society in China. In addition, while China has a bigger impact on a global stage from an economic perspective, some Chinese foundations realize that they should also take more responsibility for international grantmaking and aid.

We believe there will be several dialogue platforms emerging for Chinese foundations and foundations from other countries to enhance mutual understanding and cooperation. The second Emerging Market Philanthropy Forum will be hosted in China at the end of 2015, so we are looking forward to seeing our international friends again soon.

liffman_250Dr. Michael Liffman, senior fellow for Asia-Pacific Centre for Philanthropy and Social Investment, Swinburne University

The transformation of China is doubtless the most dramatic change in the Asian region in recent years. While the regulatory environment for philanthropy remains very different from that in western nations, the capacity shown by our hosts, the China Foundation Centre, and other organizations we visited, to employ and implement very sophisticated approaches to data collection and transparency, was most impressive. Their energy, hospitality and willingness to collaborate with WINGS members bodes well for the future.

The implications of wider global developments around wealth generation and the digital era for grantmaking and social investment are challenging to predict for western economies, let alone for the Asian region, currently arguably the most dynamic in the world.

Significantly, much of the debate and energy seems to be around the emerging forms of hybrid social investment, which envisage a far greater use of business and investment approaches, and go beyond traditional philanthropic grantmaking. Ensuring and assessing the efficacy of these modes, and harnessing the growing interest in social impact, is an emerging and positive challenge for the WINGS constituency.

While the attention of the WINGS meeting was necessarily focussed on China, Singapore is also generating serious activity around impact investment, and India is perhaps the region’s ‘sleeping giant’ with which WINGS should engage.

As one of the very few university programs in the Asian region offering formal professional training to Masters level, executive education, and research in philanthropy and social investment, Swinburne University’s Asia-Pacific Centre for Social Investment is keen to contribute to, and learn from, the growing professionalism in social investment in the region, and to reach out to academic and other philanthropic support organizations with which collaborative programs might be possible.

hodgson_250Jenny Hodgson, executive director of Global Fund for Community Foundations

Grantmaking can be a hard sell among new foundations in parts of the world, where organized philanthropy is a recent phenomenon and where levels of public trust are generally low. Foundations are often reluctant to make grants to local civil society groups they may consider to be weak, unaccountable and un-transparent, and other local donors – whether individuals or corporations – often share similar kinds of doubts.

And yet so many of the social and economic challenges that face many emerging markets countries require many hands on deck: governments, foundations, general publics and effective civil society groups all have a role to play and their efforts are stronger when each can play to their strengths. In this context, grantmaking can serve as an enormously powerful tool for empowering and strengthening local groups at levels which develop rather than distort them, for promoting local giving where resources can be clearly traced in the form of small grants and in fostering a type of development where the answers to complex problems can be found among a range of different actors working together.

In Vietnam, the LIN Center for Community Development has been flying the flag for small grants as a strategy for strengthening community groups and for engaging a new generation of local donors and volunteers for the past six years, through their annual Narrow the Gap campaign, something quite unique in that country. At a recent LIN Center / GFCF roundtable on community philanthropy in Ho Chi Minh City, LIN shared its own rationale for using small grants as a key strategy in its approach to building community philanthropy in Vietnam.

kuttab_250Atallah Kuttab, founder and chairman, SAANED for Philanthropy Advisory, and chairman of WINGS

The following is an excerpt of an article published on the Latest from Alliance blog on 13 April 2015. The full article can be found here.

The meeting, hosted by the China Foundation Centre and China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation, provided some fascinating insights into the way philanthropy is developing in China.

Two decades ago the growth of foundations in China was driven by the government’s response to the growth of civil movements, which was to encourage the creation of government-organized non-governmental organizations, better known as GONGOs. As the meeting indicated, over the last five years there has been a new surge of foundations driven by the growing wealth in society and by the private sector.

Chinese foundations still suffer from a lack of confidence in them on the part of both the government and society at large due to lack of transparency and accountability. In efforts to improve the situation, the China Foundation Centre has managed to increase the rate of data disclosure by foundations from less than 30 per cent in 2011 to more than 90 per cent in 2014. Disclosure includes data on governance (eg official registration, board membership, charter), public reporting (eg annual report and website), financial data, project data, and source of funding including key donors. It is hoped that such disclosure will increase confidence in the sector and enhance cooperation between civil society at large, including foundations, private sector and government, to solve key societal problems. Continue reading.

Correction, 24 April 2015: In an earlier version of this article the number of foundations registered in mainland China was listed as 4,300, the total assets of all foundations were projected at more than 16 billion USD by the end of 2016, and annual giving was listed at 5 billion USD. The post has since been updated to reflect the actual numbers.

View WINGS Strategic Plan 2015-2018 here. More WINGS interviews here.

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