Philanthropy in Asia, a Chen Perspective

“What a pleasure it is to have friends from afar”
– Confucius, ancient Chinese philosopher

Darwin Chen, philanthropy guru and quintessential fundraiser in Hong Kong opened his talk with the greeting above. He predicated his views on philanthropy to Confucius and taking care of the less fortunate in order to have a harmonious society.

I would have loved to have had more time with this gentleman who just received the National Award for Philanthropy from the President of China this past week. In addition to managing Hong Kong’s City Hall, directing cultural services, drafting the Basic Law in Constitutional Affairs, Mr. Chen volunteers to lead such global philanthropic initiatives such as United Way International, Asia Pacific Philanthropy Consortium, Community Chest and Habitat for Humanity International.

In addition to his years of experience, his remarks reflect a preliminary review of a survey that one of his groups commissioned to serve as a baseline of information for a massive global fundraising campaign. The survey, commissioned for the Philippines, Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong, was designed to help answer how the recession is impacting SE Asia and the impact the impact on philanthropy.


Despite the recent deposing of a dictator and the tsunami, they are back on the growth path. Both Deutch and the World banks see no impact on current levels of giving as of yet.

Mr. Chen highlighted how political conditions impact how people give. People tend to save more for their families in anticipation of hard times under dictatorial political conditions than when there is more freedom economically and politically. People give away more when they trust and believe in the NGO mission and when political conditions support philanthropic growth — i.e., China bestowing awards for philanthropy.


They are in recession. Korea’s hard work to improve it’s private philanthropic sector has been undermined by corruption. A well-established infrastructure can weather such upheavals, but a burgeoning initiative such as Korea’s can easily shatters.

Although the Korean government grew the Community Chest coffers by requiring major conglomerates to support the needy and make gifts to NGO’s, they still pulled the strings and raised conflict of interest and public distrust. As a result, in Korea today, private philanthropy is slowing down.

Darwin Chen emphasized that governments play a big role in endorsing or demoralizing philanthropy.


Mr. Chen report the survey as stating that although the economic growth rate is down 20% lower that the 1998 recession, 91% of people give triple the amount given before annually.

He wants to study the statistical analysis more. He did share that giving to religion-based social services plays a large role in Southeast Asia especially which could account for the outstanding philanthropic response.

Mr. Chen also shared how he is waiting for the moment when the best of the religious faithful can balance the worst in religious fundamentalism and fanaticism and the destructive tendencies.

There was a palpable moment of silent reflection in the room after his hopeful statement.

Hong Kong

Individual giving in Hong Kong is up 2-3%. He was careful to point out that this is based on first half of year reports. Half of all giving in Hong Kong is corporately based.

Mr. Chen shared the giving patterns differences between the first and second generations of wealth in China and Hong Kong.

In China, the past 30 years have produced the first generation of extremely wealthy individuals. People with little to no education and no networks of support forged successful businesses. These self-made people are emotionally grateful and generous in their giving back perspectives. They give from their profits. NGOs have a challenging time reaching out to them because few people know them.

In Hong Kong, wealth has permeated down to the second, even third generations. These individuals are educated, many with tertiary degrees. They are well known and well-connected with incredible support networks. They give from their investment returns in a more methodological, logical, emotionally detached manner. And NGO’s in Hong Kong can easily find someone of influence who knows them.

Darwin Chen summed up the general temperament toward giving in the current economic environment … People in Hong Kong “aren’t in the mood” to give.

Growing Philanthropy Ideas for SE Asia:

Governments need to provide politically healthy environments for philanthropy to grow.

Workplace giving is a key component to growing support toward reaching NGO mission objectives.

Using the internet as a successful channel especially for upcoming generations who are even more interested in well-managed, accountable mission achievement.

Pass on your observations …

What’s your opinion about Mr. Chen’s SE Asian observations?

How would you relate these to U.S. generational philanthropy?

What’s a cutting-edge use of the internet to reach more people for increased support at reduced costs?

Linda Brown Rivelis, CFRE