Global Philanthropy: Will China become a leader in giving?

To date, China has been extremely un-charitable. 

China ranks second-to-last according to the global charitable index (2015).

Global Giving 2015

Individuals in America give about 20x more than those in China in absolute terms ($300bn vs $15bn) and 10x more as a percentage of total GDP (US: 1.7%, China 0.15%), according to the latest available data.

However, giving in China is growing rapidly. 

As China becomes more economically prosperous, gifts are indeed increasing. According to Ms. Kim Meredith, the Executive Director of the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, Chinese charitable gifts have increased by more than 100% per year in the past five years.


Agora’s Founders Angela and Alex traveled to Beijing last month to keynote the Philanthropy and Social Impact Summit in Beijing at Peking University.  These are some reflections from our visit.

The role of philanthropy in Chinese culture is still evolving.

We heard from major Chinese industrialist Mr. Guojun Shen, Founder and Chairman of Yintai Group and Yintai Foundation, “If you are a businessman and have wealth, your responsibility shouldn’t be to give your money away, but to develop the economy and acquire more wealth.” What’s the right role for new wealth holders in China?

Younger donors we spoke with expressed interest in giving.  “When I think about my own future, I imagine giving back playing a big role,” explains Philip Chow, the CEO of Humanitas, a global database on pressing global issues.  “But it shouldn’t be this difficult [to give back]. Our country is in a position to do a lot to help those less fortunate around the world.  I’m excited to see where we take this opportunity.”

The regulatory environment for NGOs in China is in flux.

The literal translation of NGO in Chinese is ambiguous between “anti-government organization” and “non-government organization.”  In speaking with leaders from business, politics, and philanthropy, we learned that this evolution of the role of charity in Chinese culture is occurring simultaneously with an evolving regulatory framework.

Foreign NGOs operating in China still require a government contact to provide oversight, and with the growth in the charitable sector, prominent foreign foundations reported difficulty navigating this opaque landscape.

In addition, the Chinese government is currently working on a new Charity Law which should radically alter both the tax treatment of domestic NGOs, as well as the oversight requirements for foreign NGOs.  Given the longstanding tension between the central government and civil society, this is one to watch.

What is impact

Agora explains how we measure social impact.

Exciting times for China, though filled with uncertainty.

Our biggest reflection from the trip is that all these things are reflective of an active conversation about the role that philanthropy can and should play in Chinese society. We are excited about how the next couple of years will play out, and optimistic that this conversation will lead to unlocking a massive opportunity for NGOs to do more good in China.






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