Q&A: Founder of China's first foundation talks future of philanthropy

Mei Hing Chak, the president of HeungKong Group and one of this year's winners of the Carnegie Foundation's medal of philanthropy. Photo by: HeungKong Group

NEW YORK — China is home to the second largest percentage of the world’s billionaires, but philanthropy there remains a relatively new, emerging trend.

And yet, while China’s total charitable giving is a small fraction of the money generated in Europe or the United States, according to United Nations estimates, donations from top philanthropists in China have tripled from 2010 to 2016, reaching $4.6 billion, according to a recent study by Harvard University and Swiss bank UBS.

The Rise of Chinese Aid series

As China continues to grow as a global power, so too does its footprint on the development sector. Its rise comes at a moment when the status quo is shifting in the aid industry. Traditional standard bearers such as the U.S. and EU may still drive the majority of funds and set the agenda, but protectionist policies and changing domestic priorities are setting in motion significant changes.

In this six-week special series, Devex examines China's expanding role in aid and development across the globe. From tensions in Ghana to projects in Pakistan, from climate financing to donor partnerships, from individual philanthropy to state-financed investment, this series traces the past, present and future of Chinese aid and development.

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Mei Hing Chak, the president of HeungKong Group, a privately run conglomerate with holdings in property management, financial investment and other areas, founded China’s first private philanthropic foundation in 2005. Since that time, HeungKong Charitable Foundation has reached more than 2 million people across China with its direct emergency disaster relief, education and health services.

This spring, Chak was awarded the Carnegie Foundation’s medal of philanthropy, alongside others from the Skoll Foundation and the Azim Premji Foundation. HeungKong Charitable Foundation is not the largest philanthropic group in China, Chak is quick to tell Devex, but it is evolving with the changing charity landscape in the country. She talked with Devex recently on Skype, through a translator, about where she sees most opportunity for investment, and how the Chinese philanthropic landscape continues to take form. A condensed version of the conversation follows below, edited for length and clarity.

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About the author

  • Lieberman amy

    Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the New York Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.