Looking at the Future of Philanthropy and Sustainable Development in China

Nov 17, 2015

UNDP Country Director, Agi Veres takes part in a panel discussion at the China Philanthropy Forum 2015

On Tuesday 17th November, Beijing, UNDP China participated in the China Philanthropy Forum 2015. This year’s theme was ‘Changes & Sustainability’. The forum sought to promote changes in theory and practice of philanthropy through exchanges and discussions among academia, practitioners in the sector and other related parties in China and abroad. It also aimed to make use of the opportunity to connect representatives from charity organizations, businesses, government agencies, academia and the media so as to promote the healthy development of the philanthropic sector.

UNDP Country Director Agi Veres was part of the opening panel for a discussion on ‘Changes in Global Philanthropy and the Emergence of New Driving Forces’. The event was opened by Liu Jing, Chairman of China Association for Friendship. Ms. Veres mentioned the preliminary results of a UNDP report titled “Unleashing the potential of philanthropy in China” which will be launched later this year in Beijing.

Philanthropy can be a pivotal contribution to sustainable development. Corporate philanthropy and public-private partnerships, in particular, can make up for the failure of government or the marketplace. The UN recognizes that philanthropy played an important role in supporting the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

With the recent adoption of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to eradicate poverty, reduce inequality and combat climate change, it is clear that looking forward, private and corporate philanthropy will play an even bigger role in achieving these new global goals.

As the world looks for additional sources of funding to finance its fight against poverty, inequality and disease, a lot of hope is resting in the rise of philanthropy in countries like China. A strong and healthy philanthropic sector in China, confident in looking outside its borders, will benefit China as well as the rest of the world.

In many ways China today has the unprecedented opportunity to tap into its increasing economic development and its expanding non-profit sector. As the levels of personal and corporate wealth in China are rising faster than ever before, at the end of last year more than 400 billionaires resided in China, surpassing even the number residing in the USA. The total net worth of the 400 richest people in China was valued at around $570 billion USD, a 35% increase from the year before. According to some estimates, in 2012 China's top 100 philanthropists together contributed the equivalent of $1.6 billion to support charitable causes including healthcare, education, poverty alleviation, disaster relief as well as culture and sports.

All of this is a sign that a new culture of giving is taking root here in China, however, there are challenges. Despite the rapid growth in corporate and personal wealth, total charitable giving in China is just 4% of the level in the US and Europe. In many respects, China is still a place where philanthropists are finding it hard to build, promote, and sustain effective charitable organizations.

Due to a combination of public distrust in the sector, an unclear legal and policy environment and outdated regulations that have not kept pace with the fast growth of the sector. Current regulations not permitting independent foundations to fundraise publicly, for example, are slowing innovation and growth. Financial incentives to give to charity remain very small, and the opportunities for fundraising and awareness raising presented by the internet and social media have not been fully utilized. Finally, China lacks clear incentives for organizations and foundations to invest in their human resources and talent to work in the non-profit sector.

UNDP hopes that the new China Charity Law, currently being discussed by the National People’s Congress, will address some of these structural issues and allow this sector to flourish for the benefit of China’s most vulnerable.

UNDP has always incorporated the support for an enabling environment for civil society and philanthropy as a key component of effective development cooperation at the national and global levels.




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