Chinese wealthy sharing more through philanthropy
The rise in philanthropic giving among the new wealthy class of China is “just the beginning”, said Zhang Xin, the billionaire CEO of SOHO China, the largest commercial real estate developer in Beijing and Shanghai.
“Before, we didn’t have money. When I was growing up, we didn’t have money,” Zhang told an audience at the Asia Society on Sept 29, appearing in a forum on women entrepreneurs alongside Arianna Huffington, co-founder of the Huffington Post.
“But over the last 30 years, with the economic reforms and growth, there are people like us in a position to monetarily help more,” she said. “This is just the beginning of what will be a lot of people doing it.
“In China, you’re seeing a lot of people do it — they’re not coming here to do it, Ronnie [Chan] happens to have done it here a lot,” she said, referring to Hong Kong real estate tycoon Ronnie Chan who made headlines in 2014 for donating $350 million to Harvard University. “But you’re really seeing a generation of Chinese philanthropists coming up now” giving in China.
Zhang founded the philanthropic SOHO China Foundation, which pledged $100 million to send underprivileged Chinese students to elite universities around the world, including $15 million to Harvard.
She called Blackstone Group’s Stephen Schwarzman an inspiration for creating his Schwarzman Scholars program, adding that he had initially invited her to become a donor to the program with Tsinghua University.
“I told him, ‘I’m thinking of doing a SOHO China scholarship myself,’ and he said, ‘It doesn’t matter if you don’t want to give money to me, but whatever you do, you should do it big, because when you do it big, you really become a magnet, you attract other people to come into your way,’” she said.
“I took it to heart,” she said. “I went home and talked to my husband and said, ‘We should think about this bigger, not just little by little. How about if we endow $100 million and then we can think about how many hundreds and thousands of Chinese students can actually go and get the best education?’ ” she said.
Zhang said she views education as the single biggest game changer in her life. Growing up, she had very little money and eventually saved enough to study abroad. She ended up studying economics at the University of Sussex and obtained a master’s degree at Cambridge. She went on to found SOHO China in 1995 with her husband and, according to Forbes, is now worth $3.3 billion.
“Despite all the economic freedom and great entrepreneurial freedom in China, education still serves as the biggest social mobility factor,” she said.
“I see more affluent families like mine sending their children here or around the world to get the best education, but how about the [other] people — the Zhang Xins of today? Do they get the money, the funding to get their education? We still need those,” she said.
We should think about this bigger, not just little by little.” Zhang Xin, CEO of SOHO China