A savvy gen­er­a­tion of young Asian ty­coons is re­al­is­ing the ben­e­fits of phil­an­thropic foun­da­tions in build­ing com­mu­ni­ties and last­ing fam­ily lega­cies, writes Tara Loader Wilkin­son

Hong Kong Tatler - - Contents -

A savvy gen­er­a­tion of young Asian ty­coons is re­al­is­ing the ben­e­fits of phil­an­thropic foun­da­tions

he history of phi­lan­thropy in Asia spans mil­len­ni­ums, but most Asian pri­vate fam­ily foun­da­tions have only been around for two or three gen­er­a­tions, if that. Take, for ex­am­ple, Hong Kong’s Li Ka Shing Foun­da­tion, set up by the ty­coon 35 years ago with an ed­u­ca­tion and healthcare fo­cus, or Sin­ga­pore’s Lien Foun­da­tion, es­tab­lished by busi­ness­man Lien Ying Chow in the same year, 1980, to help chil­dren and the el­derly. Hong Kong’s Robert HN Ho Fam­ily Foun­da­tion was set up just 10 years ago to pro­mote Chi­nese cul­ture and Bud­dhist phi­los­o­phy.

Com­pared to the sit­u­a­tion in Europe and the US, the char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tion sec­tor in Asia is in its in­fancy. There are more than 100,000 pri­vate foun­da­tions in the US, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Cen­tre for Char­i­ta­ble Sta­tis­tics. Main­land China has just 2,600, ac­cord­ing to the Min­istry of Civil Af­fairs, while in Hong Kong, although no one knows the ex­act num­ber, ex­perts es­ti­mate it’s around 1,500.

It’s not that well-off Asians are stingy. Wealth is still a rel­a­tively new phe­nom­e­non in the re­gion, where an es­ti­mated 70 per cent of high-net-worth in­di­vid­u­als are first­gen­er­a­tion en­trepreneurs. Foun­da­tions are usu­ally cre­ated when wealth is passed from one gen­er­a­tion to the next, to help build a last­ing fam­ily legacy, or when a com­pany is sold or listed.

“The mo­ti­va­tion for set­ting up a foun­da­tion lies not just in giv­ing to char­ity,” says Steven Seow, head of wealth man­age­ment at Mercer in Sin­ga­pore. “For fam­i­lies, it is a way of build­ing bonds be­tween older and younger mem­bers, and al­low­ing for emo­tional val­ues, as well as fi­nan­cial as­sets, to be passed down.” Lau­rence Lien, who in 2002 took the role of chair­man of the board of his grand­fa­ther’s foun­da­tion, says, “My grand­par­ents in­vited me to the role with the task of grow­ing its grant-mak­ing pro­grammes. It’s a role I was happy to take: the foun­da­tion has grown ex­tremely well and carved out a niche… in Sin­ga­pore and Asia.”

As Asia moves into its largest in­ter­gen­er­a­tional trans­fer of as­sets in history, fam­i­lies are be­gin­ning to see the value of hir­ing pro­fes­sion­als to ex­e­cute their phil­an­thropic ob­jec­tives, says Seow. The re­sult is a more so­phis­ti­cated method of phi­lan­thropy, akin to in­vest­ment man­age­ment as op­posed to the old-fash­ioned way of writ­ing blank cheques. “In the past, Asian fam­i­lies tended to make sim­ple do­na­tions,” he says. “But within the last three to five years, we have seen a trend of fam­i­lies want­ing to

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