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Philanthropy

Exploring Philanthropy and Impact Investing in China

A look at best practices between the US and China, and reflections from a recent Phoenix Global Impact trip.

Over dinner at a Palo Alto restaurant in September 2011, Elliott Donnelley, managing partner of the WhiteSand Group, and I decided to organize a trip to China for impact investors, philanthropists, business people, and foundations. I had recently returned from China, where I was conducting research on philanthropy and impact investing for six months, and Elliott had just returned from one of the many trips to China he has made over the past twenty years.

We were both inspired and interested by all that is happening in the emerging philanthropic and impact investing sectors in China, and thought that others would like to join us on an exploratory journey.

So we formed an organization, Phoenix Global Impact, to implement the trip and explore other related projects. We gathered together a group of extraordinary people and made a nine-day trip to Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing with back-to-back meetings in each place.

The goals of the trip were to provide a broad introduction to China's historical, cultural, economic, and political history and context; to provide a comprehensive overview of China's philanthropic and nonprofit sectors, including their history and current and future status; to give participants an understanding of how best to engage, leverage, and partner with China in pursuing its impact objectives; to inspire and promote potential partnerships, joint investment, and action with Chinese counterparts and/or organization focused on driving impact in China and/or outside of China.

We spent time visiting US Foundations and NGOs working in China, as well as important Chinese foundations, first-generation impact investment funders, philanthropists, and social entrepreneurs. We also met with an eclectic and interesting mix of Chinese artists and musicians, entrepreneurs, media leaders, intellectuals, and select government officials.

One highlight of the trip was a visit to the Non-Profit Incubator (NPI) in Shanghai. NPI seeks to promote social innovation and cultivate social entrepreneurs in China. CEO Ding Li gave us a tour of its new center, the Nest. The Nest aims to promote the development of China's third sector by serving as a nexus for cross-sector collaboration between government agencies, social enterprises, and nonprofits.

We also met with a Shanghai government official who has been very supportive of organizations that incubate social enterprises. There is some hope that if these social enterprises are able to flourish in Shanghai, then this could serve as a good case study for other areas in China.

We also co-hosted a dinner with UBS as part of its Art of Giving philanthropy conference in Beijing. The vision of the UBS conference was to provide its high-net-worth clientele with an opportunity to consider how to leverage their capital for philanthropic causes. There were a number of sessions on topics such as health, education, and the challenges facing an aging population.

Philanthropy delegation at the Ministry of Health with Vice Minister of Health, Huang Jiefu, and others. (Photo by Jenna Nicholas)

The trip was an amazing opportunity for the participants to learn from one another and to share best practices with organizations in China. For example, our meeting with the Ministry of Health, in which we learned more about the complexities of the health system in China, proved extremely valuable to one of the participants on our trip, Greg Segal, who does much work in the US to support organ donation.

One of the main focuses was impact investing. Wayne Silby, CEO of the Calvert Foundation, and others shared their extensive experience helping to build the US impact investing industry with some of the emerging players in China. We also interacted with several leading venture capitalists to consider ways they could dedicate part of their portfolios to socially impactful causes.

One of the outcomes of the trip is to support the establishment of an impact investing association in China. This will provide a platform for Chinese social venture funds to engage in multilateral dialogue and exchange. More to come on this!

We hope this is the beginning of many more such dialogues and exchanges.

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