When I took my first trip to China as president of The Rockefeller Foundation last year, I often found myself pulled in two directions: learning from our past and looking to the future.
From the beginning I learned so much about the Rockefeller family’s and the Foundation’s deep engagement with China. This history goes back more than a century: from our earliest days of helping establish legendary institutions like the China Medical Board and Peking Union Medical College, to funding development of new rice varieties that resist drought and tolerate disease, to founding the clinical epidemiology network that led to the Japanese encephalitis vaccine.
At the same time, I was inspired by the forward-looking optimism expressed by the many venture philanthropists, social entrepreneurs, and civic leaders we met throughout the trip. All of them wanted to make a difference. We came together at first around a shared vision of a world without poverty, and our commitment to achieving the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). And we emerged having strengthened our mutual belief that greater partnership and collaboration could help improve the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world.
The greatest problems facing humanity today – poverty, inequality, hunger, disease, climate change – cannot be solved by just one actor or intervention, no matter how large the investment. Now more than ever, scaling the highest, hardest walls in global development requires philanthropists to stand on each other’s shoulders and build ambitious coalitions that match the scale of the challenges we seek to address.
Inspired by this common understanding, the longstanding respect between The Rockefeller Foundation and the people of China, and prospects for future partnership, we supported the Asian Venture Philanthropy Network (AVPN) in this landmark study of philanthropy in China. As you will see in the pages of this report, its findings are revealing.
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Driven by a new generation of wealthy philanthropists as well as the private sector, Chinese philanthropy is growing rapidly into a powerhouse for domestic and international development, having quadrupled in size since 2009. Meanwhile China is also forging new pathways in philanthropy, as its philanthropic organizations aspire to ensure the holistic well-being of the communities they serve – communities which are increasingly global. Yet only 1 percent of China’s foundations are engaged in grant-making, which would enable their funds to have far more impact. This indicates there is an untapped opportunity for growth and partnership between China’s change-making philanthropists and international organizations.
Forty-four years ago, when The Rockefeller Foundation’s then-president visited China in the early days of Reform and Opening Up, he wrote in his diary that “China is unique…with the potential I have seen in no other country I have visited.” We see a similarly unmatched potential today, as we advance a new model of collaborative philanthropy in the 21st century. Our Foundation has worked with China for more than 100 years to create solutions in health, food, education, and innovation that accelerate progress and prosperity for the Chinese people, and we now believe collaboration and partnership between Chinese and international philanthropists can unlock a new era of global philanthropy – not only elevating China’s philanthropic ecosystem, but also making it possible to solve the world’s greatest problems.