Philanthropy in East Asia: Growing potential and what is needed: Reflections from a 1.5 month Fellowship in Asia
Foundations in East Asia
East Asia (both Northeast and Southeast Asia) has continued its economic growth for decades, and now holds the position of not only the factory of the world, but an engine that drives the global economy. However, there are increasingly serious and diversifying issues in each society, such as poverty and inequality, an aging society, environmental degradation, and the risk of inter-ethnic and religious conflict. Resources in the public sector including social safety-nets are limited, and there is a high possibility that the pressure will only rise in the future.
At the same time, accumulated wealth for individuals and corporates is creating new foundations in different countries. The notable example is China, where the government eased the regulations on setting up new foundations in 2008, and now the number has rocketed to 6,000. When looking back at the history of the region, this type of movement was initiated in Japan after the 1960s, and it then spread to Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, as well as other Southeast Asian countries along with the expansion of economic growth.
Still, the reality of what these foundations are doing is not well known to the outside world, partly because of language barriers – and so-called “global” surveys can easily miss them. For example, the Global Philanthropy Report, prepared for UBS by the Hauser Institute for Civil Society, Harvard University includes only two countries from Asia: China (and Hong Kong) and India (Johnson 2017)! It is a matter of celebration that there is a growing body of academic reports and literature on Asian philanthropy including LCSI (2014), Sciortino (2017), Deguchi (2018), Tan and Lam (2018), which shows the high interest and academic maturity on this topic in Asia. I shall leave detailed analysis to those excellent works, and here only share my personal views on philanthropies in East Asia stemming from my own experience.
Features of East Asian Foundations and remarkable players
In Asia, many countries had (or still have) a history of military or authoritarian rule, and this has had a significant impact on how foundations work in society. For example, in Indonesia under military rule, foundations were used to raise money for military units or governmental offices. In China, the government instructs foundations to provide social welfare services which they cannot. Foundations also function as a “fame industry” for wealthy individuals in many countries, by donating towards building a university or funding the construction of a museum. Another major concern is that the sector does not have enough professionals with the necessary skills and understanding of social issues to develop and implement good programs as well as managing foundations. Furthermore, most of newly established foundations in East Asia rely on yearly contribution from companies or individual families, so the sustainability of the operation secure.
Having said that, it is a great encouragement to see that some foundations are not only utilizing cutting-edge technologies and financial tools such as smart-phone based donation application or social investment, but also are willing to face complex social issues, networking with other stakeholders like governments, businesses, social sectors and ordinary citizens, and together creating a path to solve those problems by changing the systems in place (which can be called “social innovation”). The Narada Foundation in China has already made an appearance in the WINGS interviews, but there are others, such as the Lien Foundation in Singapore headed by Laurence Lien, which are challenging people’s mindsets on death and old age, and the Khon Thai Foundation in Thailand who are working on educational reform together with a network of local governments, NGOs, and citizens. The YCAB Foundation in Indonesia defines itself as a “social enterprise” and is using funding raised by social business to support the education and employment of youth growing up in difficult circumstances. Even in South Korea, where society’s wealth and power are highly concentrated in chaebols (conglomerates), the SK group has set up the Happiness Foundation to support social entrepreneurs through education and investment.
Meeting with Filanthropi Indonesia
Another distinctive change over these few years is the proliferation of national and regional networks of foundations, including the Asian Venture Philanthropy Network and the Asia Philanthropy Circle. Each has its own strengths and limitations, but they are definitely helping the sector by providing platforms for regular exchange and sharing.
There are also growing opportunities for foundation staff to visit other countries and learn directly from what others are doing. For instance, a group of foundations from the PFI (Filantropi Indonesia, Indonesian Foundation Association) which are involved with arts and culture visited Japan and met with foundations who have been supporting the sector. The Lien Foundation and their grantee NGOs also visited Japan and observed the practices of early childhood education and housing for the elderly (after which they created a lovely visual report: “George goes to Japan”). Recently, electronic payment and sharing economy systems from China have become widespread in Southeast Asia, and it seems to be creating a de facto standard platform in societies there.
What is needed
Having examined the current situation, what then do East Asian philanthropies really need? While holding interviews with foundations, many of them told me that “the Western model does not work for us.” Perhaps individual consultation and mentoring or on-site advice and sharing are needed more than one-size-fits-all guidelines and toolkits written in English. Compiling best practices is one way of helping, but another is to let foundation leaders and technical staff visit other countries and allow them opportunities to widen their views by observing different contexts and engaging in exchange with others carrying out different practices. WINGS can present a balanced view of global philanthropy extensively as a global network, as well as facilitating human exchange and mutual understanding within and between different regions – including the East and the West.
How Japan can contribute
When witnessing the remarkable changes which have taken place in Asian foundations, I feel that there is a lot that Japanese foundations can learn from. At the same time, I also can see some risks which may arise from such rapid growth. Japanese foundations have been providing grants for over a half a century and have tackled various issues such as an aging population and environmental pollution, which means there ought to be some knowledge and experience that can prove useful to our Asian counterparts. To make such contributions, we from the foundation sector in Japan need to be more involved in Asian and global networks, and to compile and share more of our knowledge with others.
About the Author
Ken Aoo is a Senior Assistant Professor of Social Innovation at Okayama University. He is also a Fellow in charge of international affairs at the Japan Foundation Center, which is a WINGS member and an umbrella organization of over 260 Japanese grant-making foundations. He has had experience working for a commercial bank, an INGO, and UNDP, and was in charge of the international grant programs at two Japanese foundations (Toyota Foundation and Nippon Foundation), and helped organize the International Conference on Asian Nonprofit Sectors in Tokyo in January 2016. He recently spent 1.5 months in Singapore, Indonesia, and Thailand to conduct research on civil society after receiving fellowship support from the Japan Foundation Asia Center.
参考資料 / References
Anand, P. U. and Hayling, C. (2014). Levers for Change – Philanthropy in Select South East Asian Countries. Lien Centre for Social Innovation Reports. Singapore: LCSI.
Deguchi, M. (2018). Philanthropy. In Ogawa, A. (ed.) Routledge Handbook of Civil Society in Asia (Kindle version). Chapter 26. Abingdon: Routledge.
Johnson, P. D. (2017). Global Philanthropy Report: Perspectives on the global foundation sector. Harvard Kennedy School.
Sciortino, R. (2017). Philanthropy in Southeast Asia: Between charitable values, corporate interests, and development aspirations. Austrian Journal of South-East Asian Studies, 10(2), 139-163.
Tan, P. and Lam, S.-S. (2018). Philanthropic Foundations in Asia: Insights from Singapore, Myanmar and China. Singapore: Asia Centre for Social Entrepreneurship & Philanthropy, NUS Business School.