China has the world’s fastest growing population of billionaires and what some of them want is to put their money to good use. Sometimes that comes in the form of the creation of organizations such as the Carnegie, the Rockefeller, or the Bill & Melinda Gates foundations. Such large scale charitable enterprises have been the trend for the supremely wealthy in the United States. In China, where wealth is growing on an unprecedented scale, the culture of charitable giving in conjunction with business is being developed as we speak.
Traditional Chinese culture revolts at the notion of intentionally seeking acclaim for charitable acts, with people strongly questioning the motives of one who would do good and seek to be known for it. However, a new brand of philanthropy is welling up that seeks to remove the tarnish from publicly performing acts to improve the social welfare. It comes in the form of social enterprise and is seen as a business sector with an enormous potential, both for profit and for people.
In the minds of many, profit and social benefit have been established as a polarized dichotomy, irreconcilable opposites. However, Dr. Hsu, and others, are working to demonstrate that there is enormous potential when the two can be combined. In other words, there is no need to see this as a zero sum game, in fact such an idea is damaging to both. Take, for example, the Wikifactory, an organization based in Chengdu, that is dedicated to 3D printing prosthetics for children. Dr. Hsu Chi-chich, the Director of Hong Yi Social Impact Center explained the dynamic of such pursuits:
“Social enterprises are different from usual companies or nonprofit organizations. They pursue a balance between commercial and social profits. If there is a conflict between the two, social value is always prioritized. The 3D printed limbs will be much more affordable for children, but the company can still make profit from selling them. You will want them to sell a lot of limbs and make a lot of money because the more they sell, the more children they will help.”
An important aspect of creating the trusting environment necessary for such enterprises to be more than just lip service lies in the creation of standards by which the companies can be measured and to which they can be held accountable. A regulatory framework was developed last year in the southern city of Shenzhen that is designed to be a model for achieving just this. Their rules allow for a company to register as a social enterprise only in cases where more than half of the income is in sales, trade, or services, while a minimum of 2/3 of the profits are directed to social causes. Dr. Hsu described the challenges and the benefits of working toward such a system:
“A major challenge for this sector to thrive in China is the social environment – changing the attitude that if you do good deeds, you must not make money or your good intentions will be called into question. Our goal is to find and promote successful cases of Chinese social enterprise and let the activities speak for themselves. You can create commercial and social value at the same time, and the more money you make, the more people you help. So, the more the merrier.”
It may sound too good to be true, but it is a model being embraced in a number of places around the world, most recently through the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, for example, which pledged one billion dollars to a LLC. The greater the worth of those shares, the more money available for beneficial contributions to the advancement of health and welfare. It’s not so much the case of eating your cake and having it too as there is in realizing that there is plenty of cake to go around, and you can enjoy your cake better when you know your neighbor isn’t going hungry. With China as an enormous factor in the global economy, the development of such a socially conscious corporate culture could bring about a shift with a positive long-term impact. Discuss further in the Philanthropy, Capitalism, and 3D Printing in China forum over at 3DPB.com.[Source: Shanghai Daily]
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