The rich and the famous are as much in
the headlines for their red carpet fashion as they are for their scandalous
behavior. Increasingly, however, they are in the news for “giving back”. Even as
philanthropy has grown in Hollywood with celebrities, extending the spotlight
to hurricane relief in the southern United States, clean water and healthcare
in Africa, and tsunami cleanup in Southeast Asia, few famous do-gooders have set
their sites on China in the recent past. Now it seems that the country is
finally getting some attention from a few homegrown and international
Jet Li’s One Foundation (壹基金), currently in its third year of operation, began as a result of the 2004 tsunami in which Li and his family survived with the aid of local people who responded to his call for help.
Partnering with the Red Cross, Li’s foundation has inspired Chinese to give, whether it is 1RMB a month or 1 hour of service, with the equation “1 person + 1 dollar/yuan + 1 month = 1 big family.” In 2008, Li took a hiatus from acting to focus on the foundation. In a country where charitable giving is scant and people tend to be suspicious of philanthropy, the actor has an admirable rant-free, complain-free policy.
In an interview on CN Reviews, Li explains that he spent time assessing NGOs in 4 countries to look at different models of effective giving before settling on a plan for the One Foundation. In June 2008, Li reported that the One Foundation received 47.6 million RMB from 710,000 individuals. While the wealthy of mainland China have been slow to use their money for charitable purposes, Hong Kong, where Li originates, has a much longer and more developed history of giving. Li’s star power has given him influence on the mainland has begun a bridge to close narrow the gap between two parts of China.
Western charitable organizations have been indispensible for their support of NGOs working in China, but the support of the Bonos and Angelina Jolies has been almost nonexistent. Basketball great Kobe Bryant is bringing some much needed celebrity attention to the country. Bryant, who rivals native Yao Ming for popularity in China, had his own TV show in the country, and has made several trips recently announced the formation of his second charitable organization (the first being US-based Kobe Bryant Family Foundation). The basket baller just received an award from the Asia Society for his work as a “cultural ambassador” and announced the establishment of the Kobe Bryant China Fund. The Wall Street Journal reports that the organization will collaborate with the Soong Ching Ling Foundation to promote and fundraise health and education programs. This new partnership has received backing by the government. The Journal explains, “The government seems to hope that philanthropy by athletes and other celebrities will encourage newly prosperous entrepreneurs to give money as well.”
As has been evidenced by celebrity charity campaigns in other countries, big names raise public conscience and giving for both the affluent and everyday man. According to Chinese Philanthropy Global Partnership Inc, 2008 was the first year that individual giving surpassed corporate giving. Brand name giving could do a lot to encourage this trend. While Jet Li’s One Foundation has the benefit of the actor’s fame and a focus on Chinese culture, Bryant’s also has the potential for doing a lot of good.
Celebrities make giving and caring for
the less fortunate popular. Donald Tang, who will advise for Bryan’s fund says,
“I think he can be a one-man State Department, reaching directly to the
people.” This statement says a lot for the potential Bryant and Li have to
change philanthropy in China and to bring forward local and international
donors. For Bryant as a foreigner, to spend time and money boosting China’s
welfare, has the potential to energize Chinese people to spend their own time
and give their own resources. In a country where individual charitable giving
has seen a dramatic rise since the Sichuan Earthquake, Li’s vision to build
sustainable giving will challenge corporations and individuals to make long-term
commitments. While situation-based giving will always be needed, encouraging a
culture of giving will bring the most benefits to China and celebrities are at
the forefront of culture. Bring on the star power.