In recent years, the concept of philanthropy has taken on a new meaning in China, largely thanks to the rise of the internet and large social media and e-commerce firms. The innovative approach to giving developed has made it easier than ever for people to donate money and resources to charitable causes, and has helped to transform the philanthropic landscape in the country and revolutionized the way that Chinese people think about giving and the impact that they can have on the world.
I have been researching philanthropy and public welfare in both the West and China for over a decade, and have seen how philanthropy in the two regions has developed on different paths. These changes, reinforced by the demographics of giving and user habits have contributed to a new model of digital philanthropy in China, with unique features including (a) mass involvement, (b) an integration of online and offline practices, and (c) a commitment to traditional cultural values.
Mass involvement is evidenced by the inclusion and encouragement of a wide range of citizens to participate in China’s has decentralized philanthropy sector. A total of more than 120 million internet users donated through online fundraising platforms in 2021. Tencent’s 99 Giving Day alone mobilized a large-scale fundraising drive in China that attracted 58 million donors, thousands of institutions and 10,000 enterprises. And as of February 28, 2023, Tencent public welfare platform has accumulated a total of more than USD 3.25 billion (CNY 22.8 billion) in donations, and seen a total of more than 717 million people participate.
Other examples of public welfare platforms and activities initiated by Internet companies include “Donate Together” launched by Ali Charity, where 25 public welfare organizations raised funds on Taobao, motivating 500 million netizens to donate; Sina Charity, which has supported more than 25,000 projects with donations from 40 million users during 10 years; and JD Foundation has received a total of CNY 85 million in donations in 2022.
Compared with global counterparts, philanthropy in China engages younger givers. A report published by the United Nations Development Program in 2016 indicated that most online donors in China tend to be youth living along the eastern coast. Donors in the West by contrast are typically wealthy individuals, followed by foundations, and then corporate giving. In the UK, people that were aged between 65 and 74 were the most likely age group to give to charity in England and Wales in 2022.
The integration of online and offline practice is the second feature of the emerging China model. For example, evey year Tencent hosts an China Internet Public Welfare Summit where online and offline efforts meet. And Alibaba’s 95 Philanthropic Week has also mobilized 220 million people to participate in rural education, childcare, elderly care, and women’s employment in 2021, besides just online donations.
Last but not least is the commitment to and the promotion of traditional Chinese cultural values that emphasize benevolence and sustainability. Philanthropic ideas have existed since ancient China thanks to the values and beliefs of Confucianism (Rén “Benevolence”), Taoism, and Buddhism. The current growth of Internet philanthrophy is thus both a continuation and innovation of ancient cultural values. As well, the Chinese government has also been supportive of this trend. Its “National Plan on Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” for instance signals that Internet philanthropy will become increasingly at the state’s disposal for rasing funds to achieve targets and also to increase civic engagement in sustainable development projects.
The development of Internet philanthropy in China demonstrates the benefits of leveraging the use of technology platforms to attract a new eneration of givers as the easy-to-navigate designs of online giving platforms lowers the threshold of participation and interactive and fun features increase user stickness and bring online giving close to people’s daily lives. They also create new bridges between stakeholders, and close the distance between donors and specific projects. Finally, these platforms can also bring more transparency and build more trust, for example, the increasing usage of blockchain technology ensures the proper use of every donation. Overall, there is much for the rest of the world to learn from this new philanthropic model.
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