"Philanthropy is the matter of everyone [for] the purpose of social stability and harmony."
At the age of 14, Mr. Cao Dewang dropped out of school. This initial setback was short-lived, as Mr. Cao would eventually rise to become chairman of the Fuyao Glass Industry Group, an automotive glass manufacturing company, and founder of the Heren Charity Foundation, the first philanthropic family foundation in China to be established with company stock shares worth more than USD 500 million (RMB 3 549 billion). The Heren Charity Foundation, established in 2010, focuses its giving on poverty alleviation, education, rural development, and culture. The vision of the foundation is to help vulnerable groups, promote equality of opportunities, and advance social harmony. Furthermore, Mr. Cao has put forth key principles of philanthropic management; they include (1) charity cannot be simply regarded as the donation of money and goods, but the Heren Foundation is committed to becoming an independent and sustainable private charitable foundation, and (2) an excellent entrepreneur should employ corporate management experience into the governance of charitable undertakings. In a speech at the 2017 Chinese Dream Ceremony of Returnees, Mr. Cao mentioned that so far his individual giving has already exceeded about USD 1.3 billion (RMB 8 billion). Illustrative gifts include USD 3.3 million (RMB 20 million) to assist in disaster relief for victims of the Sichuan earthquake, USD 50 million (RMB 300 million) to the drought in Southwest China and to the victims of the Yushu earthquake, and USD 3.3 million (RMB 20 million) to Nanjing University to establish the Heren Charity Academy. To date, the foundation has given more than USD 131 million (RMB 800 million). In 2013, Cao was awarded the CCTV Philanthropist of the Year award, and the China Charity Award sponsored by the official Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs and the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation.
Motivating factors that drive Mr. Cao’s philanthropy include religious and philosophical perspectives as well as a broader vision to advance the philanthropic sector to ultimately benefit society. Buddhism has been a driving force in Mr. Cao’s family for more than four generations. He has stated that Buddhism is in his soul. He has donated USD 11.5 million (RMB 70 million) to build two temples with pagodas on Putuo Mountain and Jiuhua Mountain. More generally, Mr. Cao possesses a sense of dedication and a spirit of sharing. He views philanthropy as a specific way to repay society and the nation, ultimately with a view toward helping vulnerable groups. He also does not limit philanthropic responsibility to only the very wealthy. He has said that “philanthropy is the matter of everyone [for] the purpose of social stability and harmony.” In a very pragmatic sense, Mr. Cao recognizes that government policies can play a facilitating role in supporting philanthropy, and that positive developments in laws and regulations can benefit and advance the sector. His own personal experience in establishing the Heren Charity Foundation revealed the need to encourage innovations in rules and administrative procedures. Such supportive governmental structures can, in the end, encourage other wealthy individuals to participate in philanthropy and positively impact even larger segments of society.
The early establishment of the Heren Charity Foundation was innovative and pioneering for China’s philanthropic sector. At the time of the foundation’s establishment, few rules and procedures were in place for China’s philanthropic sector. Mr. Cao’s intent to donate company stock was groundbreaking and raised questions for how philanthropic foundations could be established and sustained. In fact, the process took more than three years, from 2007 to 2010, to reach resolution with government officials. The process culminated with the establishment of the Heren Foundation (named after Cao’s father) through the donation of 300 million shares of Fuyao Glass Group, pioneering in using stock donation as the funding source to establish foundations in China. Today China’s charitable sector laws allow greater flexibility in how philanthropic foundations can be established, due in part to Mr. Cao’s groundbreaking foresight and vision. In 2010, Cao pledged to donate USD 33 million (RMB 200 million) to 100,000 low-income households via the China Foundation for Poverty Alliance. Breaking with tradition, though, Cao demanded a detailed contract to ensure that his money would go where it was meant to. He told CCTV, “If my donation doesn’t end up going to the needy...I’d feel cheated.” Other ways in which Mr. Cao’s philanthropy has helped to innovate China’s philanthropic sector include the creation of the Heren Charity Academy at Nanjing University, which is devoted to developing theories, advancing practice, and cultivating leaders to advance China’s charitable sector. It is one of the first research institutions in China to provide education and training in charitable work. Another aspect of the philanthropic sector impacted by Mr. Cao’s activities is the application of business models to giving. Mr. Cao has stated that giving should be conducted similarly to running a company and operating by market forces.