The One Foundation
Giving Wings to Goodwill
Having laid the groundwork, China's first private charitable fund is now striving to set the bar of integrity as high as possible, and become the charity organization in China with the greatest momentum.
Giving Wings to GoodwillBy Yi-Shan Chen
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 534 )
"Teacher Yang, we need your expert opinion." "Teacher Yang, try this peach from Ya'an – it's organic!" "Teacher Yang, it's raining out. I'll give you a ride!" A man in a rescue team uniform calls out as he notices Yang Peng, secretary-general of the One Foundation, opening an umbrella and preparing to leave the venue of the second Chinese Public Service and Charity Program Exchange Expo.
Freshly flown in to Shenzhen from the site of the Ya'an earthquake in Sichuan, Yang sports a crew cut and a seemingly permanent smile on his face. He moves around the charity expo like a spinning top, receiving a reception fit for a celebrity.
In fact, it was film star Jet Li who first established the One Foundation back in 2004, in response to the 2004 South Asian tsunami. Now in the hands of professional business managers, China's first private charitable fund has become the country's most robust charity organization in just a little over two and one-half years since its founding in January 2011. Collecting 23 million individual donations totaling at least NT$200 million a year, it reached NT$200 million in capital funds as of the end of 2012.
In the wake of a scandal where a young woman called Guo Meimei made claims to holding a position as "commercial general manager" of the Red Cross of China while flaunting a lavish lifestyle, public cynicism towards China's charities and public organizations has reached a nadir over the past two years.
Together with such similar charity organizations as the Narada Foundation, the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation (CFPA), and the Vantone Foundation, the One Foundation established the Chinese Foundation Transparency Index, unveiling transparency standards for evaluating China's 2,213 foundations.
Transparent Public Service, Zero Tolerance for Corruption
This year One Foundation got together with its counterparts once again to start the Chinese Private Charity Transparency Index, expanding the demand for transparency to include all private charity groups.
Unlike the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation, which is a closed platform that handles everything in house, the One Foundation aligns itself with public service groups around China, sharing donations. The standards the foundation has set for the field have been rapidly adopted.
Following the Ya'an earthquake this past April 20 one of the hottest topics in the Chinese media was whether the One Foundation or the Red Cross had more credibility in terms of fundraising. The One Foundation, which had relief workers at the scene of the disaster within half an hour, received around NT$600 million in donations within two days, double that of the Red Cross.
"The One Foundation is a pioneer and a trailblazer," remarks Yang Binbin, director of Phoenix New Media's web-based finance center. "Like Yang Peng says, there is zero tolerance in this field for corruption."
China lacks clear regulations permitting privately run charitable funds to solicit donations from the public. Consequently, the One Foundation directed by actor Jet Li had difficulty operating smoothly over the four years it was previously structured as an independent organization under the umbrella of the Red Cross, despite keeping separate accounts and funds.
The troubles continued through October 2010, when Jet Li revealed the shocking information during a CCTV interview with host Chai Jing that the One Foundation faced an imminent end. With this, the charitable organization that had become a household name was granted special authoriza tion to establish China's first independent, privately run charitable foundation.
The One Foundation's big breakthroughs include not only establishing transparency standards for the charitable field, but also harnessing the power of the business world.
Yang Peng reveals that a full seven months before dropping his bombshell on the foundation's difficulties, Jet Li reached out to both China Vanke Chairman Wang Shi and to Yang, who was serving as chairman of the Society of Entrepreneurs & Ecology's board of experts at the time, to gauge their interest in taking over its operation. Li's reasoning was that the larger a platform and organization gets, the greater its needs for people with management skills.
Online Donation Mechanisms
During an interview with CommonWealth Magazine in 2008, Jet Li expressed his desire to establish a foundation on a corporate business model. From its inception, it would establish assorted models, such as a cooperative agreement with Warner Brothers whereby a donation of one renminbi would go towards the charity every time someone viewed one of his movies.
The One Foundation was the first in China to team up with a commercial bank to introduce a charitable credit card, establishing a platform for ongoing public donations. It also contracted with Tenpay, Alipay, and China UnionPay to arrange nominal monthly donations of 10 renminbi. Among the foundation's 11 board members, seven come from the business world, including Wang Shi, Feng Lun, and Ma Weihua.
Asked about the role business should play in developing China into a civil society, Yang Peng – whose studies range from classical Chinese philosophy to modern public policy and whose experience includes heading up the policy section of the Environmental Protection Agency's Center for Environment and Economic Policy – states flatly that this is an inevitability: "The historical mission of the entrepreneurial class is to help money grow wings of spiritual faith," he said as long ago as 2004.
Next Step after Liberty and Equality
Yang Peng points out that the current generation of Chinese entrepreneurs made its fortunes following China's opening and reform, which allowed them to feel free to do business. The market economy has also exemplified equality, as nobody dictates terms on their own in the business world, where arrangements are discussed and negotiated. "The next step after liberty and equality is fraternity," he remarks.
Yang notes that the development of commercial and industrial society has been accompanied by the dissolution of agricultural society, the breakdown of the family structure, and the introduction of cold, mercenary interpersonal relationships. With nowhere to call home, Chinese people need a new type of relationship, and 21st-century public charity is a sort of spiritual need.
"As the beneficiary of liberty and equality, an entrepreneur's next step should be the path to fraternity. Fraternity is a method to construct a model for public life," Yang explains.
The big winners in three decades of opening and reform, entrepreneurs look to provide the impetus for Chinese society to construct a new mode of public life, where everybody including business people can find security and a good life. With this aspiration in mind, the One Foundation has not only led the way in establishing an infrastructure for private charity work, but also broken new ground in introducing the idea of private charity to China's 1.3 billion population.
"Our greatest challenge is how to satisfy millions of people's expectations and demands of you," Yang remarks. He once encountered someone that donated 10 renminbi and appeared at the foundation's doorstep demanding an audit of the accounts. Others have complained that the nail clipper included in the foundation's care packages, which is worth seven renminbi, is two renminbi too expensive. Due to customer privacy requirements, the foundation is unable to access the contact information of its more than one million contributors, making it unable to send them receipts. This has resulted in griping that its "claims of being a transparent charity are a put-on."
"As an inaugurator, we have to do a good job, and achieve firsts in many areas," says Yang Peng. After an extended time in the devastated Ya'an region, he states earnestly: "All of China is learning to do modern charity work."
The aura of authority implies exceedingly high standards. No missteps are permitted while trailblazing.
Translated from the Chinese by David Toman