INDIANAPOLIS—Philanthropists, scholars and business people from around the world are gathering Friday and Saturday in Indianapolis for a summit on the present and future role of philanthropy in one of the world's most rapidly growing economies, China.
The academic conference, at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis' Hine Hall, attracted so much interest that registration had to be closed. Organizers are hoping to eventually present some of the sessions online.
Scott Kennedy, director of the Research Center for Chinese Politics and Business at IU Bloomington, said he was surprised by public interest in the topic. More often, he sees Americans' interest in China driven by concerns over its growing military and economic influence.
"I thought there would be less interest in social activism in China and what could be done to make the country a better place, but obviously I was wrong," said Kennedy, whose center is based within the School of Global and International Studies. "There are people who are concerned about the environment, health care and a lot of other issues that the Chinese government can't solve on its own.
"It just so turns out that America is the home of the global philanthropic movement," he added. "Americans, both individually and through organizations, contribute a lot to our country and have been quite involved in China as well."
Conference organizers had planned for about 75 people, but nearly twice as many—about 140—are registered for the China Philanthropy Summit.
The conference highlights a three-year Initiative on Philanthropy in China funded by the Henry Luce Foundation and the Ford Foundation, jointly carried out by the IU Research Center for Chinese Politics and Business and the IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
"We are pleased to welcome our distinguished colleagues from China and U.S. institutions, both those presenting and those learning along with us as attendees," said Gene Tempel, founding dean of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
"This is an exciting time in China and in the world of philanthropy. The summit is a continuation of our work to learn from and learn with our Chinese colleagues as we work together to strengthen and inform philanthropy in both countries," Tempel said.
Researchers from several leading U.S. and Chinese universities and institutions, including the University of Wisconsin, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Maryland, Tsinghua University and Sun Yat-Sen University, will present the findings from 11 research projects associated with the initiative.
In addition, panels of both young and seasoned practitioners from China’s philanthropic community will participate in a variety of panels. Among them will be Yang Peng, former president of the Shenzhen-based One Foundation, and Holly Chang, founder and president of the Beijing-based Golden Bridges Foundation. The co-founders of the Hong Kong-based organization Philanthropy in Motion also are participating.
Today in China, about 3,000 foundations and non-governmental organizations are rapidly expanding activities. Corporate social responsibility programs are proliferating and social enterprises are taking root. A substantial community of experts and activists with strong ties with the global philanthropic community has become increasingly active.
Although China’s economic development path has been very successful, a growing gap between the extent of problems facing society and the government’s ability to address them has developed, said Angela Bies, endowed associate professor of global philanthropy and nonprofit leadership at the University of Maryland's School of Public Policy. Philanthropic activity could be a key way to fill that gap.
"China's contemporary philanthropic sector is at a pivotal juncture where societal needs are complex and pressing," Bies said. "And while philanthropic capacity is immense and social innovation and experimentation exciting, the institutional environment and organizational capacity for philanthropy remain emergent and in flux. In this regard, it is vital for scholars and practitioners to come together and jointly reflect on these issues."
The Initiative on Philanthropy in China was announced last summer, and since then there have been nearly a dozen research projects and a workshop and conferences in China. Last spring, a new course on philanthropy in China was offered at IU Bloomington and IUPUI. Three students received internships in China, working with Cummins Inc., Mercy Corps and China Development Brief.
One highlight of the China Philanthropy Summit will be the conceptual presentation of "My Philanthropic Story," a bilingual, user-driven website that will go live early next year. The site will be dedicated to promoting philanthropy in China through the personal stories of givers and recipients.
"It will be a way to promote philanthropy, not through academic research like the kinds we're going to see this week, but through the voices of average people, which we think will be more powerful," Kennedy said.
A mix of social media and connections from other key websites, combined with support from within the philanthropic sector in China, will draw attention to "My Philanthropic Story."
Editors: As previously mentioned, registration for the conference is closed, but media are welcome. Contact George Vlahakis at IU Communications or Adriene Davis Kalugyer of the IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy to arrange for interviews.