Hang Lung Group’s Ronnie Chan Chi-chung and his brother have taken philanthropy to a new level, and perhaps without meaning to, have thrown down the gauntlet to their fellow tycoons.
Their foundation’s US$350 million donation to Harvard University’s School of Public Health, which would be renamed T.H. Chan School of Public Health in memory of their late father, topped other donors for the single largest donation to the prestigious university. Chan has also pledged to donate more to the University of South California, his alma mater.
The generous gift is said to have trumped those by fellow billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, but this is obviously an overstatement. The Chan brothers, whose net worth is estimated to be over US$3 billion, ranking No. 17 in Hong Kong according to Forbes, have yet to donate most of their wealth (90 percent in the case of Buffett) and time (almost full time in the case of Gates) to charity.
In fact, mainland netizens have sniffed at Ronnie Chan for not issuing the check to institutions on the mainland where he made much of his fortune.
But our fond wish is that Chan’s example would inspire local billionaires to be as generous, if not more, in opening their wallets for a good cause.
Donating to an overseas university is a common form of altruism among Hong Kong tycoons. Back in 1984, Hopewell Holdings chairman Gordon Wu Ying-sheung gave Princeton, his alma mater, US$5 million of his company shares and pledged another US$100 million by 2008.
Cheng Yu-tung of New World Development followed suit by giving to the University of Toronto in the 1990s. Dickson Poon made the single largest donation to King’s College in London, which, in appreciation, renamed its most famous institution the Dickson Poon School of Law in 2012.
In terms of regularity, no one beats Cheung Kong (Holdings) chairman Li Ka-shing, who has given at least HK$6.2 billion to charity, including a pledge of HK$1 billion to the University of Hong Kong, whose medical school has been named after him in recognition of his generosity.
New World’s Cheng holds the record for the single largest donation to a local university, namely a HK$1.3 billion check for a teaching hotel to the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Henderson Land chairman Lee Shau-kee regularly donated nine-digit figures to local and mainland universities, including Peking and Tsinghua in the mainland capital and Fudan in Shanghai after making big bucks in the stock market seven years ago.
One big family name is missing, and we sincerely hope they would catch up with their philanthropy after dealing with a time-consuming lawsuit.
Meanwhile, we are waiting for more tycoons to keep the ball rolling, just like in the Ice Bucket Challenge.
And for the second generation of tycoons, it’s best to keep in mind Ronnie Chan’s advice: “People who don’t know how to make money cannot be involved in giving it away.”
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