Hong Kong opens up to family-run philanthropies, ramping up pressure on Singapore and UAE


Shafi Musaddique


Hong Kong will be used as the central focal point for a network that runs over 120 family-run philanthropies. 

The Asian Family Legacy Foundation, a membership network founded in January, says it will work from the 7.3 million peopled territory to help conduct philanthropy across the Asia and Pacific region. 

‘We see Hong Kong as a prominent and vibrant city for building family legacies, particularly for family offices,’ Michael Zhu, chairman of the Asian Family Legacy Foundation, said in a ceremony held in Hong Kong last week to mark the move.  

It comes amid a wider backdrop of new rival centres of philanthropy emerging in Asia.  

Hong Kong is competing with Singapore and Dubai to become an epicentre of family wealth management, as well as wider philanthropic networks for the region.  

According to the South China Morning Post, quoting Hong Kong’s treasury chief, more than 130 family offices plan to set up or widen operations in Hong Kong, and about three-fifths of these offices are ultimately based in mainland China. 

Hong Kong has thrown sweeteners to family foundations and high net wealth individuals in the past year, as part of its post-pandemic recovery plan.  

In June 2023, Hong Kong’s government unveiled its ‘Network of Family Office Service Providers’, one of eight initiatives in the government’s shift towards developing family foundations in Hong Kong. 

Hong Kong aims to attract at least 200 family foundation offices by 2025. The city-state has also offered tax concessions, opened a new Hong Kong Academy for Wealth Legacy, established new art storage facilities at the airport for wealthy individuals – all designed to propel Hong Kong in what it deems as a philanthropic centre. 

The Hong Kong Jockey Club also announced the establishment of the Institute of Philanthropy last year, with the mission of becoming a global ‘think-fund-do’ tank for China and Asia. 

Family run foundations are subject to tighter checks in Singapore, which finance publication Wealth Briefing Asia says has slowed the overall growth in Hong Kong’s rival city-state. 

However, Singapore has loosened rules for private and community foundations, allowing them to go beyond the remit of giving grants. 

Under a new set of rules introduced at the turn of the year, foundations will be allowed to undertake research, serve beneficiaries directly, and issue both loans and social impact bonds. 

Singapore is also the base for the Temasek Trust, which launched Philanthropy Asia Alliance (PAA), a new organisation launched to tackle environmental and social challenges, with a pledge of more than $1 billion Singaporean dollars (US $777 million).

Dubai and the UAE have also seen a hive of activity, with AVPN hosting its global conference in the Emirates in May. 

Unlike Hong Kong and Singapore, however, young philanthropists in the Middle East are shifting away from traditional family foundations and focusing more on individual giving.  

According to a report published by the Pearl Initiative, over 45 per cent of respondents in the survey said they are embracing non-traditional philanthropic models like impact investing, micro lending, and donor-advised funds.   

Female philanthropists are more likely to invest in initiatives supporting women and girls, and promoting female economic inclusion. 

Shafi Musaddique is the news editor at Alliance Magazine 

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