OECD Centre study on China finds domestic donations outpace cross-border giving


Simon Hungin


The report on Domestic and Cross-border Philanthropy for Development and Gender Equality in China 2016-19 has analysed data from 62 large foundations within China as well as 45 cross-border foundations which are active in China. It was published as a result of the surprisingly scarce amount of publicly available information on philanthropic funding, despite private philanthropy being a growing source of funding for middle and low-income countries, with the aim to shed light on the contribution of domestic philanthropy to development, and to offer recommendations to address critical issues in development.

According to the China Foundation Centre, philanthropy has grown rapidly in China in the last 40 years, and even more recently since the 2016 Charity Law. However, working towards greater transparency remains key to increasing the public’s trust in the sector, as well as foundations’ effectiveness.

The study found that domestic funding in China significantly outweighed that of international organisations, with $2.7 billion being raised domestically between 2016-19 compared to $400 million from cross-border donations. Tencent Charity Foundation represents the largest domestic donor, averaging $92 million per year, with Chinese philanthropy being fairly concentrated as 50 per cent of all domestic funding contributed by just the top five donors. In comparison, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation averaged $22.5 million per year in the same period as the largest international contributor to Chinese philanthropy. The report did note that the domestic philanthropic sector has experienced a significant expansion in recent years as a result of rapid economic growth in China and the increasing concentration of private wealth which has allowed the Chinese private sector and high net-worth individuals to expand their support to social organisations.

With $760 million, the majority of which was provided by Chinese donors, the education sector received the most funding between 2016-19, followed by health and reproductive health which received a total of $561 million from both domestic and international philanthropy. While domestic donors focused primarily on basic health care and nutrition, cross-border donors targeted health policy and administrative management. While domestic donors contributed very few resources towards the energy sector, this was an area of interest for cross-border organisations, in particular renewable resources. International philanthropy also invested more on gender equality over the given period; eight per cent of international grants were made in this area as opposed to less than one per cent of domestic giving.

Geographically, domestic funding was concentrated in a few Chinese provinces, including Guangdong (25 per cent), Shanghai (18 per cent of funding), and Beijing (16 per cent).

The report concludes with a recommendation for cross-border philanthropy to enhance both their work and knowledge by forging partnerships with domestic organisations in China that are already engaged in philanthropic work in the same sectors or areas. The health sector in which both domestic and cross-border philanthropy are both heavily invested was singled out as a particular area where this could be effective. The study also suggests that in China, more must be done to disclose the geographical allocation of domestic philanthropic funding as, despite the legal requirement for foundations to disclose the geographical allocation of their funding, 71 per cent of domestic funding could not be identified within the research undertaken by the report. A greater domestic focus on gender equality must also be a target for Chinese philanthropy with this sector trailing average international levels in terms of resources.

The Development Centre occupies a unique place within the OECD and in the international community. It provides a platform where developing countries and emerging economies interact on an equal footing with OECD members to promote knowledge sharing and peer learning on sustainable and inclusive development.

Simon Hungin is a freelance writer that supports Alliance magazine.

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