Wangsheng Li - “One of the Most Distinct Assets of Philanthropic Institutions Is Its People”





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Oct 04, 2017
by Mirva Villa
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Wangsheng Li - “One of the Most Distinct Assets of Philanthropic Institutions Is Its People”

Chinese philanthropy expert discusses the growth of the sector in his country and the need for “talent” Wangsheng Li speaking at the Salzburg Global Seminar session Driving Change: Global Talent Management for Effective Philanthropy

The constantly evolving world of philanthropy offers exciting opportunities for open-minded workers globally. A rising player in this field is China, where the modern philanthropic movement is still taking shape.

As the philanthropic sector develops, talent management becomes increasingly important, emphasizes Wangsheng Li, a participant of the recent Salzburg Global Seminar session Driving the Change: Global Talent Management for Effective Philanthropy. His diverse background, working in charitable organizations in Asia and the US, has given him a unique viewpoint to the developments in the philanthropic sector globally.

Li is currently the president of ZeShan Foundation, which supported the latest Salzburg Global session on philanthropy. The advancement of global philanthropy and supporting diverse participation is important to the family foundation.

“One of the most distinct assets of philanthropic institutions is its people. Talent management fits well with that line of thinking,” Li says, “Personally, it’s always a very inspiring and a worthwhile effort in terms of learning from your peers and an opportunity to have some time to reflect and think, and hopefully to be inspired – even challenged – in a sense.”

Philanthropy in China

Philanthropy and charitable giving in China has always existed in one form or another – from tightly-knit communities helping each other in their daily lives to leaders of the past preparing for the tough times by stocking up food supplies, like grain, and medicine.

“In classic Chinese literature, you can find how local governments and local philanthropists would prepare themselves a year or longer ahead in anticipation of, say, floods, famine, etc.

“Local doctors would be asked to stock up herbal medicine in case of an epidemic or digestive diseases caused by unclear water. That tradition has always been, and not only in China,” Li explains.

However, the modern, institutionalized form of philanthropy is still taking its shape. 

“Institutionalized philanthropy is a relative new phenomenon in comparison with the US,” Li explains, “Donors want to take their work to the next level, and there is an increasing recognition that institutionalized giving is the future of philanthropy. Institutionalization also means bringing on board professionals, so that gave rise to this kind of professionalization of grant-making. Now where do you get people? It was – and still is – a relatively new phenomenon, so where is your pipeline?”

Currently a large portion of the people working in the field of philanthropy in China come from a background of social work training, instead of having experience in public policymaking or public administration. This is the case in many other countries in Asia and Latin America, Li says:

“They’re trained as social workers, but they have a pretty sound understanding of the social issues and the community’s needs, and policy issues.”

The challenge now facing the Chinese philanthropy sector is how to diversify their workforce, and more importantly, prepare them for their work in this evolving industry.

“One [challenge] is how to encourage more young people or professionals of diverse backgrounds to go into the philanthropy field, and two is really looking at how to prepare them to go into this field. So it’s a pipeline issue.”

The future of philanthropy

So what lies in the future for philanthropy in China? Li expects to see the philanthropic sector move away from the traditional ways, and become more of a hybrid: “Social entrepreneurship has already become a very important part of contemporary philanthropy. The donors are younger, and have become increasingly hands-on. That poses also a challenge, even a conflict of interest.”.

He also expects to see charitable giving no longer be perceived as the privilege of the “super rich.”

“It also has become part of the social movement, you could say, of the development of civil society. Ordinary citizens can also be donors.”

Wangsheng Li was a participant at Session 581 - Driving the Change: Global Talent Management for Effective Philanthropy, which is part of Salzburg Global's multi-year initiative on philanthropy and social investment. Read more about the session here.