Hong Kong - When Hong Kong action star Jackie Chan announced he would leave
half his fortune to his charity for helping young people, the news created
barely a ripple in his home city.
The kungfu star named this year in Forbes magazine's list of 10 most generous
celebrities - took his cue from US billionaire investor Warren Buffett and
Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who have pledged large legacies to charity.
Chan's estimated wealth of US$128 million hardly puts him in the billionaire
league, but his largesse is typical in Hong Kong.
The city's residents are also among the world's most generous donors to
charity, a trend that is accelerating.
"We've seen a huge increase in donating in Hong Kong in the past five years,"
said Terry Farris, the Asian head of philanthropy services at investment bank
In Hong Kong, letters requesting donations from the general community yield
an average cash gift of US$60 compared with US$10 in the United States and US$5
in Britain, Farris said.
Ahead of Christmas, the charity gala season is in full swing.
At a fund-raising dinner hosted by the Changing Young Lives Foundation at the
luxury Shangri-La Hotel, the silver and red decorations on Christmas trees atop
tables in the ballroom are as lavish as the designer dresses adorned by many of
The event brings out the region's glitterati, who preen for photographers
from Hong Kong Tatler magazine.
But fund-raising at the dinner was not confined to the rich and famous.Sandra
Yu, a 30-something marketing executive with a finance company, is also there
with a few co-workers.
She might not make it into Tatler - or have Jackie Chan's sort of money to
give away - but she has been donating HK$200 (US$25) a month to World Vision,
which aids people in poor countries, for the past three years.
"I feel it's a tiny amount, but it's a lot to those people," she said. "In
Hong Kong we are very lucky. We live well and we seldom have any disasters like
earthquakes or flooding, so it's good to help people who suffer."
Charitable donations by Hong Kong companies surged 83 per cent between 2000
and 2004 to HK$1.28 billion (US$164 million), while donations by individuals
jumped 56 per cent to HK$2.89 billion, according to latest data from the Inland
Donations by registered charitable funds are not disclosed.
Charity-giving is expected to increase in Hong Kong, analysts say,explaining
that the abolition of estate duty this year is likely to boost legacies to
They say charities are also gaining support from a younger generation that is
travelling, witnessing first-hand the huge gap in living standards between Hong
Kong and other parts of Asia.
A new generation of businessmen is behind the recent surge in donations,said
"In the past few years we've seen a new breed of givers, the social
entrepreneurs who would want to be more engaged," he said.
"Typically they are aged between 40 and 55. Unlike previous generations of
entrepreneurs, they've been to business school and are taking a businesslike
They are saying, `How can my gift make the greatest difference?'" The
region's economic rebound in the past few years and the Asian tsunami in
December 2004 have been catalysts for higher donations to charity,analysts say.
Hong Kong was the biggest fundraiser for tsunami relief after Australia.
At a cocktail party in the region to raise funds for San Francisco-based
literacy charity Room to Read, founder John Wood showed photographs of smiling
children at Room to Read schools in Nepal. Whipping up the crowd, he raises
US$75,000 in 10 minutes.
"Anywhere else, it would take weeks," he said.
Truffles for charity
Hong Kong's commitment to charity is at odds with its laissez-faire economic
policy that encourages self-reliance.
Young people are digging deep because there is no volunteer organization like
the Peace Corps.
That suits Wood: volunteer work often ends up costing more than it
"Hong Kong is a culture of performance and results," he said. "People want to
know that if they give, they can see a direct result."
Hong Kong's richest man, Li Kashing,who has funded research at Cambridge
University in England as well as the University of California, recently vowed to
leave at least a third of his estimated US$19 billion fortune to his charitable
Much of the region's fundraising is discreet, although Sir Gordon Wu,chairman
of the infrastructure group Hopewell Holdings, made headlines last month when he
paid a record US$160,000 for a 1.5-kg (3.3 lb) Alba white truffle.
Outbidding connoisseurs from Italy and France for the delicacy even though he
doesn't even like truffles, Wu said the money would go to a charity that
supports adoptions for unwanted babies.