Organiser takes leaf from Bernie Madoff's book to raise money for charity

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 May, 2010, 12:00am

Suck it up, Bernie Madoff: the good people of Hong Kong are turning your fraudulent scheme on its heels for a good cause. Led by fund-raiser Catherine LaJeunesse (pictured with husband Andre), five charitable Hongkongers kick off the city's first legal ponzi scheme this afternoon with a pledge of HK$100 each and a tour of free multimedia art event Hope & Glory in Taikoo Place. The concept was developed earlier this year in Singapore by Fleur Thomas, who adapted the scam into an honest way to make money for a local charity.

'I thought it was a wonderful viral idea to spread here in Hong Kong,' LaJeunesse said. 'I have had every type of reaction except suspicion; people grasp the concept pretty quickly and are amused and taken by the idea. Now that even fund-raising is often corporatised, I believe people value more personalised approaches to giving.'

Here's how a legal ponzi for charity works: after the first event, the five founding participants will each invite five friends to a get-together of his or her choice, and those friends pledge to do the same. The pyramid of people widens over six months. At the end - with full compliance, of course - more than 15,000 people will have participated and raised over HK$1.9 million. This season's beneficiary charity is the Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation, which has been improving the lot of children with safe homes, good nutrition and education in Nepal for the past 23 years.

'The exponential nature of the scheme is compelling, and since it's viral, the concept is for everyone. You can e-mail me ( and I will tell you how it works and how to plan your own legal ponzi scheme,' LaJeunesse says. 'I would like to challenge future hosts to plan events that might be newsworthy to raise awareness. Of course, if you want to invite friends over to watch TV, that is fine too!'