Berkshire Hathaway

Value for money

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 July, 2010, 12:00am

Whether it's justified or not, the 'hatred of the rich' sentiment seems to be back in fashion in Hong Kong. In the 1970s, despite various economic setbacks and widespread grass-roots struggles, the 'Hong Kong spirit' of perseverance and infinite vitality reflected a collective struggle and sense of mutual significance. There was no class conflict. People were resigned to the fact that the majority were living in poverty, and thus understood the importance of collective struggle. There was no objection to people who wanted to make money to improve their lives, as long as they did it with a clear conscience. And the general feeling was that rich people had to give back to the community.

The economic reforms in China over the past three decades created a nouveau riche class in Hong Kong and on the mainland. Its members took advantage of Hong Kong's economic situation and speculated in the property market to accumulate wealth, often at the expense of others.

When you contrast their wealth with that of the general population - and the working poor, who can barely make ends meet - it is not difficult to understand why most people resent the rich and powerful. That negative sentiment was also demonstrated during the recent Sai Wan controversy, in which a tycoon was widely criticised for defacing one of Hong Kong's scenic spots. It is comparable to the King Yin Lei mansion conservation fight three years ago, which created a confrontation between the rich and everyone else.

There is obviously a lot of anti-rich sentiment. Therefore the rich must not only give something back, they also need to show they are able to uphold Hong Kong's core values and beliefs. In June, former Liberal Party chief James Tien Pei-chun said some companies were launching a fund to fight poverty by contributing 0.5 to 1 per cent of their annual net profits - at least HK$500 million to HK$600 million per year in total. The charity would most likely offer help through cash handouts, he said. This is clearly well intentioned, but throwing cash out like confetti is not really in line with the principles of charitable giving.

These principles are: first, everybody should create and embrace the culture of giving; second, more than mere fund-raising, it also involves cultivating a culture of care; third, the long-term goal should be empowerment - 'helping people to help themselves'.

The shining examples of charitable giving are Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. American billionaire Buffett has pledged to give away 90 per cent of his wealth to charity. Buffett once said that the perfect amount of money to leave children is enough to make them feel they could do anything but not so much that they would do nothing.

Gates has focused his recent charity efforts on reducing child mortality in the poorest countries by spurring the use of vaccines. In January, his foundation said it would donate a further US$10 billion over the next decade to develop and deliver new vaccines to children in the developing world following an earlier US$4.5 billion pledge on vaccine research. The Americans have moved from the tradition of giving to museums and building schools to leaving a legacy through less visible 'software'.

In Hong Kong, most of our charity hardware and software components seem to fulfil the basic principles of charitable giving. The Li Ka Shing Foundation is the only one that truly enhances the impact of its philanthropy by pursuing strategic objectives. Li is undoubtedly the most generous donor among local tycoons. He considers the foundation his 'third son' and has pledged one-third of his assets to it. The foundation operates with four objectives; nurture a culture of giving, support initiatives in educational reform, help advance medical research and services, and give over 80 per cent of donations to the Greater China region.

To further nurture the culture of giving, the foundation will launch a city-wide education campaign in early September. I sincerely hope it will bring about a 'climate change' to eradicate the pervasive feeling of hatred and anger in our society.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator




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