A COUPLE of years ago, a conference entitled Corporate Citizenship In Asia was held in Hong Kong. At the opening session, a well-known Hong Kong Chinese business man, who is both a billionaire and a recognised philanthropist, rose to his feet to state that 'corporate philanthropy is giving away other people's money'. The whole point of having a corporation, he observed, is to maximise financial returns to that company's shareholders. 'Giving should be left to individuals,' he continued. 'Anything else is outright robbery.' The point he made was absolutely logical. It had nothing to do with generosity and everything to do with corporate perception. Up until 1933, in fact, the authorities in the United States agreed with him. Before that date, it was illegal for any American company to donate to charity: their sole benefactors had to be their stockholders. Then there was a court case, the law was overturned and almost 65 years later, corporate philanthropy in the US is a remarkable industry. It has its own newspaper, The Chronicle Of Philanthropy, published fortnightly (recent articles have analysed Ted Turner's US$1 billion (HK$7.72 billion) donation to the United Nations and bewailed the massive waste of money spent on floral tributes to Diana, Princess of Wales), and its own magazine, The American Benefactor, which appears to be the Vanity Fair of the giving world - glossy features query what happened to the foundation set up by Jackie Onassis' will and there is a back-page cartoon of 'Great Moments In Philanthropy'. The one in the current issue is entitled 'The day Rockefeller cured hookworm'. Hong Kong is obviously nowhere near this packaged stage. In his 1995 speech, that businessman who felt it was 'illegitimate' to use corporate assets went on to observe that corporate community investment was unlikely to attract much support among Chinese-owned firms in Hong Kong. Instead, he spoke approvingly of 'simple philanthropy' - the social responsibility of individuals who have made their wealth through success in business. This moral duty is alive and well: he cited statistics which showed that, in 1993, per capita giving here was higher than in Australia, the US or Britain. The reasons for such generosity, he stated, were partly to do with the SAR's post-1949 history (a refugee population naturally encouraged compassion), and its size (there is a theory that 'giving is contagious' in small, tightly-knit communities) but most of all because of Confucian traditions. CONFUCIUS pops up continuously in any discussion of philanthropy in Hong Kong, whether it be individual or corporate. If America's vision of giving has been formed by such powerful names as Rockefeller and Carnegie (so much so that a cartoon hero of Batman's super-prowess naturally has to be a philanthropist, running the Bruce Wayne Foundation when he isn't flitting about Gotham City), then the Eastern spirit has its source in a more ancient and less showy philosophy. At the same 1995 conference at which the businessman (and active philanthropist) voiced his moral aversion to corporate giving, Vincent Cheng, then Hongkong Bank's general manager and chief financial officer and now its executive director, also referred to Confucius. He said, 'Philanthropy in Asia tends to rest on Confucian values and the strong emphasis on families, on family cohesion and education. Typically, it is in the name of the family, rather than the family business, that gifts are given. While the business may have generated the wealth, the family is responsible for its administration.' Cheng, however, was not speaking on behalf of a family but of a company which has a lengthy tradition of giving. In Hongkong Bank's archives, there are minutes of a board meeting in 1865 which mention charitable donations. The first itemised donation - to a hospital - was in 1890. It was almost a century later, however, before this giving became more formalised with the formation of the Hongkong Bank Foundation in 1981. Since then, the bank has set up the District Community Programme, which funds local projects each up to a maximum donation of HK$20,000, and its Wayfoong Volunteers which currently consists of about 600 Bank employees. 'We've had to develop this in the dark. Really it's been guesswork,' says Nanette McClintock, secretary of the Foundation's Advisory Committee. 'In the States, you can do degrees in corporate philanthropy, but we came to it very naively, out of a sense of responsibility. American companies tend to align philanthropy more with business interests but here we don't link it so strongly. We're low-key, probably too low-key, but you've got to be careful that you're not seen to exploit the disadvantaged.' In fact, there has been at least one well-publicised instance in which the recipient was concerned that the bank itself might turn out to be the disadvantaged party. In 1993, the foundation funded the Tung Tau hostel on behalf of the Hong Kong Association for the Mentally Handicapped. The people on the estate took extreme and violent exception to the hostel; there were many vicious attacks and a great deal of ill-will against all those involved was given much prominence in the media. 'It was dreadful,' recalls McClintock. 'We were very, very taken aback by this. The Association would ring up and say, 'Are you going to stay?' and we said, 'Yes, yes, we'll stick by you'. But it really was pretty bad.' The bank dug in its heels and decided to get its Wayfoong Volunteers involved. 'We had to make sure that they were ready and we asked them how they felt about working with mentally handicapped adults, not children,' explains McClintock. 'And they were among the first to take the adults for a walk around the estate.' The episode emphasised, to an admittedly heightened degree, the bank's commitment to less popular projects, an option which is not always available to other companies. 'We like to break new ground,' says Vincent Cheng. 'Many of the large corporations here are family-run and if they give donations, they have to be careful of their shareholders. The bank doesn't have major shareholders so it's up to the management and we don't have to be that sensitive. We can take the lead, we can fund hospice care for AIDS patients, for example, when many people in Chinese society might say to forget it.' The same flexibility, of course, applies to the Jockey Club and the Community Chest. The Jockey Club is obliged to get rid of an enormous ($1.2 billion) amount of money each year: it is legally non-profit-making, and once running expenses and government taxes have been deducted, its Charities Trust takes over, meets once a month and decides how to empty the coffers. No potential request is considered either too big or too small: last year's largest donation was $276 million, which was used to build a clinical research centre for the medical faculty at the University of Hong Kong, while the smallest donation was $15,000 to fund scholarships for underprivileged children. 'We do not have a fixed agenda, we have no priorities, we have no preconceived ideas at any time,' says David Yau, the Trust's secretary. 'We seek advice from the government sometimes, purely to ensure there's no conflict of interest or duplication. For example, there may be a capital project coming up which would have an impact on future government expenditure by becoming a recurring expense.' This dispersal of money is a legacy of the British system of philanthropy - a system which falls roughly midway between the discreet, ad hoc generosity advocated by Confucius and the highly structured, 21-gun parade form of corporate giving which has evolved in the US. It has clearly served Hong Kong society well but Lawrence Wong, the Jockey Club's Chief Executive, has recently been looking towards the US (in particular, the Ford Foundation) to see what lessons the Jockey Club can learn about the American way of giving for the next millennium. 'In Chinese culture, we don't talk about our donations very much,' remarks Yau. 'But obviously things are changing as people mix within a more cosmopolitan society. Even the Jockey Club wants to be recognised for what it's doing.' Meanwhile, the Community Chest would appear to be adapting itself to all three cultural forms of corporate philanthropy with commendable endeavour. It started in 1968, a charity established under the aegis of a British colony which looked to individuals on the street for support of their own society. In 1986, a Corporate Contribution Programme (CCP) was set up to enlarge the donor base; there is a significant sentence in its current information brochure which reads, 'As Confucius said, 'Do not give up doing a charitable act because it is too small.' ' But it also makes no bones about the benefits of publicly lauding those companies which are particularly generous. Every year, the South China Morning Post runs a double-page message of gratitude from the Chest with a roll-call of honour, including photographs, of the most generous donors, beginning with platinum awards (more than $828,000) working metallurgically down to bronze awards ($38,800 - $117,999) and finishing with certificates of appreciation ($16,380 - $38,799). 'We try to get corporations to consider a gift to the Chest as part of their budgeting process,' explains David Davies, chairman of First Pacific Davies and former executive chairman and director of the Chest. Now he's a co-chairman of the CCP which means that he, like all his CCP committee members, goes out and presents roadshows in boardrooms around Hong Kong. He had spent the afternoon prior to this conversation doing three; they each take an hour, they can be anywhere in the SAR and if anything speaks of corporate commitment in a town where time is in shorter supply than money, it's that image of highly-placed executives traipsing all over the place selling philanthropy to other highly-placed executives. Davies explains the procedure. 'It's all relationship driven. We thank them, we tell them what next year's budget is and the difficulties in meeting that target. What we say is 'Look, you're in a low-tax environment and there are people here who are not as lucky as you and it's the responsibility of good management to divert money to them.' We award them a certificate for their previous contributions and take a photo, which is the basis for those you see in the Post.' Does he, as happens in some Western countries, suggest a percentage of profits which might make an appropriate sum for charity? Davies hesitates. 'We tried to suggest a percentage in the past. But it's not easy. One has to rely on the largesse of the companies involved. We do try and determine a suitable figure for them by those awards categories. There is a form of corporate peer pressure there.' So it's playing on the psychology of the wannabes? 'Yes. People look at those lists and think, 'Which company am I going to appear alongside if I give this amount of money?' The point is that you can be judged by your peers and your shareholders. Of course, we quite understand it if a company doesn't want publicity. But it helps us if they're prepared to be a good giver.' About 1,200 corporations donate to the Community Chest each year. In 1996, those donations accounted for about a third of the final $200 million amassed. So there's clearly a long way to go. 'Yes,' agrees Davies. 'There are still a lot of companies out there who don't give any donations at all which I find surprising.' But perhaps those companies have their own pet charities which they choose to support in their own private way? Davies nods thoughtfully. 'Well, that's right. It's a certain mindset.' As a result of the CCP and its roadshows, however, corporate donations for the Chest from red-chip companies have increased, which is certainly welcome news for Davies and his colleagues; the CCP totals had dropped for two years in a row (1993/4 and 1994/5) but recent red-chip donations have bounced the figures up again. Now Citic, one of the most prominent of the new red-chip companies here, sits alongside Swire, one of the oldest British hongs, as an important donor to the Chest. 'We make a fair number of low-key donations to other charities,' says Vernon Moore, executive director of Citic (Holdings) Ltd and deputy managing director of Citic Pacific Ltd, who also happens to be deputy chairman of the Community Chest. 'But the most important is the Community Chest. Apart from that, we don't want to publicise what we support. We do it quietly and there's no need to boast about it.' What sort of figures is he talking about? Moore smiles. 'I think I'd like to keep that quiet too.' Swire's chairman Peter Sutch, on the other hand, matter-of-factly reckons that the company's donations to charities are in the region of between $40 million and $50 million a year. 'We have a small committee which meets informally a couple of times a year,' he says. 'We regularly ask ourselves if we're doing enough, particularly here in Hong Kong where giving is less structured - though I think we're more structured than some companies. Perhaps that's rubbed off from the way things are done in Britain.' Much of Swire's donations are education-based - it funds scholarships, research grants and projects for academic institutions - which naturally require advance planning. It also likes to hook up with charities which reflect the company's commercial interests; Project Orbis, the flying eye hospital, is an example of one which is both educational and which mirrors Swire's aviation links with Cathay Pacific. In September, Sutch accompanied the plane to Heifei in China. The journey was a good demonstration of what can be achieved by corporate high-fliers - in all senses - within the charity sector. 'I combined that trip with business, taking the opportunity while I was up there to visit our Coca-Cola plants,' explains Sutch. 'And, wearing my Coca-Cola hat, I saw the governor of the province and I told him all about Project Orbis being there. I can open doors for them. The aircraft had terrible trouble flying into China - they didn't have charts in English - so I could help them with that because of our links with the aviation industry. And, you know, I found it very moving to be there ... All of us would say that our eyesight is the sense we cherish most. That's a personal and emotional response but I don't think there's any harm in that. It adds a human, not just a financial, dimension.' AND yet the financial dimension is the bottom line in the world of corporate philanthropy. It so happens that Barnett F. Baron, the California-based chairman of the Asia-Pacific Philanthropy Consortium (APPC), was in Hong Kong 10 days ago. The APPC was launched in Osaka in December 1994 in order, among other things, to increase both the awareness and effectiveness of philanthropy in the region. It was the APPC which helped to organise the 1995 conference on Corporate Citizenship in Hong Kong, and it has just run a three-day course in the Philippines entitled Community Relations Planning - A Strategic Perspective. Hongkong Bank was the only company in the SAR to send a representative. Baron prefaces his own perspective on corporate philanthropy by saying, 'First of all, neither I personally, nor the APPC, really wants to promote any kind of style. Every culture has its own philanthropic tradition and so it ought to.' But it's clear that he believes Hong Kong (despite, as he says, 'a British enabling environment, a legal structure and the Chinese tradition of giving') has some way to go before it is functioning with full philanthropic efficiency. Discreet, sporadic giving is emphatically not the ideal. 'I don't see corporate philanthropy here as terribly sophisticated,' he says. What's his definition of sophistication? 'Having an internally consistent rationale. Individual giving out of moral duty is not sophisticated - it's wonderful, but it's not sophisticated. My use of the word presumes that there is a business rationale in which both corporation and receiver benefit; it's defined by business interests, by such effects as employee morale and consumer recognition. Some people say that the best gift is an anonymous gift but I don't agree with that. People in Hong Kong are generous. But that generosity doesn't carry any obligation to be transparent or consistent.' One of Baron's concerns is how difficult it is to obtain information about size of donations in Hong Kong. (He has a point: several well-known companies didn't want to be part of this feature because they felt it was inappropriate to cast limelight on their charitable doings.) Although there is a 1996 government gazette, Lists Of Approved Charitable Institutions And Trusts Of A Public Character, it makes no distinction between those who ask and those who give, there are no figures and no contact numbers. It is simply a list of names. For the APPC, which would like to chart the progress of the money leaving the pot in order to encourage donors to plan long-term strategies around it, it is frustrating. 'What I'd like to see,' explains Baron, 'is the increased flow and effective use of funds for social welfare and the alleviation of social needs. Governments cannot do that alone. There should be a better balance between government funding and the totally private act.' LIKE this, perhaps. Two Sundays ago , the second Terry Fox run took place at Tai Tam Country Park. The founder of the Terry Fox Run Programme is a Canadian called Isadore Sharp; he is also the chairman and chief executive officer of the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts group. In 1978, his son, Christopher, died of bone cancer at the age of 17. Two years later, a young Canadian called Terry Fox, who had lost his right leg to bone cancer, began a cross-Canada run to raise money for cancer research. He never made it because the cancer spread to his lungs, but the day after he stopped running, Isadore Sharp sent him a telegram to say that he would organise a fund-raising run every year in Terry's name. The first Terry Fox Run took place in September 1981, three months after Terry Fox died.'Yes, it was a corporate responsibility,' says Sharp, on the telephone from Toronto. 'And, as a family, clearly we're close to the emotions of it.' The idea is that wherever there is a Four Seasons Hotel, such as The Regent in Hong Kong, a Terry Fox run will be organised by the staff. How does he motivate his employees? Sharp laughs. 'I control my own company. I call the shots. If I ask people to do something, they do it. But people have risen to the occasion and gone beyond it. They feel proud to work for a company which allows them that time and support.' As a result, there is a Terry Fox Run in Singapore, which began five years ago with 700 runners; now 10,000 take part and it's the biggest in Asia. There are runs in Chiang Mai, Jakarta, Tokyo, Bali, Taipei and Bangkok and the money raised always goes to local cancer funds. In every case, Four Seasons employees have volunteered to spend months organising the event: more than a hundred of them turned up at Tai Tam on November 2, raising over $2 million so far and they are still counting. Under blue skies and amid green hills, on a day when it felt good to be alive, 1,300 people who would never otherwise have heard of Terry Fox ran, walked and strolled in his name. 'It's a double benefit,' observed the Regent's resident manager, Peter Weber. 'You involve the staff and you collect the money. You create a sense of community which you don't if you just send a cheque, right?' And, as he spoke, a little group of cancer survivors crossed the finishing line to a corporate cheer.