Public service is not about grandiose gestures, but the accumulation of small, thoughtful and compassionate acts from individuals each day, said Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma Wednesday.
“Charity is about how much you donate, but public service is about giving one’s time, actions and heart. It is a passion and force that come from within,” said Ma, speaking at the second Xin Philanthropy Conference, hosted by Alibaba’s Public Welfare Foundation. “Public service is the best medicine to all ailments…and by getting involved and doing your part to make the world a better place, you will be the biggest benefactor.”
Held for the first time in 2016, the biennial Xin Philanthropy Conference aims to raise public awareness about community service, and the idea of giving back, in China. It was China’s first private philanthropy conference (others have been government-affiliated) and features global thought-leaders, change agents and Chinese pioneering philanthropists to exchange ideas, solutions and best practices on social responsibility.
This year, the conference brought together prominent activists and policymakers from all over the world, including Queen Rania of Jordan, Belgian Prince Emmanuel de Merode, who is also the director of Virunga National Park in Congo, Stanlake Samkange, the policy and program director of the World Food Program and Indian activist and actress Gul Panang, as well as celebrities from mainland China and Taiwan.
The one-day, cross-continent conference, held primarily in Hangzhou, is titled “The Power of Small.” It focused on five key areas: education, poverty alleviation, youth in action, conservation and environmental protection and women’s development. An afternoon session on women and children was held simultaneously in Delhi. (Click here to read more highlights from Xin Philanthropy 2018.)
“As a global community, we face serious challenges. Challenges as acute as hunger and as sweeping as climate change, as old as extremism and as new as artificial intelligence,” said Queen Rania during her opening keynote speech. The queen, a longtime champion for women and children, centered her remarks on the vital role of education in creating a more-peaceful society.
“As you may be aware, in my region, education is in a state of crisis. Civil war and armed conflict dominate the news headlines, but hidden behind them is another tragedy: Violence and forced displacement are preventing more than 15 million of our children from attending school,” said the queen, noting that the swelling number of school-age refugees Jordan has taken in is pushing the public education system to the “breaking point.”
Education, she emphasized, is the “birthright of every child…the source of all human progress, the antidote to extremism and the foundation of any peaceful society.”
As a former English teacher, Ma shares the same passion for education, especially in rural China, where the Jack Ma Foundation has been key leader in inspiring other likeminded individuals and companies to improve the living conditions for students in China’s poorest regions.
Ma said that in a company, public service shouldn’t be undertaken only by the corporate social responsibility team, but rather by all employees.
In the Alibaba Corporate Social Responsibility Report, released on the eve of the conference, company CEO Daniel Zhang wrote that the company maintains a “grateful heart” and will continue to pursue a “public service” mindset to develop more technology to benefit the world. The Alibaba Public Welfare Foundation, established in 2011, earmarks 0.3% of annual revenue to fund efforts to promote environmental awareness and social responsibility in China.
All Alibaba employees are encouraged to get involved in community service. Since 2015, Alibaba employees have collectively donated over 483,000 hours, performing service in their local communities, according to the report.
In December, the company also pledged to donate RMB$10 billion ($1.5 billion) to the Alibaba Poverty Relief Fund as part of the ongoing efforts to combat poverty and lift living standards in rural China.
The Jack Ma Foundation, established in 2014, has been at the forefront of helping China’s “left-behind children,” kids in China’s countryside who have one or two parents away from home. The Rural Teacher Initiative and the Rural Headmaster Initiative, backed by foundation, have helped train hundreds of educators in China’s poorest regions.
Ma’s environment-focused nonprofit group, the Paradise Foundation, last month recognized and rewarded 50 African rangers for their work in protecting wildlife on the continent.
With the intention of creating synergy, Alibaba has also successfully invited around 1.7 million vendors onto its platforms to join a “donation-with-purchase” program, in which the vendors pledge to donate part of the profit from select products to charities prescreened by Taobao. Since 2016, the program has raised over RMB 266 million.
The conference also helped kick off a “philanthropy week” from Sept. 1 to 9, an Alibaba-led nationwide campaign that encouraged the public to participate in 300 million acts of philanthropy. It took just two days to reach that goal, Alibaba said.
Consumers shopping on any of the sites in the Alibaba ecosystem could find creative ways to either donate money or time for a cause. For instance, consumers donated their “steps” toward fixing or constructing new running tracks for rural schools. Several Alibaba platforms, including Alipay, Ele.me and Taobao also unveiled an online account through which consumers could track their charitable donations and share their experiences with others.
Another way for consumers to get involved was by purchasing “charitable items” on Taobao Global from participating vendors. These items were all produced by disenfranchised groups or social enterprises outside of the mainland China. For example, soap and coffee packets made by the handicapped in Taiwan, hand-woven products made by rural Nepali women, toys made with recycled milk jugs, and sustainable and expandable footwear made by Kenya-based nonprofit called Shoes That Grow.
Also on Wednesday, Alibaba Executive Vice Chairman Joe Tsai launched the Joe Tsai Foundation to promote charitable giving and encourage vocational education, sports for youth and poverty alleviation in China. The Foundation, which is aligned with Alibaba Group’s RMB10 billion Alibaba Poverty Relief Program, will start in Tsai’s ancestral home of Nanxun in eastern Zhejiang Province, growing outward across China from there.