Chinese internet entrepreneur and billionaire Jack Ma is to launch a charitable trust to combat pollution and improve education and healthcare in his home country, in a move that “sets a new bar for philanthropy” in Asia.
Ma, who features in Time’s list of the 100 most influential people of 2014, and Joe Tsai, the two founders of ecommerce giant Alibaba, have set up two personal trusts that will together receive share options equal to approximately 2% of the company’s equity.
The duo did not put a value on the stake, but as the company prepares to launch its initial public offering in New York later this year investors and analysts are valuing Alibaba at around $125-150 billion. This would value the funds at roughly $2.5-3 billion.
Ma, who said he has sought advice from Microsoft founder and renowned philanthropist Bill Gates, said that he would donate more of his personal wealth to the trust over time.
He also explains that the funds will focus on taking on China’s considerable environmental and social challenges.
“We hope to live in a world with bluer skies, cleaner water and better access to healthcare. I am extremely focused on the environment, medical care and education in China but concern and complaints cannot change the current situation,” he said.
Any extra efforts made to help tackle China’s environmental crisis are likely to be welcomed by its citizens.
Many of the country’s major cities are frequently choked by smog, caused by traffic and coal emissions that are linked with hundreds of thousands of premature deaths each year.
In recent weeks it has also been revealed that almost 60% of the country’s groundwater is polluted, while one-fifth of its arable land is contaminated by toxic inorganic pollutants, such as nickel, mercury, arsenic, and lead.
The Chinese government is taking firm action, announcing earlier this week that environmental protection laws will be strengthened to crack down on pollution, but it is hoped that China’s mega-rich can also be recruited to join the fight.
“I hope that by taking this path and drawing attention to these issues, we raise awareness among even more people, and that we inspire and encourage our peers, partners and other entrepreneurs to join us in our philanthropic efforts,” Tsai said.
Estimates vary, but it is believed that China’s breakneck economic growth has created more than 300 Chinese billionaires, when a decade ago there were none.
Despite this, according to the Hurun Research Institute, China’s biggest 100 philanthropists gave less than $1 billion to charity in 2013, while America’s top 50 gave $8 billion.
Michael Bloomberg, the former Mayor of New York City and another prolific philanthropist, added, “Their gifts set a new bar for philanthropy in China, and hopefully other entrepreneurs and business leaders around the world will follow in their footsteps.”
Last week, BNP Paribas Wealth Management published the results of a survey of 400 high net worth individuals in which it questioned millionaires from around the world on their attitude to philanthropy.
It found that Asian high net worths lagged behind Europe and the US in terms of their attitudes to charitable giving, but were ahead of those in the Middle East.
Overall, 79% of respondents agreed that the need for philanthropic giving is ‘urgent’ or ‘extremely urgent’.
Photo: Wall Street Journal via Twitter