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There’s more to philanthropy than financial literacy

18 September 2019

Literacy has always played an integral role in philanthropy. In America alone major philanthropists such as Bill Gates, the Walton Family and Broad Foundations spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually on improving the education system. Gates reportedly spent nearly $390 million in 2017 alone on education – and there is a clear reason why.

Whilst, there have been significant leaps in ensuring everyone has access to education globally (over the last 65 years global literacy has increased 4% every 5 years – from 42% in 1960 to 86% in 2015), we are still not there yet.

This week has been a reminder that literacy is still front and centre for many. On Monday it was International Literacy Day – a day which provided the opportunity for governments, civil society and stakeholders to celebrate improvements in world literacy rates and reflect on challenges that still exist. Globally, the aim of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is to tackle this through ensuring all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, are literate by 2030.

Whilst there has been good progress, educational inequality continues to be a global crisis. But as it pertains to philanthropists, this has to be more than putting their names above the door – but using their access to a combination of their capital, their network and their corporate knowledge to help identify programmes and initiatives that can deliver far reaching impact.

This is an approach we adopted at the Chen Yet-Sen Family Foundation over the last 20 years, in our dedication to building domain expertise in early childhood literacy.  We hope that with this accumulated knowledge over the decades it has enabled us to deliver greater impact to the learning and personal development of the next generation. We work with local champions, support them and drive sustainability for innovative programmes by not only providing them with funding but also offering relevant expertise, providing support on project planning, tracking and evaluation to ensure high impact services are delivered to beneficiaries.

On occasion, where a literacy gap emerges, we have also developed our own programmes. The Feng Zikai Chinese Children’s Picture Book Award was created to address the major shortfall in original Chinese language picture books.  We seek the most creative entries, to encourage a new generation of authors, illustrators editors and publishers in The Chinese language world, but also to celebrate the power of picture books in nurturing a love of reading at an early age.  And encouraging culturally recognisable stories will play a major part in stimulating a new readership.

But where so much emphasis is placed on literacy globally, closer to home in Hong Kong, we have much to celebrate in our achievements in this arena.  Hong Kong’s challenge is to encourage children to actually enjoy reading which PIRLS data in 2016  brought into sharp focus, stating that Hong Kong students ranked 50th (out of 50 countries) in their “engagement in reading lessons”.  Again, we introduced a new programme, based on a successful venture in California, called Bring Me a Book Hong Kong. The organisation has gone on to achieve great success independently and continues to champion the encouragement of an early love of reading. They provide transformational training for parents and educators, libraries of Chinese and English books in underserved communities, and finally, ensure Hong Kong hosts some of the world’s finest children’s authors and literacy experts for the benefit of the city’s youngsters.

Philanthropy is a powerful way to ensure that we are continuing to invest in the next generation. But the problems won’t be addressed by simply giving money away, but for philanthropists to think innovatively about problems and solutions.  They need to seek the strongest partnerships to scale these brilliant ideas and maximise its impact –and nurturing the next generation is a great place to start.