Wang Heming, previously chairman and CEO of the Cosmos Group, is now the chairman of its charitable association. His family uses its own wealth to help build schools and donate to educational establishments in China. Wang’s aim is to use his money to give those from poorer backgrounds in China a decent education, which he believes will benefit the country as a whole.
What inspired you to become a philanthropist?
I think I was motivated to try to improve the quality of life for people living in China. Our country is too backward, too poor. If we want to improve this though, we have to focus on education and this will help benefit our country economically over the longer term. Rural children cannot afford to go to school, so we build schools for them. We are also involved in more direct donations too – funding individual pupils so they can afford to continue their education and later find jobs.
Why did you specifically set up a charitable foundation?
As a company, we have always made sporadic donations to charity. But in 1995 we set up the Cosmos Charity Association. This is listed separately to the Cosmos Group, which is also a listed company.
The money we donate through the charitable association is either our personal money or raised externally. We can’t simply use the corporation’s money to fund some of our causes as companies have to consider their shareholders.
What type of causes do you support?
The charity mainly supports educational causes. Our family has donated RMB35m of its own money to Zhejiang University Education Foundation. The Foundation has given money to help build the Hope Primary Schools, as well as other causes.
Both myself, and my son, Wang Yilei, were educated at Zhejiang University’s School of Management. The most recent donation enabled the university to construct a new building. When I was studying at Zhejiang University, I always thought I would give back to my alma mater when I had the money to do so, so I have been able to make this dream come true.
Why have you chosen to focus on education?
I think education is important: ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him to fish and you feed him for life.’ That is the truth, so we give more to education than to other causes.
Take the Hope Primary School in Jiande [in the Zhejiang Province], for example. It is now the largest primary school in Zhejiang Province. Generally, schools cost RMB200,000 – I donated RMB1.8m. I talked with government, the land was free and then I built the school, dormitories, classrooms. Now it has become a key primary school in the region, because of its good facilities. This was one of the first Hope Primary Schools, but we’ve now expanded this project to schools in other areas.
How do you decide which schools will receive these donations?
Sometimes leaders come to us, sometimes these schools are in places where we have other projects. On occasion the local civil affairs department or the government might ask us to donate to certain schools or areas.
Are you involved with the schools after making these donations?
We help with the construction process, which is generally managed by our staff. We will visit after the completion of the building and participate in any donation ceremony. But we’ll only very occasionally interact on a formal basis after this point, although we sometimes visit – it is a good feeling to see children running around in the playground and know they are getting a good education.
What’s your opinion of the charitable environment in China?
The news media does not do a good job, in my opinion. Problems do exist, but it’s only these that tend to be publicised rather than all the good work that gets done. This can mean people are reluctant to donate, because they are suspicious of how their money will be used. We do not seek publicity when we give money, we keep a low profile. If you publicise these things it can lead to a dizzying number of letters asking for donations. Some people think it is better to try to use this publicity to encourage everyone to donate money to good causes. But there is a danger that if they then donate money and it is not used well, that this can be counter-productive. We simply concentrate on giving money directly and ensuring it goes into the hands of those that need it. It’s important to guide public opinion about philanthropy, but it is not our central aim at all – our focus is on helping others.
Are your family and children involved in your philanthropy?
I discussed the donation to Zhejiang University with my family. My wife is also involved and makes donations herself. She donated RMB100,000 to help relief and rebuilding works after the recent earthquake in China.
I think my son will continue this work – he has certainly always been a caring person – but it will be his decision ultimately. In China there is a tradition that the family influences the next generation, more than their schooling does, so perhaps this will play a part.