- Cindy Chow Executive Director, Alibaba Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund
- Alexandre Mars Founder & CEO, Epic Foundation
- Nicholas W Yang Secretary for Innovation and Technology, HKSAR Government
- Bradford Smith President, Foundation Center
Today’s tech philanthropists are characterised by a venture capital mindset; instead of waiting for potential investors, they are proactively seeking them out. They also tend to be impact-driven and prefer quantifiable, tangible results. This session focused on the role of technology and the impact of technological advances on traditional philanthropic approaches and capabilities.
The panelists highlighted the profound impact of technology in today’s world. Philanthropy however has been slow in embracing its power and usage. For several reasons: 1) earlier philanthropists made their money in traditional industries which made technology less obvious as a means to giving back; 2) philanthropy has been relatively sheltered from market, political and other pressures that tend to spur the use of innovation to gain competitive edge. This is changing as more new philanthropists are (still) creating wealth via technology and they bring along their problem solving mindset to tackle social issues.
Technology has already shifted the philanthropic landscape in a few, profound ways. It expanded the framing of social issues beyond local communities to global issues or social themes. It also lowered the cost of transaction to search, connect, collaborate with other stakeholders in the philanthropic ecosystem. And it also expanded the range of philanthropic tools and partnerships that would otherwise not occur previously.
The panelists shared their insights across three vantage points – government/policy, individual philanthropist, and corporate arm supporting entrepreneurial ventures with some social benefits. From the government’s perspective, Secretary Yang commented on the need to change mindsets both internally within the government and externally with other sectors to support initiatives with a risk taking mindset that is critical to foster innovation. In contrast, the other panelists commented on their efforts to use technology to showcase the can-do attitude in addition to philanthropic resources to making a difference to society.
The theme of disruption also figured prominently in the session. Disruption in terms of identifying gaps in the philanthropic space and finding ways to address them, and scaling those efforts that work. From a policy standpoint, this also require policymakers to internally adapt their traditional processes and KPIs to be responsive to the innovation they seek to foster in the philanthropy space.
The panelists closed the session by reinforcing the democratizing role of technology in philanthropy by empowering all people wanting to do good, and having the choices at their fingertips based on a holistic picture of the ecosystem of players in the philanthropic space.