Jun 2, 2017|

In China, It’s Time to Give Back

To understand the culture of giving in China, one must understand its history.

China has come a long way in the last several decades to become the booming economy it is today, with megacities filled with skyscrapers. It wasn’t so long ago that I was growing up in the countryside of Jiangsu province where, like most people in rural China, my family had enough to get by and not much more.

Even by the 1990s, as Chinese cities were rapidly industrializing, people in rural areas still had much less. So when I managed to get into Renmin University in Beijing—something very rare for someone of my background—my entire village pooled its resources to help. They donated a total of 76 eggs and 500 yuan to send me off for the opportunity that changed my life. I knew then that given the chance, I would help other students do the same.

That chance has come. I founded JD.com, an e-commerce company that is now the largest retailer in China. With 70% of JD employees being from rural areas, fostering development for people in those regions is important to me. Since 2010, we’ve given at least hundreds of scholarships and grants to students from my alma mater, as well as to students in need from my hometown, Suqian. JD also partners with well-known colleges to provide bachelor’s and master’s degrees to employees who want to further their education. Over 2,000 employees have participated so far.

This week I have decided to donate 300 million yuan to Renmin University for expansion, scholarships, research and other initiatives, including primary and secondary educational outreach. Children who get opportunities at a young age are better prepared to achieve at the highest levels.

Of course, as the CEO of a company with nearly 10,000 engineers, I know that having a steady stream of highly trained and well-educated students will be good for the future of my own company. But that isn’t why I’m doing this—my plan, from the time I started JD, was to build an ethical business, selling authentic products, that would provide the best benefits possible to employees and the best experience for customers. Once successful, I wanted to give back to society. And I chose education as my cause because I firmly believe that it will benefit the entire country.

China’s philanthropic culture is still developing. I give back, and I urge others to do the same, because I remember my own struggle to pay for university and my neighbors who gave everything they could to make it possible. Most Chinese entrepreneurs my age or older grew up in a more difficult time and appreciate everything we have now. We know that we succeeded not only because of our own hard work, but because were helped along the way. Looking now at the smart and motivated students in China, I know what a huge difference they can make on society if given access to education. They will need opportunities like the ones my generation of successful entrepreneurs had. That is why we need to give back.