Alibaba Co-Founders Set Up Philanthropic Trusts

Jack Ma and Joe Tsai, co-founders of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, have announced the creation of personal philanthropic trusts that could be worth up to $3 billion.

Funded by stock options representing about 2 percent of Alibaba's equity — which, according to the Wall Street Journal, could be valued at up to $150 billion when the company goes public later this year — the trusts will be among the largest in Asia. Initially, it is expected that they will focus on a handful of major issue areas in China and Hong Kong, including the environment, health care, education, and culture.

"We hope to live in a world with bluer skies, cleaner water, and better access to health care," said Ma, whose personal net worth is estimated at $4.05 billion. "I am passionate about actively contributing and helping to solve these problems. We must assume responsibility and take action to improve the environment that our children will inherit, and this is why I strongly support the efforts of the Nature Conservancy and agreed to take on the role of China chairman last year."

"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," said Tsai.

The creation of the trusts, which will rival Hong Kong businessman Li Ka-shing's foundation in terms of size, highlights what many see as the dawn of an era of robust giving by China's new billionaires. Ma, for example, told the Journal that he was inspired and helped by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation co-chair Bill Gates in planning his trust, to which he will bequeath more of his fortune over time. Private philanthropy in China still faces various practical and political hurdles, however, including government restrictions on the establishment of nonprofit organizations.

"It's exciting," Scott Kennedy, director of the Research Center for Chinese Politics & Business at Indiana University, told the Journal, "but there's a lot of waste — money going down huge rat holes."

"Alibaba Founders Establish Charitable Trusts." Alibaba Group Press Release 04/25/2014. Andrew Browne, Paul Mozur. "Alibaba's Jack Ma Sets Up Philanthropic Trust." Wall Street Journal 04/24/2014.