Wealth & Purpose: From boardroom to classroom

The global financial crisis triggered a change in the way the Chan family approached philanthropy. Now Dee Dee Chan is using her skills in Hong Kong's wealth management industry at JP Morgan and BNP Paribas to drive social change as director of her family's Seal of Love Charitable Foundation

What do you hope to achieve with your wealth?

Once upon a time we used to think that the purpose was for us to propel ourselves to greater heights of wealth. After the recent financial crisis we saw many friends' lives turned upside down and it gave us pause; we realised that we had spent so many years taking from society and not nearly as many years giving back to society. That is when we founded the Seal of Love Charitable Foundation.

We did not want to name the foundation after the family name, but instead have love be the legacy that is left behind. The work we do through the foundation drives us to keep seeking sustainable returns above inflation so that we can continue to fund scholarships and charitable projects. Some families are taking a whole portfolio approach to sustainable investing, seeking to use every financial investment to drive a social impact, which I find intriguing—it could be a future direction for us as well.

How have you incorporated your values into your wealth?

Hard work, perseverance, and thankfulness are some of the family's core values. In the hotel business, family members were expected to learn the trade from the ground up, for example, my father worked as a busboy and a room service waiter, and my sister worked in housekeeping.

Seeds of entitlement, if any, are starved early on and the one thing we knew that we would get with no strings attached when we grew up was our undergraduate college tuition. That has already made me more fortunate than the majority of people in the world. I valued my education very much and I believe in the power of good education to transform lives, so scholarships and grants are one of the central themes of our philanthropic efforts.

What are some of the philanthropic/impact projects that currently excite you?

I am very interested in the possible synergies between the hotel industry, academia, and vocational education in developing Asian countries. Hospitality and tourism are the fastest-growing employment sectors in many South Asian countries, and there are many ways that the hotel industry can help to empower young people to break the poverty cycle: through vocational hotel school scholarships and mentoring, knowledge transfer from renowned hotel schools towards non-governmental organisations's vocational training schools, internship exchanges, internet learning—the possibilities are practically endless.

I am very excited to talk to other hotel families in the region about ways to collaborate with philanthropy in this space. One particular hotel family I know is driving the leadership in both thought and action by implementing an all-electronic platform for their hotel school curriculum. Through this platform, they are also creating an English course for hospitality which can be easily scaled and given away for free to students in places where basic English language skills for hospitality could land them an entry-level job that pays three times or more what they would earn on the family rice farm. That is the type of impact that makes me very excited. 

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