May 2019
A power of good

Swire News talks to Tina Chan, Head of Philanthropy at The Swire Group Charitable Trust ("Swire Trust"), about the group's platform for altruism and why she has the best job in the world.

Ms. Tina Chan

Can you tell us about your role and your personal journey into working in philanthropy?

I have always wanted to make a difference. My major in school and postgraduate study was public policy. I started my career in the for-profit sector before switching into public affairs and lobbying, which I thought would enable me to help people through policy change. However, in that environment you are always working for your client's interests and unfortunately you cannot choose your clients.

My next move was working for a family foundation and that was where I started my philanthropy career. I took up my current role a year and a half ago and I really think I have the best job in the world. I get to do what I am passionate about and to work for a company that is genuinely striving to do good in the world.

My role is to recommend initiatives for the Trust to donate to and support, to monitor the supported programmes, and to make recommendations to the Philanthropy Council on strategy and how we should proceed. I also keep the Council informed about social issues that are relevant to our remit.

How would you define philanthropy and how is it distinct from Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)?

To me, philanthropy is about making the world a better place, and that is something Swire is very committed to. It is in the Swire family and company culture to give back to where we operate. The Trust's approach is altruistic: we have a budget that is separate from Swire’s CSR budget and dedicated only to acting for the direct benefit of society and the greater good.

Philanthropy can be part of CSR, but with CSR there is an additional requirement that it has to bring value to the brand. When we do philanthropy, donations are made through the Swire Trust. There is never any consideration of whether it will make us look good or bad. Our only motivation is around helping people.


Education is one of the Swire Trust's three main priorities. Efforts in this area are focused on enhancing education equity, quality and innovation for children and young people. A new initiative is 'DreamStarter', which engages primary school pupils to initiate and work on "dream" projects that have a positive impact on their communities. The project helps to meet the Trust's core educational objectives of addressing inequalities and fostering experiential, learner-focused environments that challenge traditional, top-down ways of teaching.

Can you talk about the strategy behind the Trust's donations and support for projects? Also, how are decisions made?

There are three focuses in terms of where we put our resources: Education, Marine, and the Arts (see sideboxes). Having a strategy around those pillars allows us to pursue giving in a much more focused way.

We invite NGOs and non-profit organisations to apply to us for funding. Before approving applications, we tend to be very critical of what is proposed, but once we approve them those organisations become my clients and I am here to work with and support them. Currently we have around 20 programmes running.

Decisions about major grants are taken by the Philanthropy Council, which has nine members, all senior executives from across the group. Our chairman is Pat Healy, who is Managing Director of Swire Coca-Cola. We meet throughout the year to approve programmes and agree on strategy. The process is that I recommend projects, then the Council will ask questions and approve or reject the applications.


The Swire Trust is working to create sustainable marine ecosystems in Hong Kong and Mainland China through policy change, public engagement and scientific research. Run in partnership with WWF-HK (the World Wide Fund for Nature Hong Kong), one of the standout projects in this area, 'Sea for Future', strives to safeguard Hong Kong's future marine life and restore its fisheries through increased Marine Protection Areas ("MPAs"). The project has involved completing the first ever marine hotspot exercise in the region by identifying 31 ecologically sensitive coastal habitats around Hong Kong that require stronger protection. The Marine Hotspot Map is an important tool for education and advocacy for more MPAs in Hong Kong.

What trends have you observed in philanthropy in Hong Kong or Asia?

The landscape is becoming more dynamic. Doing philanthropy used to be quite reactive in Hong Kong – people would see something that would pull on their heartstrings and they would write a cheque but they would not ask what happens two years down the line. Nowadays, donors are more strategic. Instead of giving people handouts, they are more likely to ask what is wrong with the system. Take poverty as an example: there is more evaluation of the issues around what allows it to occur in the first place rather than just offering band-aid solutions.

Donors also give more support to NGOs in terms of capacity-building. They want NGOs to be professional and the people working for them to be paid and supported properly. Doing charity is not blood, sweat and tears anymore. We need to have people who are effective and professional.

In terms of the issues, they are becoming more complex and more global. At the Swire Trust, we recognise that many issues are global – but we choose to focus on the local. An example would be in the context of our marine programmes. The oceans are all linked together, but you have to do something locally to have a global impact.


The Swire Trust's support for the arts focuses on programmes that promote greater inclusion and education for disadvantaged groups and people with disabilities, and use of arts activities to tackle social issues in Hong Kong. One impactful programme, 'The Magic of Audio Description', has driven increased provision of audio description services, allowing the visually-impaired to enjoy movies and live performances. In August 2018, 'Man on the Dragon' became the first Hong Kong film released with a pre-recorded audio description. "We are very proud of this achievement and look forward to audio description becoming more widespread," says Tina.

How do you feel the Swire Trust contributes to the overall community in Hong Kong?

I think we are doing our part in helping the community – we are part of the ecosystem and are working to make a real impact on society in relation to the issues we care about. We want Hong Kong to be a better place to live in and we look closely at how projects contribute to that.

With each proposal we look at the logic of it. What need does it respond to? What does it hope to achieve? Sometimes when the original hope is not achieved, it is a learning experience and an opportunity to do better and find new issues to work on.

Philanthropy is not like business, where you look at your monetary returns – we look at the outputs in a qualitative rather than a quantitative sense. If there was a definite solution to a lot of social issues, then a lot of programmes would not have to exist. You are never solving an issue completely, you are just working towards something good.
Swire News May 2019 nissue
Download this issue in PDF