Interview with Claire Chiang, senior vice president of Banyan Tree holdings

Claire Chiang

sustainable luxury

Claire Chiang, the senior vice president of Banyan Tree tells us how corporations can help change the face of society, as part of a philanthropy study done by the Coutts Million Dollar Donors Report for 2014.

I set up the Banyan Tree Global Foundation as a separate entity. We adopted a simple clarion call, what we call our 1-2-3-year plan. Each of our hotels has a corporate social responsibility team that follows this plan each year. This means they will back one new initiative, plant 2,000 trees and aim to help and support three children at risk.

I think philanthropist
as a term is a bit passe. Many people assume it’s all about handing over big cheques to charity. But it’s much more than that. When you talk to the man on the street about philanthropy they’ll say, ‘that’s not me, because I can’t give big money’ . Yet these ordinary people are generous in their own way. To me it’s about doing good, not just giving money. On a corporate level, this means the company has to set its foundation values about what it means to be a good company.

The Stay for Good programme at Banyan Tree Lijiang allows guests to immerse themselves in the local culture via various initiatives

The company does very little in terms of just signing cheques. There seems little point in me writing a cheque and sending it to a remote place to which I’ve never been. It is not purposeful and not meaningful. People need more than dollar donations, what they need is engagement. They need people who give time, share skill sets, and train and facilitate in order to nurture leadership. This can have far more impact and is a more progressive way of looking at philanthropy.

I grew up in Little India, Singapore with very little. I learnt to be resourceful with what I had – as we used to say, ‘less is more’. My mother taught us to bring food to neighbours and they would then return this kindness when it was needed. There were other lessons: my father was an accountant and kept the books for neighbours who couldn’t speak Chinese or English. He taught me about accountability, responsibility, integrity and honesty. Doing good is about having a set of values and ideas. I’m simply translating a set of values and ideas that I grew up with.

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