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China: Past, Present, Future

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The Past

You can stand by a temple at the top of Jian Shan Park in Beijing and if you walk around it 360, you can take in the past, present and future of China all in a few minutes.  All three of the cities I have visited over the past week (Tokyo, Seoul and now Beijing) have been breathtaking.  And there is something that feels even richer, and more complex, about the past of Beijing.

Beijing_Paul Shoe Travels3

Walking through the square and past the review stands and picture of Mao is so iconic, it makes you just stop and ask if you are looking at something real, not one of the thousands of photos and video clips over the years of so many moments in history.

Beijing_Paul Shoe Travels

The Present

I still can’t get over an NGO in China, a public official in Seoul, et al rolling “SVP” off their tongue as if they’ve said it many times before and know who we are, because they do. How cool is that?  And if you wonder whether we’re over here “just sightseeing” take a look at our two-day agenda.

Beijing_Paul Shoe Travels_Agenda

The first morning we trekked out to the 3rd or 4th ring in Beijing to Thousand Trees Equal Education Partners. It was founded by Gan Wang in 2001.  She couldn’t find a good early education option for her little boy, so she started her own with 3 teachers and 6 kids that first year.

Today, they are developing curriculum, training teachers on and off line, she is working on true system change, because she knows the need is so profound.

Gan is also an SVP Beijing founding Partner and SVP Network Board member. I’ve sat next to her in several meetings, and she is smart, thoughtful, strategic and quiet at times. At Thousand Trees, she became the social entrepreneur and I saw, heard and felt her brilliance, passion and determination.  She’s unstoppable.

It was lesson in what it takes to succeed in this work, be it the US or China, and a lesson in the many layers of each human being in our lives.  I knew just one (very good) part of Gan; now I know SO much more about her.

One more neat footnote – one of the first 6 kids from 2001 was there during our visit, she’s in college now, and her mom is an SVP Beijing Partner that is going to start their first Social Venture Kids group … the full circle of life or something like that. 🙂

Meeting with Beijing Partners_Paul Shoe Travel

We had a great meeting with the Beijing Partners. They sat around table tables talking about what they are determined optimists about and what they hope SVP will be.  It feels just as good to hear and be in that conversation in Beijing as it does …. anywhere in the SVP network. If you take a look at the picture at the end of the evening, you might notice something …. a lot more women than men.

SVP Beijing_Paul Shoe Travel

Most SVP’s are a pretty good 50-50 female / male mix, a few are weighted towards men and Beijing is so far, by far, the most women-centric SVP Partnership anywhere in the world. How cool is that?! (How many times have I said that now?)

I’ve noted before that I love to just ask someone “why are you in SVP?” I’ve done it dozens of times over the last 12 days and I love the answer every time I hear it. Often times their voice visibly rises or their energy revs or their body language changes.  And I’m not making that up. They will sometimes use an expression in their English, let’s call it their native language adapted to me, who can’t speak a word of theirs.

In Beijing, one Partner said “it is the test of my life” … I asked what that meant … she said it is “about finding out who I am and what I will be in this world” … Thank you … again

The Future

It is impossible to separate the experience of the city from the potential of the SVP in all three cities, but you feel it even more in Beijing, CHINA. You know the facts – 1.3 Billion people, 7 of the 40 biggest cities in the world (India has 5 more of them).

The potential is … I can’t find the right word. The amount of wealth being created, the scale of the country and its challenges, the inflection point in philanthropy, and the complexity of the culture add up to a mind-boggling opportunity. The leadership team there has an expression, they plan to “Go Slow to Go Fast” which means they know, given all those factors, they need to really build good infrastructure, processes, Partner connections, have a great first Investee, etc. first before they accelerate their growth. Go deep before they go broad …

… and we are so thankful to have the incredible leadership team in place there – thank you, Jaff, Gan, Yan, JingJing, Jia Shu, and everyone … you are not just good and smart, you are the right people to do what we are hoping to make possible in China together. We would not be where we are and we will never get where we all want to go without you. But with you, so much seems possible for our future!


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