The effect of philanthropy is often tangible years after a gift was made. For this series, Arts & Science spoke with some of our internationally-based alumni, one of whom was invited to deliver a lecture at a centre made possible by philanthropy, and the others who, as students, had benefited from donor-funded scholarships.
Interview by Diana Kuprel
Steven Wang (BA International Relations) is the founder and CEO of Yiqiao China, a Beijing-based organization that recruits and places top Chinese university graduates and professionals from around the world to serve in the social sector. He was also the manager of leadership development at Peking University and a program director at Teach for China. After his studies at the University of Toronto, Wang completed a Master of Public Policy degree at Oxford University on a Rhodes scholarship. As a U of T student, he was the recipient of several donor-funded scholarships.
DK: Tell us about the purpose and goals of Yiqiao China.
SW: One of the problems I want to tackle is the lack of great talent in the social sector in China. The best talent coming out of universities, not just among young Chinese, often are economically and otherwise incentivized to work in corporations or elsewhere in the private sector. This means the best young talent does not go where they are most needed, for example, to address environmental degradation or social inequality. Those with a sense of social responsibility often lack the platform, while others do not think it is a practical or attractive option, often given pressures from society or family.
Yiqiao China is a platform for top Chinese recent graduates and professionals from around the world to come back to serve. Coming from different fields (such as consulting and evaluation), they inherently bring experience in crosssectoral collaborations. My vision is that they don’t have to necessarily work in the social sector forever, but if they have this experience and go back or into the corporate world, create their own social enterprises or write better policies for government, then they will create more lasting impact. Along the way, we hope to redefine what it means to be successful in society and create more socially minded global citizens.
DK: How does Yiqiao China achieve these goals?
SW: This is a one-year public service fellowship that places them in an NGO, a foundation or a social enterprise in China working in various fields such as environment, education, HIV/AIDs and aid for migrant workers. We provide them with a stipend and a role where they are actually making a real impact and not just doing administrative work.
They are also being mentored by leaders and the founders of these organizations, while getting systematic training throughout the year. We have management trainee programs in the private sector, but we don’t have such training in the social sector, so we’re filling this gap. The synergy created among the fellows has great potential.
DK: What influenced you and gave you the tools to create Yiqiao China?
SW: When I was an undergraduate at the University of Toronto, I was really lucky to have a chance to explore the world. I did some development work in Kenya, an exchange year in Paris, and I spent a summer at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem studying the Middle Eastern conflict. I was extremely fortunate to develop this sense of what it might mean to be a global citizen.
Near the end of my undergrad, I started thinking that a global citizen who doesn’t really understand his or her own roots still has some limitations. I was born in China, and my family emigrated to Canada when I was nine.
So, in my fourth year, I had a chance to study some international relations and the foreign policies of China, Canada and the world with Professors Robert Bothwell, Stephen Clarkson and Bill Graham. It was an incredible intellectual experience, so I started exploring what these relationships meant and how I could be a bridge between these worlds.
DK: What was it like to re-visit China after so many years?
SW: I went to the village where my grandfather still lives. He took me up this small hill where, for the first time in my life, I saw my grandfather’s grandfather grave. With all these generations buried in this small piece of land, I realized that even after all these years growing up and embracing a multicultural and very open society, I still also have these very deep roots. I hope, through our work at Yiqiao China, we can support an inclusive and diverse China that can in turn embrace the world and be one of its greatest positive contributors toward understanding and development.
For more interviews with alumni around the world, visit alumni.artsci.utoronto.ca.
Photo: Jackie Shapiro