The City Paper met up with the Chinese internet entrepreneur Charles Chen Yidan, co-founder of Tencent Holdings, the Shenzhen-based technology giant that owns the social media phenomenon WeChat, online payment platform WePay, as well as entertainment and gaming operations. During the Yidan Prize ceremony held in Hong Kong last December, in which the inaugural education award was given to Colombian sociologist Vicky Colbert and Sanford professor Carol Dweck, the billionaire-turned-philanthropist Chen Yidan spoke about how education and technology can have a transformative effect on societies.
The City Paper: Dr.Chen, the Yidan Prize Foundation has been your life’s purpose. Now you have your first two Laureates, what conclusions have you reached?
Charles Chen: It took three years to prepare for the Yidan Prize launch, and during those years our independent judging committee worked with very strin- gent policies to make sure the mechanism was fair. We started to look for nominees about the world. There were many very good and innovative projects to choose from. We received 1,000 nominations, and those who won have made remarkable achievements. Vicky and Carol came here to Hong Kong to share their insights with other participants. I studied chemistry at university, and I can say there is a lot of chemistry between these two laureates. This is very encouraging. We have put two laureates under the spotlight so they can share their concepts with the world. Even though this summit will end, it marks a new start for another round of nominations.
TCP: As a champion of technology innovation, why the need for a generous education prize?
Charles Chen: Education has no borders, and we need to promote a vision of global education. I wanted to set up a prize that would transcend race, religion and territory. We need to recognize the importance of education for society as a whole. I came to appreciate Vicky’s passion in the field of education, and this shows how important it is for a country to care about its people. Many solutions to the world’s most important issues depend on human initiatives. Education takes time. Education is about hope. Education may provide skills for students to find employment, but it is also about values, humanity and peace. Our pursuit of integrity, honesty and beauty of humanity never ends. So, education must be the most important institution of a society. We could regard education as a tool or method to bring about inner peace for students. For society, education represents safety, peace, and progress.
TCP: How can education and technology come together?
Charles Chen: We are at the fore-front of technology, and, therefore, needed to find innovative ways to grow. We started to focus more on graduates and how to recruit them. We spent two to three years training graduates so they could become the right people for our company. As technology changes quickly, we also needed to work faster in order to train the right people. Our employees must be committed also to life-long learning and be able to improve their skills continuously. In society as a whole, the educational system must work with the needs of industry.
TCP: What are challenges facing educators in such as fast moving world of technology?
Charles Chen: Technology will have a major impact on the educational system. There will be more opportunities for educators and educational management. The current educational system has not changed much since the last two industrial revolutions, but with technology and fancy high-tech areas such as artificial intelligence, the content of education also has to change. This change may come from the outside as technology forces education innovation, or change can come from the inside. Education must embrace technology so that societies can become more inclusive.
TCP: How will technology impact the way we educate for the future?
Charles Chen: Technology promises high efficiency, and for poor countries we can use technology to universalize education. We are currently capable of personalizing education for all students. I am very positive about the impact of technology on education. We need to think about which jobs will be replaced by technology, and those that can’t. The jobs that cannot be replaced are those that require emotion. We will see a tendency of more jobs that require skills such as human interaction, and educators need to care about the personalities of students.
TCP: Can technology drive philanthropy and charity?
Charles Chen: As economic growth picks up, we need to develop more charity. We need to draw in new technologies to do a better job in working for the benefit of humanity. The internet is not just about collecting donations, but connecting philanthropists. At Tencent we created a charitable platform where NGOs can connect to spread the word about their projects. Last year, from Sept. 7 to 9, our company hosted an online charity event known as “99 Charity Day” and were able to collect 829 million yuan (US$130 million) from 12 million WeChat users. This is unprecedented. We are blazing a trail that is all about integrity.
In Western Europe, the philanthropy model is a very mature one. But, in China we are looking towards internet-based charity that can be replicated in others parts of the world. No matter how we do charity, we all have the same goal, to make the world a better place. We must also learn from each other to establish the best practices for charitable giving.