The environment and animals trail behind a lot of other categories when it comes to philanthropy — arts, human services, education, and healthcare are some of the areas that receive more donations.

But the Chinese entrepreneur He Qiaonyu could single-handedly change all that.

In October, she committed $1.5 billion USD to conservation efforts around the world. That’s more than a third of her net worth, estimated at $3.6 billion, according to Bloomberg.  

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It may be the biggest amount committed by a single donor to conservation causes in history, Bloomberg notes.

He made her money as a prolific landscape planner in Beijing, where she runs Beijing Orient Landscape Co, and, in a fitting career-twist, she’s becoming a steward of a much larger environment than front yards and parks.

She’s set her eyes on improving the global environment, according to Bloomberg.

“[China is] pivoting to a new narrative in record speed,” said Tom Kaplan, founder and chairman of Panthera, a wild cat conservation organization, told Bloomberg. “Their [global] reputation has suffered by being viewed as the scourge of the elephant and tiger—and they want to reverse this.”

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Panthera is one of the beneficiaries of He’s philanthropic gift.

The organization received $20 million, more than their annual budget of $14 million, to help snow leopard and other animal populations in China.

Private philanthropy in China has boomed over the past decade as a new class of billionaires looks to make a mark on the world. According to NonProfit Quarterly, the amount held by private philanthropic foundations has increased from around $10 billion in 2006 to $125.5 billion in 2015.

He started Beijing Qiaonyu Foundation in 2012 and since then has supported 79 projects in 26 provinces across the country, Bloomberg reports.  

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“We believe that protecting China is to protect the whole Earth,” she told Bloomberg.

He has a point — China’s environmental degradation has been global news for many years now.

The air quality in the capital Beijing is among the worst in the world; the country is facing rapid desertification of its land; and up to 80% of rural water wells in the country are contaminated.  

Meanwhile, China has become the largest annual emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.  

Throughout the country, people are demanding better treatment of the environment by protesting.

And it’s not just private philanthropists who are listening.

The government recently closed thousands of factories due to pollution, it’s investing $361 billion in renewable energy through 2020, and president Xi Jinping regularly speaks about the need to improve the environment.  

Still, He recognizes the need for dramatic action right now.

And that’s why she’s committing so much of her lifetime earnings to improving China’s environment.

“The public awareness of environmental protection is gradually increasing in China,” He told Bloomberg.

With this massive gift, that awareness is sure to grow.

Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals, which call for protecting the environment. You can take action on this issue here.


Defend the Planet

This Chinese Philanthropist Pledged $1,500,000,000 to Wildlife Conservation

By Joe McCarthy