While the eyes of the world have been fixed on Brazil, a very strange event in New York City may have gone unnoticed. Self-proclaimed star philanthropist, Chen Guangbiao, organized a dinner for 300 of the city’s homeless at the exclusive Central Park Boathouse.
With the invitation (oddly enough sent through e-mail to its recipients) came the promise of a $300 cash gift. As one would expect, hundreds more than anticipated came to collect on Chen’s generosity. The 200 or so that actually got seats were treated to a sumptuous steak luncheon and an impromptu serenade from Chen himself. His less-than-perfect pitch was but a foreshadowing of things to come.
The mood in the hall deteriorated rapidly when Chen announced that instead of giving cash or checks to those in attendance, he would only donate the money to a local charity. Whether this was Chen’s intention all along or not is still unknown. We do know that tensions boiled over both inside and outside the Boathouse. Many (this author included) are still trying to piece together what exactly happened and how an act of great kindness could become such a PR nightmare.
I’ve always been a critic of action before planning. It seems that this is often par for the course when it comes to social responsibility. Chen was not necessarily malicious in his intentions and I would like to think that his heart really was in the right place. He is certainly a victim, however, of a prevalence among the more altruistic to do first and ask for forgiveness after. Is doing something better than nothing at all, regardless of the consequences? The jury is still out on that question.
Aside from Chen’s blunder halfway around the world, China is continuing its full-scale endeavors towards more socially responsible work. Let’s hope these are heavier on the planning side.