Humanitarian Lecture: From Banker to Humanitarian, for “Blood Orphans”

How did a former Wall Street analyst pioneer a sustainable model for humanitarian relief? Volunteer writer Joel Law reports.

He was living the dream. Chung-To had an Ivy League education and worked at Wall Street. Contrary to popular media reports, he enjoyed this luxurious life. But when UBS relocated him to Asia for business expansion, fate led him to come across an AIDS-impacted father and son duo in Beijing. Chung-To later learnt that an HIV/AIDS crisis was unfolding in rural China because poor villagers were infected from needles whilst selling their blood to make a living.

Blood Orphans (a term used to describe children that come from AIDS-impacted families) suffered the most from the blood-selling economy. When Chung-To visited one of these villages, he witnessed young victims wasting away from the disease that ravaged their bodies. Such experiences compelled the former corporate analyst to give up his life of luxury in exchange for a life of service to these broken communities.

In hopes of raising awareness and rebuilding the lives of the affected villagers, Chung-To founded the Chi-Heng Foundation. Its mission is to empower the locals to take care of the children and give them the opportunity to go to school with other non-HIV impacted children. The Chi-Heng Foundation is the largest sustained programme of its kind. Since 2002, it has cumulatively supported 23,000 students. Chung-To triumphantly shared that Chi-Heng Foundation sponsored the university education of 98 students from one of the successful villages. Contextually, this number is significant as only 8 percent of students in rural areas ever enrol into university. On the other hand, the national average of students living in urban areas who were enrolled in university is around 30 percent. This village sent around 60 percent of their students into university because of Chi-Heng’s continued support, which is double the national average!

Secret to Chi-Heng’s continued success

Good financial management is key. Donor interest and confidence is sustained because Chi-Heng separates its service account from the administrative account. Fundraising events are explicit about which account the funds are going into. This gives donors a clearer idea of how their contributions help Chi-Heng.

Besides good financial management, Chi-Heng recognises the importance of exposing the children under their care to a broad range of meaningful experiences. Through arts programmes, overseas trips, better reading rooms, and access to high quality education resources via the internet, Chi-Heng gives ample opportunities to children, who in turn are motivated to work hard. When these children reach tertiary education, Chi-Heng expounds social responsibility education. Subsequently, these children come back as ambassadors to inspire children in these villages. There are 26 alumni clubs across China today and over 80 percent of the members have expressed strong willingness to volunteer for Chi-Heng, giving the foundation a strong volunteer support base.

Recognising that not all children are meant for university education, Chi-Heng initiated the Youth Bakers’ Project in 2008. It equips students with a valuable skill-set that helps secure gainful employment. Seven scholarships were given to students in the Project for further study in France and the young bakers broke the glass ceiling when they placed 4th in a world baking championship! The success of these bakers spawned the creation of a social enterprise called Village 127 (named after the first village Chi-Heng supported), a bakery-café in Shanghai! Diversifying the progression possibilities was critical in ensuring no one fell through the cracks.

By supporting these children, Chi-Heng Foundation has kick-started a positive domino effect that will continue to positively impact vulnerable villagers for generations to come. Vulnerable communities exist in Singapore too and we can all step forth to help, in a sustained manner, wherever possible. Act now to make a difference!


On 7 December 2018, Founder and Chairman of Chi Heng Foundation Chung To gave this Humanitarian Lecture, which we co-organised with Social, Chi Heng Foundation, Quest Ventures and Fairmarch.

Click here to read the Welcome Remarks by Mr Benjamin William, Secretary General/CEO, Singapore Red Cross at the Singapore Red Cross Humanitarian Lecture. 

Click here for more information on the Singapore Red Cross Humanitarian Lecture Series, which promotes public interest and understanding in humanitarian activities, locally and abroad.