Reprint | Niu Gensheng, Recipient of “the 13th Compassion Award” and Foregoer of Family Philanthropy in China

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As an orphan born in a needy family, Niu Gensheng started as a cattle raiser and bottle washer and leaped to a leader in the dairy industry in China. However, he donated family assets, faded out of the business circle when he was still young and strong in the golden age of his business, immersed himself in public welfare undertakings, and established Lao Niu Foundation in 2004. At that time, he was the first entrepreneur doing charity in the way of donating shares and was honored by media as “The First One in the World to Donate Shares”. Under his gradual influence, all the family members got involved in philanthropy and were rated as “Model of Strategic Philanthropy in China”. By the end of June 2018, its foundation has cumulatively established cooperation with 170 institutions and organizations and conducted 231 charitable projects, covering 31 provinces (autonomous region/direct-controlled municipality and special administrative region) all over China, with 1.36 Billion Yuan philanthropic spending. He is dedicated to exploring the philanthropic path of the globalization of philanthropy and the internationalization of projects.


Niu Gensheng is the foregoer of family philanthropy in China

On the door of Niu Gensheng’s house, there is such a pair of couplets: “The only way for family inheritance is to be honest and kind, the only way in interacting with others is to be forthright and sincere.” The central line is: tie the family to national fate. The golden words are shinning under the sun. Mr. Niu Gensheng saw the couplets at the former home of Hu Xueyan in Hangzhou. He liked it so much and brought them home. He wrote the central line himself. Mr. Niu Gensheng created a business empire within a very short period of time…

Then, what’s next…


In 2012, Mr. Niu Gensheng accepted the invitation from Blair, former Prime Minister of UK, and went to UK to discuss issues regarding environmental protection and charity.

Syllogism of life

“Retire at the age of 50.” This is the promise Niu Gensheng made for himself and his family.

From 2006 to 2009, Niu Gensheng successively resigned the posts of the President and Chairman of Mengniu Group and transformed from an entrepreneur to a philanthropist.

Looking back at the past and looking forward to the future, Niu Gensheng proposed the famous “syllogism” for life: 0-20 years old, 20-50 years old and 50 years old till old are respective the stages for learning, entrepreneurship and contribution.

In 1958, Niu Gensheng was sold by his parents to a relatively wealthy family in the city at the price of 50 Yuan when he was not even one month old.

At the age of 20, Niu Gensheng started to work as a cattle raiser.

At the age of 25, Niu Gensheng joined Yili and started as a bottle washer. After that, he successively worked as Shift Leader, Section Chief, Workshop Director, Branch Manager, up till the President and Vice President for Production and Management of Yili Group.

In 1999, Niu Gensheng established Mengniu Group. After 8 years, Mengniu became the champion of liquid milk throughout the world and the grand champion of dairy industry in China. From 2003 to 2007, Niu Gensheng was successively rated as “The Most Influential Enterprise Leader in China” for five years. 

“Small victory depends on wisdom and great victory depends on virtue.” “People will disperse when wealth is gathered and people will gather when wealth is dispersed”. Niu Gensheng dispersed large amount of his annual salary to his employees and partners and led Mengniu to form a community of common future with hundreds of millions of consumers, tens of thousands of shareholders, millions of dairy farmers and hundreds of thousands of production and marketing forces. Mengniu Group was called as “the biggest job-creating enterprise in China” since the Development of the West Regions.

微信图片_20180930152037.jpgIn 2009, Niu Gensheng attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony of Yunnan Pu’er Gensheng Charity Primary School.

“Recurrent” view of wealth

Niu Gensheng once said: “There is an old saying in China ‘Do unto others as you would be done’. The most basic way for one person to shoulder social responsibility is not to bring what you don’t like to others and not to cause negative effects to the environment you live in. For current entrepreneurs in China, we should require more, that is ‘doing for others what you would have done for yourself’.”

Niu Gensheng always has the “habit” of sharing part of his salary to his employees, partners and friends and helping those having difficulties in the society. On December 28, 2004, Lao Niu Foundation donated and initiated by Niu Gensheng was registered and established. At that time, Mengniu was just listed in Hong Kong and many people couldn’t understand what he did. “I was considering donating my shares as early as 2002. It’s a tough process that has been repeated for several times.” Niu Gensheng recalled, “In the last year I made this decision, I had experienced the happiness I had never had in my whole life. It is a transcend happiness and I feel at ease.”

In the first lunar month of 2005, he and his family announced that they would donate all the shares they had at Mengniu Dairy and most of the dividends to philanthropy. This groundbreaking philanthropic move not only reflected the chivalry and lofty sentiments of Chinese entrepreneurs, but also served as the practice and exploration for the philanthropy system in China. He also became “The First One in the World to Donate Shares” and was granted “Lifetime Achievement in Philanthropy Award” by China philanthropy List in 2010.

“Lao Niu style” philanthropic innovation

Niu Gensheng has his own “Lao Niu theory” and “Niu-style innovation” in philanthropy.

He named the foundation he established “Lao Niu” and proposed that the foundation should be dedicated to being “mother-type foundation” serving as the “midwife” or “running helper” of various charity foundations. Apart from conducting its own public welfare programs, Lao Niu Foundation also participated and initiated Shenzhen One Foundation, donated “founding fund” for Hohhot Charity Federation, jointly developed programs with public welfare organizations including the Red Cross Society of China, China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation and China Youth Development Foundation, and became the “midwife” for many public welfare organizations and public welfare programs. 


In May 2008, Mr. Niu Gensheng and Mr. An Nan accepted the invitation and participated in “Philanthropy and Sustainable Development Seminar” held by Bank of Paris, France. 

Lao Niu Foundation promotes social progress through modifying “cultural gene”. For instance, the Foundation supported Peking University to establish Center for Charity, Sports and Law for legislation research, and jointly established China Philanthropy Research Institute and China Global Philanthropy Institute to provide “source of strategies” for philanthropy.

The philanthropic view of Niu Gensheng has not only influenced Lao Niu Foundation, but also influenced other members of the family. Each member in Lao Niu Family has devoted himself or herself into different fields of philanthropy.

Philanthropy effort “Giving Pledge” – the first pledger in China

Philanthropy effort “Giving Pledge” is a global initiative launched by Warren Buffett and Bill & Melinda Gates in 2010, aiming at summoning the billionaires in the world to donate most of their wealth to philanthropy.

Niu Gensheng, founder of Mengniu Group and Lao Niu Foundation, became the first pledger from Chinese mainland.

“Giving Pledge” requires the participants to donate at least half of their wealth to the philanthropy they deem appropriate when they are still alive or after they died. Each pledger needs to sign a public manifestation and publish an open letter indicating the reasons for commitment of donation. All the pledgers and their open letters can be found on the official website of Giving Pledge.

As a matter of fact, Niu Gensheng has been practicing the commitment of donation long before the start of “Giving Pledge”. According to media report, Niu Gensheng indicated in his letter to Buffett and Bill & Melinda Gates that “Giving Pledge” coincides with his idea and he is very willing to join it. He thinks he’s doing business in the first half of his life, helping others through helping himself; he will do good works in the second half of his life, helping himself through helping others. Philanthropy is his life planning for his life after 50 years old.

Full time philanthropist, doing good works in the second half of his life

Niu Gensheng once said: “Money is magical. You may shed tears of gratitude for it or turn against each other because of it. It all depends on how you use it.”

According to the official website of Lao Niu Foundation, the vision of the foundation is to“have grateful hearts and improve oneself by helping others,” and to “be responsible for the earth under heaven by nurturing both people and nature.” The Foundation’s mission is established on the belief that “education is fundamental to the nation, the environment is fundamental to life, and philanthropy is fundamental to society.” The three primary focuses of the Foundation are environmental protection, cultural education, and championing the development of China’s philanthropic sector. Lao Niu Foundation is dedicated to creating a healthy and equitable environment for all of mankind, “Heritage hundred years and guard the future”.


December 8, 2011, Niu Gensheng was sending philanthropic gifts to other guests after attending Bill Gates’ luncheon as the guest of honor. 

Niu Gensheng (2005), Buffett (2006) and Bill Gates (2008) are pioneers in the donation of shares. Global tycoon Bill Gates and investor Warren Buffett have also been engaged in philanthropy for many years. Gates promised to donate most of his wealth to the philanthropic foundation established by him and his wife Melinda, while Buffett promised to donate 99% of his personal wealth. Lao Niu, Bill Gates, Buffett and Li Ka-shing are known as “Four Tycoons of Donation in the World”.

The family members often gather together to talk about

Things regard philanthropy

In order to establish Lao Niu Foundation, Niu Gensheng donated shares with total market value as high as 4.5 Billion Yuan. When planning and preparing to donate shares after the listing of Mengniu, he didn’t tell his wife Shen Shuxiang directly, but tentatively suggested that we should be thinking all about getting the money home and we should use it to do something meaningful. Even after doing ideological work for a while, his wife was still very confused on hearing that Niu Gensheng donated all his shares. She thought Niu Gensheng would only donate part of his shares and leave some for raising children and family use. “He’s really crazy. We were married in 1981 and fought all the way from days of poverty. We are just about to be rich, but he donated all of the money before getting it. Everyone says he’s crazy.” Shen Shuxiang said.

Niu Gensheng and Lao Niu Foundation are dedicated to exploring a path for the development of “modern Chinese philanthropic family foundation”. Under his influence, everyone in his family has devoted himself or herself into philanthropy; his children initiated and established “Laoniu Brothers & Sisters Foundation” to further expand family philanthropy.

Philanthropy passes down from generation to generation

Lao Niu Foundation has been established for over 10 years when Niu Ben and Niu Qiong, the son and daughter of Niu Gensheng, decided to establish the first second generation foundation in China. In March 2015, Beijing Laoniu Brothers & Sisters Foundation (“Laoniu Brothers & Sisters Foundation” for short) was officially registered and established.

As young generation, they are inevitably shouldering some responsibilities of “innovation”. After the official registration and establishment of Laoniu Brothers & Sisters Foundation, the foundation is managed by Niu Ben, Niu Qiong and Chen Xiaopeng, Niu Ben’s wife.  

The foundation is dedicated to “concern about the development of the next generation through supporting the growth of children and youth startup projects and guide social progress with innovative philanthropic ideas”. This not only avoids overlapping with the business scope of Lao Niu Foundation, but also fully satisfies the “interest points” of the philanthropy of the Niu Family, namely “to care for the future”.

Be happy together and make the world a better place

微信图片_20180930152051.jpg2010, Niu Gensheng (first on the right) was inspecting Inner Mongolia Shengle International Eco Zone Project. Project results: increase biodiversity, strengthen the service function of ecosystem, mobilize community development and attract social resources; the potential economic benefit is about 15 Million per year. 

In Niu Gensheng’s opinion, philanthropy has expanded from the fields of poverty alleviation, disaster relief and assistance, and social welfare to caring for nature and caring for the earth. “Making the sky bluer, mountain greener and water clearer” has become one of key objectives for him to engage in philanthropic activities. Lao Niu Foundation has listed “environmental protection” as the major direction of philanthropy for nearly ten years and there are also other philanthropic fields such as cultural education, industry promotion, poverty alleviation and disaster relief. 

Niu Gensheng once mentioned in a lecture: “There are many forces that can change the world. What is philanthropy different from others? Some forces might benefit some people and hurt the others, but philanthropy has only one goal, that is being happy together.”

“Being happy together” is the essential goal of philanthropy and philanthropy is the watchman for “being happy together”. All the philanthropists in the world should stand together, focus on the vulnerable spots on the earth together, make joint efforts to promote “making no sacrifice”, and turn the world into a better and more beautiful place!

Value proverbs

Philanthropic ideas

- Small victories are won by wisdom, while a great victory must be achieved by virtue.

The more fortune one has, the greater responsibility one should undertake.

Helping others allows you to improve yourself.

The benefactor should be grateful to the beneficiary.

If everyone does good, everything will be good.

How happy you are depends on how many people love you.

- Going from not having to having can satisfy a single person,

but it will only bring small happiness.

Going from having to not having by giving back to society

will bring great joy.

- In the first half of life, I was pursuing the dream of

helping others through helping myself;

in the second half of my life, my dream is

to help myself through helping others. 

- The giver should be grateful for the recipient.

If there’s no deficiency or disaster,

how can the giver express their deeds?

- In the prime of your life,

you should go into the field,

because the field of philanthropy also needs

innovation and energy.