The Beneficent Yang Lan
“We have been focusing on two things,” explains Ms. Yang. “Capacity building—helping potential donors and non-profit organizations to enhance their capability to execute their strategies by partnering them with educational institutions and business leaders.—and the Growing Up in the Sunshine project, which enables underprivileged children to participate in and learn about the arts.
Three years ago, Ms. Yang’s foundation offered special funding to enable 60 underprivileged inner city children to participate in a half-year training with the Central Ballet Troupe—the top national ballet troupe in China. “These children belonged to special boarding schools, with minor juvenile delinquent records. Many of them came from broken families and have self esteem issues and serious emotional issues. Some of them hadn’t talked to their families for more than a year, and they were regarded as ‘problem kids,’” she says. “But we believe that every child should have the opportunity to prove themselves and also to have exposure to art, which may change their life.”
For Ms. Yang, the focus with the ballet was about using art as a tool to building a better life. “We were not trying to make ballerinas or masters, but we tried to give art education to these kids for the purpose of building up self esteem by exposing them to art, and training them in teamwork and communication,” she asserts.
“At the end of the half-year training, the children were performing with the stars from the Central Ballet Troupe. Many of these kids and their families were moved to tears because it had been the first recognition for these children in years,” she continues. “It was the first time for many of these children had invited their fathers and mothers to anything.”
Ms. Yang was brought to tears as well. “At the end of the performance, each of the boys gave me one red rose, which was very touching for me. This was not a typical form of expression for these kids,” she reveals.
Follow-up studies have shown many of the children had positive behavioral changes and continue to have improved relationships with their families and teachers. With the program a veritable success, the foundation decided to enlarge the program for migrant workers’ children in Beijing.
According to Ms. Yang, Beijing has more than 300,000 children of migrant workers. “These children are barely able to finish their basic education at school and do not have any opportunities or exposure to arts curriculum programs,” she explains. “The Sun Culture Foundation is now providing the arts for these children with chances to visit theaters, to watch movies, ballet and other performing arts. We invite phenomenal musicians, artists, dancers to talk with these kids about the creation of art and to interact with them so they can understand that art is not something remote for them.”
Ms. Yang, who hosts the enormously popular shows Yang Lan One on One and Her Village, serves as the Goodwill Ambassador for Expo 2010 Shanghai. She recently brought more than 50 children of migrant workers to Expo for an exciting day of visiting the pavilions and attractions.
Often considered one of China’s top businesswomen, Ms. Yang encourages other entrepreneurs to think about wealth heritage and donations to charities after retirement. “This is the first time that Chinese are thinking about reallocating personal wealth for public good causes,” she says.
With all the responsibilities of her businesses and foundation, Ms. Yang is grateful that her parents live with her family to help her raise her two children—a 14-year-old boy and ten-year-old girl. Her father, who was a university professor, and mother, who was an engineer, provide critical support. “Thank God they are with me to take care of the family,” she says. “I am sharing my mothering responsibilities with them.”