A lifelong learner inspired by gratitude

Dr Charles Chen Yidan believes education promotes people’s well-being. It certainly changed the course of his life.

After navigating China’s highly competitive gaokao university entrance exam, he earned a bachelor’s degree in applied chemistry at Shenzhen University.

He went on to obtain a master’s degree in economic law at Nanjing University.

Shortly after university, he became one of the core founders of China’s internet pioneer, Tencent, along with his high school friends, and found success.

Stepping down as Tencent’s Chief Administration Officer in 2013, he maintains a role as Advisor Emeritus of Tencent and Honorary Chairman of Tencent Charity Foundation.

He continued his pursuit of learning, earning a doctorate in business administration from the Singapore Management University in 2019.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Dr Chen’s journey into learning is that his most important inspiration was his illiterate grandmother.

Dr Charles Chen Yidan and his grandmother.

As a child growing up in China’s Guangdong province, Dr Chen was aware of the power of education.

He was deeply touched by his grandmother who, with great fortitude living through war, famine and poverty, raised his father to become the very first college graduate in the village. He recalls how her love and firm belief in the value of education encouraged him to pave the way for his own educational career and subsequent entrepreneurial success.

Dr Chen has a clear view about education, “Education is the ultimate driving force for social progress.”

“For this prize to be successful, it should be able to inspire others to take reference from it and be influential. Our focus is on the future. The prize should be able to shape the future. This is most important.”

— Dr Charles Chen Yidan
Dr Charles Chen Yidan at a BRAC Play Lab in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

China’s most charitable man

Corporate social responsibility was central to Tencent’s values from the beginning. The Tencent Charity Foundation was established in June 2007, with Dr Chen as chairman.

In 2013, the foundation jointly founded the Shenzhen Mingde Experimental School with the Futian District Government of Shenzhen City. The school is praised as a model for comprehensive education reform.

“We are overwhelmed by the encouragement from the community. That is very encouraging. Hopefully it is a model that will get replicated.” Dr Chen has said about the initiative.

To stimulate development in not-for-profit higher education, Dr Chen invested RMB2 billion (US$306 million) to found Wuhan College in China.

Wuhan College currently serves around 13,000 students pursuing their associate’s degrees (~15%) and bachelor’s degrees (~85%). Dr Chen believes that it is vitally important to explore new pathways to empower young aspiring university graduates to pursue their own dreams.

His education philanthropy led to Dr Chen’s appearance on the cover of the May-June 2017 issue of Forbes China magazine as China’s most charitable man.

 

Education for the future

In 2016 Dr Chen announced the launch of the Yidan Prize, an idea that first occurred to him in 2013. The mission is to create a better world through education. The guiding principles are driving innovation in learning and empowering educational leaders.

Awarded on an annual basis, the inclusive global prize recognizes individuals with outstanding accomplishments in education research and development.

Beyond individual action, Dr Chen believes that it takes a collective approach to initiate progressive change. “It is time for us to rethink who we are educating, how we are educating them, and why we are educating them the way we are. We need to rethink the outcomes we expect. I hope the prize inspires more change-makers to come together and shape the future of education, creating new opportunities for future generations of learners.”

Through Dr Chen’s advocacy for learning, his grandmother’s legacy may well be felt for generations to come.