10 million dollar donation from ByteDance to US charity generates misunderstanding

In the second week of May, the news that Zhang Yiming, founder and CEO of ByteDance (the parent company of Toutiao and TikTok) had donated 10 million USD to the Gates Foundation (that is, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) suddenly became a hot topic on Chinese social media. The only thing is that there were no press releases by Zhang Yiming, ByteDance, or the Gates Foundation announcing anything of the kind.

A reporter from the “Charity Times” (公益时报), China’s most prestigious specialist newspaper for the nonprofit sector, asked the Gates Foundation for confirmation, and found that Zhang Yiming’s $10 million was not donated to the Gates Foundation at all. In fact, the money went to the “COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator” project, run by Gates Philanthropy Partners (盖茨慈善伙伴), for the development of new drugs to treat coronary pneumonia. Gates Philanthropy Partners is an independently registered charity in the United States, and it has no connection to the Gates Foundation. The “COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator” was initiated by the Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust (惠康基金会) and Mastercard in March this year.

The money will be used in four key areas: diagnostic tools, treatment accelerators, vaccine development, and protection of vulnerable groups. There are other celebrities who made the same choice as Zhang Yiming to support the accelerator. In late March the “Chen Zuckerberg Initiative” charity, which belongs to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, announced that they had donated US $25 million to the “Accelerator”. In early April, Dell founder Michael Dell announced a donation of US $20 million. On May 1, famous singer Madonna also donated $1 million.

This is the first large overseas donation for ByteDance, and the Charity Times report suggests that it is connected to the company’s international marketing plan. ByteDance is a company with more than 60,000 employees in more than 180 cities spread over 30 countries. Zhang Yiming has previously said that as the business grows, and society has more expectations of the company, they need to take the relationship with the outside world into consideration.

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