In 2004, Li Kemei and her husband Tang Xiuguo (President of Sany Group) established the Deqing Education Special Fund followed by the Beijing Deqing Foundation in 2016, CAPS spoke to Li Kemei in 2021 to learn more about her story of promoting rural music education.
CAPS: Can you share with us the philanthropic work of your organization?
Li Kemei: The Deqing Foundation focuses on rural music education. We chose a specific entry point – vocal training for children. Our goal is to enable every rural child to receive quality music education and illuminate their hearts through their voices.
Focusing on education, particularly music education, is a long-term investment that may not show immediate results. However, we believe that we are laying the groundwork for future success. As we say in Chinese, “You must prepare the soil before planting seeds.”
We have been working hard over the years to create an ecosystem for rural education. Non-profit organizations focusing on rural education cannot work in silos. It’s essential to integrate our efforts with the local education ecosystem and to support local education workers, such as education foundations, education bureaus, principals, and teachers, with new ideas, mechanisms, and resources.
CAPS: Is there any connection between your philanthropy and Sany Group’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts?
Li Kemei: The two are closely linked. As the president of Sany Group, my husband Tang Xiuguo has a mission to fulfill the company’s social responsibilities. A major part of Sany Group’s CSR is conducted through the Sany Foundation which aims to drive innovation on important social issues. As members of the family, we have chosen to focus on music education philanthropy as our intersection point. For example, every summer, we invite at least a hundred village teachers to Changsha for intensive training. This would not be possible without the comprehensive support of Sany Group, which provides catering, accommodation and logistics.
CAPS: Are there any philanthropic projects that have inspired your work?
Li Kemei: Yes, one project that I find particularly inspiring is the El Sistema project, also known as the Venezuelan National Youth Orchestra System. Venezuela was the largest oil producer and exporter in South America during the ‘50s and ’60s, but there was a significant wealth disparity in the country. Many people were unemployed, leading to social unrest and an increase in juvenile crime rates. In 1975, Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu launched the “Music Society Movement” and established the first youth orchestra in Venezuela. Two years later, this orchestra achieved impressive results in international music competitions held in the UK, which caught the attention of the Venezuelan government. In 1977, the government supported the establishment of the State Foundation for the National System of Youth and Infant Orchestras of Venezuela (FESNOJIV), hoping to influence society through music education.
This project was successful for two reasons. First, the project has a well-designed structure that makes it actionable and sustainable. The project’s goal is clear, not only to cultivate musicians but also to instill a sense of responsibility, happiness, and passion for music, while becoming a contributing member of society. The project achieves this through a pyramid-shaped talent cultivation system, where children progress through choir, children’s orchestra, youth orchestra, and a professional orchestra. Group-based lectures solve the problem of insufficient teachers and help young people develop strong values. Peer teaching is also encouraged which helps improve the efficiency of rehearsals and creates a pool of future teachers.
Second, this project can be replicated. The project’s management model is top-down, where foundations can establish community centers and provide funding for their basic operations. Community centers can utilize societal resources and parent groups to raise 20% of the funding needed. They can also maintain close contact with companies, families, and young people in the community. The project’s management model has significantly reduced the juvenile crime rate in the community and improved the living environment. As of 2017, more than 300 community centers have been established, providing systematic music education to 350,000 young people every year, which is 1% of Venezuela’s population. Over 40 countries and regions worldwide have drawn inspiration from this project when creating their own models.
CAPS: How has this project influenced your work?
Li Kemei: I think that learning from the execution and actual effect of the El Sistema project is very valuable. It has inspired me to think about how our “Happy Chorus 3+1 – the Promotion of Choral Art in Rural Middle & Primary Schools” project can benefit more rural teachers and students. A choir can also help alleviate rural children’s loneliness and boost their confidence and happiness. My country has a strong tradition of choral singing, particularly in singing patriotic songs, which provides a good foundation for the choral community.
The “Happy Chorus 3+1” project may seem complicated, but it has a simple underlying logic, consisting of three modules: building a teacher training system to help deliver excellent music classes, providing a chorus performance platform to accompany children’s growth, and setting up a research and exchange platform to promote rural aesthetic education development. As of December 31, 2022, the “Happy Chorus 3+1” project has trained 8,410 music teachers, hosted 5 “Happy Chorus 3+1” public benefit concerts, and successfully conducted “Primary and Secondary School Chorus Performances” in 14,970 classes across 763 primary and secondary schools in 19 counties across three provinces, benefiting 863,577 students.
We started with the project design and management model, aiming to create a stepped choral growth system and music teacher training program that is suitable for China. We also want to develop a platform that showcases the project’s achievements in multiple areas, intending to provide every rural child with quality music education.
It is an honor to be interviewed by CAPS, and I hope that this opportunity will enable more people to see how foundations in China are promoting the popularization and development of music education through the chorus charity program.