2011 News Tzu Chi at Harvard Business School

Tzu Chi at Harvard Business School

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Tzu Chi has become the subject of a case study at Harvard Business School, the first Taiwanese charitable organization to receive such recognition. In February 2011, Harvard's faculty and students examined and discussed Tzu Chi's management and organization as they would those of a multinational company.

Rey Her, the spokesperson of Tzu Chi Foundation, was invited to Harvard University by Professor Herman B. Leonard to explain the concept of Tzu Chi's relief work. (Photo: Julia Tseng)

Prof. Herman B. Leonard (right) is the Eliot I. Snider and Family Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School and the George F. Baker, Jr. Professor of Public Sector Management at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. (Photo: Julia Tseng)

On 9 Feb 2011, Rey Her, the spokesman of Tzu Chi Foundation, was invited to the school by Professor Herman B. Leonard to explain the concept of Tzu Chi's relief work and answer questions from 35 MBA students.

Due to last two hours, the session ran for nearly three due to an animated discussion. The majority was second-year students, with some PhD candidates attending; for the vast majority, it was their first acquaintance with Tzu Chi and, ahead of the lecture, they had to read 20 pages of materials about Tzu Chi.

Planning for the case study actually begun in 2009, when Prof Leonard went to Taiwan, met Master Cheng Yen and was deeply impressed by her leadership.

"Tzu Chi has provided a new inspiration and new ways of management," said the professor. "It uses 'value' and 'faith' as its key concepts of management and leadership, which is very different from the 'strategies' and 'incentives' used by western management." He said the example of Tzu Chi had been thought-provoking and one of the most successful case studies of recent years.

He gave the Foundation's work in China as an example of its wise management. The Foundation first entered the country to help victims of devastating floods in the east and central provinces in 1991. It immediately declared its objective to be giving relief directly to those in greatest need and the three 'No's' – no mention of politics or business and no proselytizing. In this way, it addressed the concerns of the Chinese government about allowing foreign religious groups to enter the country.

To give an idea of Tzu Chi's relief work, Prof Leonard presented to the students two packs of the instant rice which Tzu Chi developed and distributes in disaster areas. He also played a documentary video of Master Cheng Yen.

"The core management philosophy of Tzu Chi originates from the Buddhist view of karma," noted the professor. "Since disaster is unpredictable, every disaster has its own unique factors and circumstances. While other organizations set 'growth indicators' and 'long-term planning' as their objectives, Tzu Chi stresses a rapid and flexible response to a disaster."

Another characteristic of the Foundation is its lack of centralization, as a result of the special charisma of Master Cheng Yen, he said. "Her personal leadership as a role model motivates her volunteers around the world to be creative and highly efficient; it is a leadership based on faith and value, similar to that of the first elected black South African president Nelson Mandela – a power than can move the world."

Prof Leonard also thanked Mr Her for presenting the experiences of Tzu Chi and his reflections on them to his students.

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