Eating for charity: Interview with Michael Crain

Michael Crain speaks to Australia China Connections about the inspiration behind his hugely successful Chi Fan for Charity venture.

 
Michael Crain and his wife Joanna have lived in Beijing since 2006 after he was appointed Chief of Staff at the US Embassy. Prior to that, Michael had spent six years working in Washington DC for the Bush White House which had brought him to China a number of times on official presidential and state visits.
In 2009, Michael launched his first Chi Fan for Charity event in Beijing. Its success quickly spread to Shanghai and there is now discussion about bringing in a third Chinese city with Hong Kong in 2013.
 

Q: How did Chi Fan come about?
 

Michael Crain:
Almost four years ago, I left my position at the US Embassy and suddenly realized I had more free time. I had always been involved in charitable projects, but at the Embassy did not have time to do so.  After talking with some friends who also desired to get more involved in charity in China as well as some friends in the restaurant industry, the idea of pairing the two led to Chi Fan for Charity (CFFC).  The rest has been organic…asking hosts to round up their friends, restaurants to donate tables and people to fill the seats.
 
In the first year, I had a goal of 10 restaurants and we had 16.  That was amazing considering from idea to execution we had only eight weeks. That includes soliciting restaurants, identifying hosts, building the website and collecting payment. We raised around 100,000RMB, which all went to benefit the Dandelion Migrant School.
 

Q: When you started Chi Fan in 2009 in Beijing, were you surprised at the momentum with which this idea has grown?
 

MC:
Yes, definitely!  I think the event has become such a success because it is so simple – people are doing what they normally do on a Saturday night – having dinner with old and new friends – and the restaurants are doing what they do best – serving great meals.
 
After having an extraordinary gastro experience, the diners convene at the after-party at Hatsune Sanlitun to share the highlights of their meals and dance the night away to the most amazing DJ.  While this may sound like any other night, everyone knows it is a little more special because it is all done for some great philanthropic causes.
 

Q: Where to in 2013? Are there plans to take Chi Fan beyond Shanghai and Beijing?
 

MC:
The success in Beijing and Shanghai has been overwhelming. We have heard from some contacts now in Hong Kong and they would like to organise an event there.  So, who knows…look out for a third location in 2013.
 

Q: How do you select the recipient charities?
 

MC:
The first two years of the event, charities with which I had a personal relationship were the beneficiaries.
 
We started getting more and more charities asking to be the recipient, so I realised we needed to formalise the process.

Beginning last year, we formed a Charity Selection Committee and now ask potential selectees to complete a formal request for the funds. This formality allows the Charity Selection Committee to ascertain how long the charity has been in existence and how the funds will be used. Once approved by the committee, everyone that has been involved in a previous Chi Fan for Charity – restaurants, hosts, participants – are able to vote on the charities they would like to see receive the funds. This process allows us to be fair to all of those seeking assistance, as well as involve the community that is instrumental in the success of the event.

 

Q: Do you have a favourite charity in China in particular?
 

MC:
There is so much need here in China, that I don’t have a favourite charity.  I encourage everyone to find a causechifan_hatsune_afterparty_2011_web about which they are passionate and support in any way possible, whether that is through donations of money or time.
We’ve supported some amazing charities through Chi Fan for Charity and it has been incredible to see the money we raised help others in need.
 
We’d appreciate the support of people joining one of our dinners and knowing all of the money raised goes to some great causes. 
 
 
* Pictured above: Chi Fan for Charity after party, at Sanlitun’s famous Hatsune restaurant in Beijing.

**For more information about the 2012 Chi Fan for Charity event being held on November 10 in Beijing and November 17 in Shanghai, visit: www.chifanforcharity.org/

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