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Who We Are

Our Founding Story

Founder James Chen was inspired by his grandfather, Mr. Chen Zao-Men and father, Mr. Robert Yet-Sen Chen, who believed passionately in giving back to society. Their lifelong dedication to support the development of their communities have shaped the philanthropic principles of James, his family and the foundation.

Robert Yet-Sen Chen was a successful businessman, who lived through a childhood of war, poverty and famine, yet felt an urge to give back to society. Throughout his life, he built schools and hospitals, and funded much-needed public works in his hometown of Qidong, China.

His approach was about far more than writing cheques. It was hands-on, acknowledging that time spent and knowledge about a specific area was worth as much as the financial investment put into it.

It is that audacious approach and spirit that informs the way the Foundation operates today.

Early Years

Shortly after the Foundation’s launch and Robert Yet-Sen Chen’s premature and unexpected passing, the family returned to Qidong to find inspiration for their purpose. It was while James Chen was standing in a dimly lit library in the city, first financed by his father, that the lightbulb moment hit.

Seeing a cold and dark room, barely half-filled with books, James did not see a reflection of the vision his father had set out with when funding the library: a place that should have enticed a young person to discover a love of reading. And so, the movement began, funding new books for the library, and teachers to stock the shelves and read to children. There was just one condition: that the parents and students themselves should select books for the library.

As mountains of books arrived and children felt a new excitement about reading, it was clear work had only just begun. The Foundation believed that joy should not only extend to those who can read, but those who cannot – dedicating its activity towards funding projects that develop early childhood literacy.

In parallel, the family’s eyes were opened to the issue of poor vision – primarily in its tremendous prevalence amongst children in Greater China, but ultimately amongst entire populations and generations around the world.

Globally there are at least 2.2 billion people with poor vision, and it has a profound effect on each individual life from the classroom to the workplace. And for most, it could be solved by a 700-year old invention – a pair of glasses.

These insights have profoundly shaped The Chen-Yet Sen Family Foundation’s dedication to early childhood literacy and vision correction – and ultimately in enhancing access to learning and development opportunities, whether in the inception of new campaigns or initiatives, or in supporting noteworthy programmes in these fields.



Through years of initiatives, including the development of a basic pair of universal reading glasses, to rolling out affordable eye care provision across Rwanda, to campaigning for world leaders to acknowledge vision correction as a golden thread to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The Chen Yet-Sen Family Foundation has continued to deliver global impact by investing in long-term strategic projects.

The Foundation supports projects across the world, including Mainland China, Hong Kong and the UK, while funding research projects in Mainland China, India, Zimbabwe, Vietnam and Bangladesh.

The Chen Yet-Sen Family Foundation has a structured governance, which includes board members from outside the family. It was one of the first family foundations in Asia to bring external members onto its Advisory Committee.

The board is the decision-making body and sets the strategic direction. Committee Members take an active part in the grant process and collaborate with the staff on decisions.

Key People

James Chen headshot (1)