Robert and Greta Ho on why they give back

Robert and Greta Ho | BCBusiness
Robert and Greta Ho.

A conversation with the founders of the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation

Raised by his grandparents in Hong Kong, Robert explains that his grandfather came from poverty to become a self-made businessman. “My grandfather never let me forget that he came from nothing, and he never forgot to give back money to the people and the place where he grew up—and that we should all do the same thing. That’s why our family motto is ‘Before you can receive, you must learn how to give.’”

In 2013, gave $1 million to fund The Forbidden City at the Vancouver Art Gallery; in 2011, $10 million to Lions Gate Hospital Foundation; in 2009, $15 million to Vancouver General Hospital; and in 2005, $4-million donation to set up North America’s first centre of Buddhist studies at UBC.

“I was born into a silver-spoon family,” he continues, “but I wasn’t driving around in a Ferrari. All of us in the family have a duty to give back what we have taken. The joke in the family is that you can’t take it with you once you lie down, so why just keep it all to yourself?”

As a “proactive” organization—“it’s not like the old days when you just wrote a cheque,” says Robert—the Ho Family Foundation does much research into the charities and institutions to which it is considering donating. Referring to his wife, two sons and daughters-in-law, Robert says it was difficult at first to agree on the areas for donations. For one focus, however, since they all like arts and culture, and China has more than 5,000 years of it, “we thought, ‘Why don’t we tell the world about us?’” The result was the VAG’s recent exhibit The Forbidden City.

When it comes to hospital donations, helping locally was an obvious choice for the couple, which has lived in Vancouver for 25 years. “As we progress in years, our health is something we pay increasing attention to,” Greta says. “We believe access to outstanding health care is something we should aspire to—not just for ourselves, but for our fellow British Columbians as well.”

As Buddhists, the pair also wanted to ensure the religion’s meaning was conveyed. “Even when I was working,” says Robert, “people thought of Buddhism as some sort of a cult, so we thought about telling people about the philosophy of Buddhism as something wonderful… while being mindful that we don’t want to be missionaries—we’re not preaching religion.”

This is the second in a series profiling eight local powerhouse philanthropic duos. Stay tuned.