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Q&A with Anshe Chung, virtual philanthropist

Contribute's Janet Rae-Dupree created a digital “self” — an avatar called Scoop Raymaker — to enable her to explore Second Life and interview its first philanthropist, virtual real estate tycoon Anshe Chung.
Anshe Chung, left, and Scoop Raymaker, akaContribute's Janet Rae-Dupree, converse inthe Dresden Gallery in Second Life.
Anshe Chung, left, and Scoop Raymaker, akaContribute's Janet Rae-Dupree, converse inthe Dresden Gallery in Second Life.Contribute
/ Source: Contribute Magazine

[22:01] SCOOP RAYMAKER: Hi! Where shall I meet you?

[22:02] ANSHE CHUNG: One moment...

[22:02] SCOOP: Okay.

[22:11] SCOOP: I’m just beginning to see the fabulous details of this gallery. When I teleported in, you were right in front of me, but not fully rendered.

[22:13] ANSHE: Where are you connecting from now?

[22:13] SCOOP: I’m in Los Angeles at the moment, working on a friend’s computer. You’re in Beijing, yes? Can you see me seated beside you?

[22:14] ANSHE: I am in Wuhan. Your avatar is now loading on my screen. Ah, now there you are :-)

[22:15] SCOOP: Wonderful! I am writing a story for CONTRIBUTE magazine about philanthropy in Second Life. My research thus far indicates that you are Second Life’s first real philanthropist, donating the SIM (digital land) for the Nonprofit Commons. I wanted to get a better understanding about why you did that.

[22:17] ANSHE: I think there are people who have done much (in SL) for other good purposes, such as fundraising for cancer projects.

[22:18] SCOOP: Yes. But that has been more of a group effort. Your donation seems to be the largest individual contribution to date.

[22:20] ANSHE: When I first came to Second Life, it was trying to raise funds for a boy in a developing country. His name was Geo and I sponsored him through a German nonprofit using Linden $ (the currency of SL). I think positive change is important and I like to help a little bit when I see I can. The idea of a nonprofit incubator in Second Life appealed to me and my husband.

[22:21] SCOOP: Why?

[22:23] ANSHE: When it comes to virtual worlds and virtual world economies, I always saw that primarily as some globalization medium to create more democratic access to the economy for people in different places. That I would end up building a big business myself was not exactly planned. It surprised me.

[22:26] ANSHE: Guni’s family (my husband) had some history of doing philanthropy in RL (real life), so I thought it might be a good idea to try to see if a virtual world could create enough value to pay for one person. At the time, I felt that if I could achieve this, then maybe people from developing countries could connect to Second Life and do this, too.

[22:26] SCOOP: So, by sponsorship you mean that you paid for his daily needs—food, housing, education? Are you still involved with him?

[22:27] ANSHE: Yes. He doesn’t need sponsoring anymore because his father found a job in the Philippines and can support the family again.

[22:28] SCOOP: How long had you been on Second Life before you helped Geo?

[22:29] Anshe Chung giggles.

[22:29] ANSHE: No, I did not have this idea when joining SL. There were other things, like curiosity, that brought me here.

[22:29] SCOOP: Like most people here.

[22:29] ANSHE: But after I arrived, I began earning Linden $ on the first day.

[22:30] SCOOP: I see. Were you looking for a group to help you sponsor nonprofits?

[22:31] ANSHE: Guni and I have been involved with the Chinese Internet. Actually, this project is what brought us together. For 20 years, we’ve tried to use the network to help China develop and create jobs. I was not really actively looking. It just happened that there was some contact, in part via Guni.

[22:36] SCOOP: What do you think of what the Nonprofit Commons has become so far? Are you considering expanding it into additional SIMS at some point?

[22:38] ANSHE: I think it is working well. The idea was to help nonprofit organizations to network in SL and to easily integrate new arrivals during their first steps in SL. In the long run, I hope that the metaverse (virtual world) will help nonprofits in both developed and developing countries to more easily collaborate. My ultimate hope is to have people like Geo (or his parents) participating in virtual worlds so they can be in direct contact with potential donors.

[22:39] SCOOP: What has your real-world experience of nonprofits been? I’m under the impression that philanthropy isn’t much a part of China’s or Germany’s culture. Do you see SL helping to expand nonprofit activity globally?

[22:40] ANSHE: Both Germany and China have rich cultures of philanthropy and nonprofit organizations. I have relatives who are very involved in fighting for women’s rights and against poverty in the Chinese countryside.

[22:41] ANSHE: The difference between China and the US is maybe there are more nonprofit government organizations than non-government organizations doing development.

Improving virtual collaboration
[22:43] SCOOP: Do your activities in SL create more interest in nonprofits and philanthropy?

[22:44] ANSHE: Yes, some. But you know, when you look at how people describe me — ”real estate tycoon” — you don’t immediately think of nonprofit projects.

[22:45] SCOOP: True. But that’s why I want to understand more about why and how you’re pursuing philanthropic work.

[22:54] ANSHE: I hope that both nonprofits and businesses will come to better understand the potential of using virtual worlds for global collaboration. I hope businesses will get more involved in helping NGOs and nonprofits.

[22:55] SCOOP: How do you see this evolving over the next year or two?

[22:58] ANSHE: My long-term vision is that donors, nonprofits and aid recipients all will be able to meet and collaborate in virtual worlds.

[22:58] SCOOP: That seems to be evolving in the Nonprofit Commons. Do you think your philanthropic example will encourage others to donate their time and money to worthy causes?

[23:01] ANSHE: Possibly. I think there are a lot of people who want to help and feel encouraged when they see that others are doing something. But it’s important to do it in a way that has some sort of seed effect, supporting something that develops an internal dynamic.

[23:02] SCOOP: What other philanthropic efforts are you considering?

[23:03] ANSHE: I’m considering some real life projects at the moment, but it’s still too early to talk about them.

[23:04] SCOOP: Can you give me some clues?

[23:04] ANSHE: What I have been doing a lot recently is funding small virtual businesses with risk capital. That doesn’t fall into the nonprofit category, but for me it is almost like that, given the lack of security in the financing system of SL. I think I am probably the first who has done virtual VC on a large scale. I did not invent the concept, even though from the beginning I would actively support virtual stock exchange projects.

[23:08] SCOOP: Is SL popular in China?

[23:08] ANSHE: Not very. But when Hipihi will be released, the metaverse in China will become popular. Hipihi is the Chinese version of Second Life.

[23:08] SCOOP: Do you think philanthropy will grow in Hipihi the way it is in SL?

[23:12] ANSHE: Yes, I expect even more such activity there, given that many nonprofits in China have a strong member base of teenagers. The release is scheduled for the end of this year

[23:18] SCOOP: Are you involved in Hipihi?

[23:19] ANSHE: In RL, I have been talking to several platform providers, besides Linden Lab. We are not developing platforms at my design studio, but as soon as a platform provider supplies the option we can make it successful.

[23:33] SCOOP: As new nonprofits come into SL, they can turn to the Commons for a better idea about how to get things going quickly.

[23:33] ANSHE: Yes, I hope that there will be some network effect of nonprofits helping nonprofits and sharing resources.

[23:34] SCOOP: What makes SL a good forum for giving?

[23:38] ANSHE: I think it is a good collaboration tool. SL is a good place to visualize projects and to bring people together to discuss and collaborate on efforts. Time here is cheaper, in part because there is no overhead of traveling and complex scheduling. If I can log on for 30 minutes, meet people all over the world to discuss projects, and even examine some 3-D model, that is far better than spending days traveling. I see SL in the same league as telephones and email, only that SL adds more options for collaboration and communication.

[23:40] SCOOP: Collaboration is, in many ways, a donation of time.

[23:40] ANSHE: Yes, but in Second Life, the important aspect is that this can be optimized.

[23:44] SCOOP: SL offers an opportunity but there are limits, including some that we have experienced in this interview, such as long delays in the transmission of responses, and long rendering times. Does that frustrate you?

[23:47] ANSHE: No, because I know this is only the very early version of the metaverse. If you consider this and the fact I am connecting from Wuhan, this is working astonishingly well!  :-)