Bill Clinton, speaking Wednesday at a meeting to promote his charitable foundation, said Asian charities are underexposed and added that people in the region should not use the financial crisis as an excuse not to give.
The former president said Asia is less likely to be hit hard by the global economic downturn because governments in the region took action to correct their financial systems in response to the crippling 1997-98 crisis.
"It is likely that whatever happens will not be as bad here, comparatively, as it is in other places of the world," he said at the close of the Clinton Global Initiative Asia conference in Hong Kong.
Responding to the financial crisis in the late 1990s, Asian governments "addressed a lot of the structural, financial and other problems that we now have to deal with in America and the Europeans have to deal with."
Several Asian economies are already in recession or have reported slowed growth.
Japan and Hong Kong slipped into recession in the third quarter. Australia reported just 0.1 percent growth in the same period, while South Korea reported 3.8 percent growth, down from 4.8 percent in the second quarter.
Reporting 9 percent growth in the third quarter, China has avoided a big hit so far because its banks are healthy and its exports are strong. But conditions are expected to worsen in the coming months as export demand weakens and growth in real estate and other domestic industries slows.
Volunteerism on rise in China
Actor Jet Li said China is ready for an explosion of volunteerism amid its growing prosperity.
The 45-year-old action film star said volunteerism and charity are rare in China but are now on the rise as the country becomes more prosperous after two decades of capitalist-style economic reforms.
"Before the reforms, China's 1.3 billion people couldn't even fill their stomachs. The only way people could help others is a word of encouragement," Li said.
Now Chinese are eager to help others in need, Li said, saying he expects "an explosion of the Chinese people's generosity pent-up over the past 100 years."
Li, who founded the charity One Foundation, a partnership with the Red Cross Society of China, said he was particularly impressed with the number of volunteers that flocked to help victims of the earthquake in China's central Sichuan province in May.
"Countless volunteers were on the front lines," he said.
Li's movie credits include "Lethal Weapon 4," "Romeo Must Die," "The Forbidden Kingdom" and "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor."
Clinton said he hoped his visit would help to promote Asian charities in the West.
"I don't think many people outside this region have any idea how much new philanthropy there is," Clinton said. "I hope by coming (it) here has had the impact of at least getting those of you who are laboring some more visibility."
Organizers said the Clinton conference has resulted in pledges worth $185 million, including: $15 million from the World Food Program to feed families in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar and East Timor; and $7 million from The Lifeline Express Hong Kong Foundation, the Chinese Ministry of Health and the International Council of Ophthalmology to provide more than 100,000 people with free cataract surgery.
Clinton agreed to greater oversight of his foundation to pave the way for the appointment of his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, as President-elect Barack Obama's secretary of state.
He may no longer hold Clinton Global Initiative conferences overseas and must refuse donations from foreign governments.
Clinton also agreed to disclose every donor since the foundation's inception in 1997, step away from its day-to-day running, and allow the Obama administration to review his speaking schedule and new sources of income.