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John and Marilyn Long

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“As Chinese and Chinese Americans, we need to present ourselves as equal partners in philanthropy. Part of that message is for all of us to become more visible.”

John Long approaches philanthropy with the same entrepreneurial vision, passion, and resilience with which he established his company, Highridge Partners, a global real estate investment firm, in 1978. “The fun part is the struggle, the challenge of developing a concept,” he says. “Both as a businessman and a philanthropist, what piques my curiosity is finding gaps and opportunities. I’m really blessed to have the resources and ability to plant seeds in innovative ideas.”

In 1992, Mr. Long and his wife, Marilyn, founded the Long Family Foundation (LFF) to promote and financially support religious, educational, cultural, and research endeavors that align with their family’s values. Marilyn serves as the foundation’s president and executive director. Through the years, the LFF has supported many organizations, endowing centers of education and research at major universities, funding Christian churches and missions, developing arts programs, and granting scholarships as well as creating and sponsoring initiatives that bridge U.S.–China relations

Born in southern China, Mr. Long, at age 6, came with his mother to the United States, where his father was already working and supporting the family long distance. Growing up in urban South-Central Los Angeles, Mr. Long was encouraged by his traditional Chinese parents to pursue a “safe” profession, such as engineering, medicine, or law. But his tendency to take risks and his aptitude for economics led him to a successful career as an industry leader in real estate investments and developments.

Over the past two decades, his other focus has been philanthropy as well. “I realized I could apply the same skills that made me successful in business to philanthropy because, as an entrepreneur, I am comfortable with not having everything formed. Our key to success, and what Highridge is known for, is anticipating markets and creating opportunities, more than for building an empire.”

Mr. Long points to his Christian faith as the inspiration for his philanthropic giving. “My mother introduced me to Christianity at a young age, even though she wasn’t a Christian herself at that time. Along my journey, I have had a sense that God, not I, was leading my life. Ultimately the purpose of our philanthropy is to serve God by helping others.”
At the same time, “a great portion of my success—personally and professionally—I owe to others who have helped me. So it was natural for me to want to help others.” He also was inspired by the “philanthropy in action” of business leaders such as Eli Broad and Gene Rosenfeld when he was just starting his career at KB Home.

In 2000, Mr. Long identified an opportunity for the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), his alma mater, to fill a gap in advancing leadership in real estate. In an industry resistant to change, he sought to encourage academics to pursue research and initiatives that would redefine the role of real estate in the 21st century. Through a major gift to the university, Mr. Long founded the UCLA Real Estate center, where he now serves as founding chairman. His hands-on involvement in the start-up phase of the center—from organizing the first conference to helping secure staffing—is the type of role he enjoys most in his philanthropy. “The early days were the most exciting to me. In many ways, I take more pride in the development of the center, than in actually giving the gift.” Today, the center is a leading academic and research hub educating the next generation of real estate leaders and serving as a valued resource to professionals and policy makers.
Over the years, during family trips, Mr. Long identified a need to foster a mutual understanding between the United States and China as the economies of the two countries continued to interconnect. “We’re not interested in the U.S. trying to influence China. It’s not advocacy but a ‘let’s learn from each other’ approach,” he says. “Let’s understand why Americans think one way, while the same point has a different meaning in China.” So, in 2010, the focus of the Long Family Foundation expanded globally through establishing the UCI Long U.S.–China Institute. The Long Institute offers a bilateral, research-focused platform from which Chinese and American scholars, business leaders, and policy makers can share ideas about business, legal, and socioeconomic issues. This same model of exchange is what Mr. and Mrs. Long hoped to establish through their funding of the Global Chinese Philanthropy Initiative in 2014.

As philanthropy continues to develop in China, they would like to see “an ecosystem develop for the philanthropic community in both the U.S. and China to converse and learn from one another. Personally, we would delight in the opportunity to exchange, learn from, and share experiences with Chinese philanthropists. Through our mutual interests and understanding, we can collectively leverage our impact, influence, and standing.”

A prominent Chinese American philanthropist once told Mr. Long that as a culture “Chinese Americans are reluctant to be public. Yet if we want to make a truly transformative impact on the misperception of Chinese Americans as takers and not givers,” the philanthropist said, “we need to be recognized and become more public.” While Mr. Long has sometimes found this advice challenging to follow—because he prefers to be “under the radar” both in business and in philanthropy—he has come to realize that strategic public recognition is important to philanthropy in furthering the work of the grantees and the issues of the causes one supports. “As Chinese and Chinese Americans, we need to present ourselves as equal partners in philanthropy. Part of that message is for all of us to become more visible.”

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