“I think we did well that evening?” Zhang Zhang asks contentedly. It’s two days after “A Night In Monte Carlo” held at the Park Hyatt Saigon in support of the Mai Nha Children Foundation, and Zhang Zhang is reflecting on the evening with its organizers.
The Chinese violinist, who is now based in Monaco, was born into a family of academics and artists — her grandfather was a professor at Peking University and her grandmother was a pioneering sociologist, while her mother was an actress and her father a musician. “Since before I could walk, I’ve been playing music — not because I was a child genius with the natural ability to play an instrument, but entirely due to my overbearing father,” Zhang Zhang explained when we first met at the event’s rehearsals.
Zhang Zhang had joined Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo—one of the world’s oldest orchestras—in 2000, and she held her first independent charity event a few years later for the victims of the 2004 tsunami. It was the beginning of ZHANGOMUSIQ, when her years of struggle: “Hours of daily solitary practice…private lessons…competitions…” became a way to help people.
“What if we [musicians] became innovators, and made our business more social, more entrepreneurial?” the violinist asked the audience during the second of her TEDxTalks recorded in Marseille last year. The four-party concert model she developed—artist and audience, sponsor and a NGO who receives all the proceeds—has been successful at over 60 events in more that 20 countries since ZHANGOMUSIQ’s founding.
Locally-based entrepreneurs TY Pang of Wild East Co. and private sommelier and Mai Nha board member Catherine Guo first discovered Zhang Zhang after Shyevin S’ng, founder of Vin Gallery, met the violinist in Malaysia. As the idea for their own event here in Ho Chi Minh City crystallized, they were joined by Linh Nguyen, founder of Saigon Outcast, who helped film Zhang Zhang’s visit to Mai Nha Children Foundation and provide equipment for the event, and Bruno Senouci, a Mai Nha associate and COO of Drcom Group, who designed the catalogues and helped with the organization of an evening that became “A Night In Monte Carlo.”
Tell us more about how you first discovered Zhang Zhang and ZHANGOMUSIQ?
Shyevin: I first met Zhang Zhang in Penang. She was there at an event jointly curated by Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion and Lisa and Pieter Van Diermen. There had been unexpected flooding in Penang a few weeks before, so all the proceeds were donated to the Tzu Chi Foundation to help those affected. At that, and other events, you pay the price of your ticket—all of which goes to the charity.
Zhang Zhang and ZHANGOMUSIQ are also embarking on a two-year world tour with the support of the government of the Principality of Monaco. They will create charity concerts to raise funds for humanitarian and ecological projects, and help to promote Monaco’s cultural traditions and “Visit Monaco” through philanthropic events.
Bruno: When I was asked to be involved in the event, I listened to some of Zhang Zhang’s music and watched her TEDxTalk in Cannes in 2014, called “Music is a powerful instrument for positive change” and the second one in Marseille last year called “The beauty of transformation.” I was impressed by how seriously she took her role as a social entrepreneur, and her engagement with the Monaco Tourism Board. I felt she had heart, earnestness, and generosity, and her music reflected that.
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What is the secret to getting corporate sponsors on board for a charity event like this?
Zhang Zhang: Knocking on the doors of private banks and enterprises was new and intimidating for me in the beginning. In music schools and conservatories, they don’t train us in the art of marketing or fundraising, and I think these are very important skills for today’s musicians to have.
It’s very clear how much an event is going to cost—how much you’re paying for the room, the lighting, the sound system, and sound engineer. I have a concrete number. So, I’d go to sponsors and ask them if they wanted to take part saying “this is exactly how much it is going to cost.” They didn’t always say “yes”…but many of them did.
Bruno: It’s both who you ask…and how you ask.
How carefully do you consider the motives of the sponsors of your charity events?
Zhang Zhang: I count the results. Whatever the motivation, as long as I get that check, in the end, we have that much to give to people who need it. Then, I don’t have a problem. Of course, they will be seen to have helped—but they will have helped.
TY: Our approach, in this case, was to speak to friends who either owned brands themselves or knew someone who does. We sent out our sponsorship scheme that offered branding packages corresponding to the amount of contribution.
When an interested party reached out, we listened to their branding needs and customized our offer accordingly. While it might sound like these brands care more for their exposure than the cause—and we have come across some companies who we didn’t end up working with for that reason—the ones we partnered with were genuine in their desire to support our cause. They were instrumental in making the event a success.
What is your own philosophy towards giving to charity?
Zhang Zhang: Every little bit can help, and someone’s destiny can be changed by the price we pay for a ticket to a live show of music.
TY: We don’t need to wait until we’re richer—those in need don’t have the luxury of being able to wait. Any action is better than inaction. Small differences can accumulate to become big differences.
Bruno: While it’s true that every contribution helps no matter how large, it’s the time that the organizers have invested that actually made this event possible—rather than simply money. With time and an idea, anyone can make a difference provided they have the will.
Can you describe how “A Night In Monte Carlo” was structured?
TY: It was a 165-person event and guests paid US $170 a seat. However, we preferred to offer tables at which selected patrons could pay for the entire thing and host their own guests there. Our sponsors, like platinum sponsor Bella Wine, made it possible for us to serve premium wines at the gala without putting a burden on event costs. ‘Namo also provided vouchers as door gifts. It was a win-win situation for us all.
Shyevin: We held “silent” and “live” art auctions of works donated by Vin Gallery, and an auction of bottles of wine also donated by Catherine Guo’s Bella Wine. We wanted to balance the two parts of the art auction—often it’s quite chaotic with so many pieces in the silent auction and a confused bidding process. Here we had six live artworks auctioned, thirteen silent auction pieces, and six bottles of wine. What helped the success at this event was working with guests and making pre-arrangements for them to bid for some of the paintings, and the same with the wine.
How do you ensure that philanthropic events are transparent and that all the money goes to the right places?
Zhang Zhang: Personally, I only help small NGOs where one evening’s proceeds goes directly to them and can actually achieve something tangible.
Bruno: For charities, I think that applying principles of professionalism and treating donors and sponsors like shareholders ensures a high level of transparency. Limiting cash payments and sharing financial information publicly helps. I also feel that when ticket proceeds and the funds raised from an auction are transferred directly to the charity organization it helps to make sure the money has gone to the right place.
How did you organize this event while leading very different professional lives?
Shyevin: All this was organized by Whatsapp—we never met. It’s amazing we could make an event only using a messaging app. This is, for example, only the second time I’ve ever met Bruno in person besides at the event.
What would you do differently next time?
Bruno: Social media communication could still improve—to communicate before, during, and after in a more seamless way. As we were all volunteers, there wasn’t one person who acted as the leader. And we didn’t have a centralized platform to keep people informed…
TY: Having a dedicated producer or project manager—a main point of contact and someone to make definitive decisions—would have been a big help. And so would having an effective payment platform. The only way to make a payment directly to Mai Nha was by bank transfer, which is fine if you’re buying a table at our event, but less feasible if you pay individually. The other way is collecting cash, but that creates a lot of uncertainty. We could ask restaurants to front the ticket sales, but it adds a layer of complication and it requires a network.
Also, there are all these apps to make things easier and more efficient for things like guestlist management, like the one that I was testing out—Diobox. But with our guests for this event, they’re not the type of users who will access apps like that. This kind of tool might work well in the States. But not here yet.
How successful do you feel “A Night In Monte Carlo” was?
TY: I’ve been humbled by my fellow organizers’ desire to do good, and I’m proud to have had the opportunity to see the way they work. And, despite Ho Chi Minh City’s rapidly growing wealth and taste for luxury, this shows there are people out there who haven’t forgotten to be kind to fellow humans. This, to me, is a refreshing view of Saigon that we don’t come across often enough.
Shyevin: The quality of the guests that attended, and their generosity was very high. I’ve been to a number of charitable auctions in the past, but here the level of engagement was so intense, with people bidding against each other for lots, which means we were able to raise lots of money for Mai Nha Children Foundation. In the end, we managed to raise around US $47,000.
What dream event would you like to host next?
Bruno: I have two children, so definitely an event that appeals to both the younger and older generations—maybe we should invite Cirque du Soleil next…