Candid’s list of the top five COVID-19 funders includes all the tech leaders you’d expect to see: Jack Dorsey, Google, Gates—and one you probably wouldn’t. ByteDance clocks in at No. 3.
Since the initial outbreak, the Chinese tech company that hosts creative content platforms like TikTok and Helo has racked up nearly $427 million in global cash and in-kind giving to combat the virus. TikTok alone has contributed upward of $250 million.
By way of context, ByteDance’s coronavirus investments fall behind only Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s personal commitment of $1 billion and Google.org’s Contributions Program, which is also closing in on a billion in total giving, including $100 million in grantmaking.
Beijing-based ByteDance is owned by programmer-turned-businessman Zhang Yiming, a 37-year-old Chinese tech billionaire. Zhang’s talent for AI and engaging young people created a startup that the Financial Times now values at up to $100 billion based on secondary markets. Noise about going public comes and goes.
ByteDance’s TikTok, an app that aims to inspire creativity and spark human connection, spread like wildfire during stay-in-place orders, as its mostly young audience shared everything from hair styling tips to synchronized dance routines in 15- to 60-second clips. According to app data firm Sensor Tower, TikTok has been downloaded roughly 1.9 billion times worldwide, including 172 million times in the U.S.
Here are three key takeaways from the response so far:
ByteDance is all over the world, and so is its giving.
ByteDance’s combined COVID-19 efforts prioritize health workers, local communities, businesses, educators and students in its global markets worldwide, giving that covers a lot of bases, in-kind and cash, and hits a lot of countries. Without an organized foundation, all of ByteDance’s giving comes through cash and in-kind contributions.
ByteDance’s global investments proceed at pace in Europe, Indonesia, India and the Philippines, and further east in Japan, Korea and China. Its platforms also make direct contributions in their operating markets. By late January, ByteDance had already partnered with the China Red Cross Foundation to establish the ByteDance Humanitarian Relief Fund for Medical Workers, which has since provided $51 million in support to more than 3,000 frontline workers.
Europe has received investments of $68 million, as well as $6 million through TikTok. India garnered $13 million for medical equipment as well as $1 million from the ByteDance platform Helo, which is currently one of the country’s leading social networking sites.
In-kind support is also notable, including the provision of more than 600,000 face masks around the U.S., and $100 million in ad credits for businesses as they get back on their feet.
TikTok is moving money through three funds.
The team at TikTok sees its $250 million coronavirus commitment as “an opportunity to come together as a community, understand how we are all still connected, and recognize the importance of helping to support, encourage, and even uplift one another.”
To do that, they created three funds: a $150 million TikTok Heroes Relief Fund that funds medical staffing, supplies and hardship relief for healthcare workers; a total $50 million TikTok Community Relief Fund to reach vulnerable populations and match TikTok user giving; and a $50 million TikTok Creative Learning Fund.
So far, the Heroes Relief Fund has donated $15 million to the CDC Foundation to address staffing and supply shortages and $10 million to the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. In late April, GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance also announced a $10 million partnership that will help it respond to the pandemic in lower-income African countries.
In the U.S., the TikTok Community Relief Fund’s food insecurity investments include $5 million to support students and educators through After-School All-Stars, and a total of $4 million to feed hungry families through No Kid Hungry and Meals on Wheels. The fund also supported the creative and service industries with an $8 million commitment to organizations like The Actors Fund COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund and the Restaurant Association Foundation’s Restaurant Employee Relief Fund—both of which advance immediate financial support to people struggling to cover basic living expenses.
Partners have yet to be announced for the Creative Learning Fund, which is engaged in developing and sharing educational content to connect creative communities.
Zhang is backing a Gates Foundation initiative.
In May, Zhang pledged $10 million to the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, an initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation aimed at identifying, scaling and sharing pharmaceutical interventions globally. Initially backed by Wellcome Trust and Mastercard, the work has since attracted investments from other tech leaders, like the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation.
Though he’s reportedly only met the Gateses “in passing,” Zhang has said he appreciates their systematic approach to philanthropy, and “sees them as an inspiration for all entrepreneurs fortunate enough to be in a position to give back to the community.”
If Zhang and ByteDance didn’t have our attention before, they certainly do now.