In Shanghaiist’s Philanthropist feature, we highlight individuals and groups doing interesting things to make the world a little bit of a better place. This week we talk to an individual – a foreigner – who won the Model Citizen Award of his district in Shanghai for his contributions to the local community.
We all say we need to do more, make a difference, change the world – but, for most of us, saying and doing are two very different things. However, as one young individual named Robert Hartmann shows us, doing with a capital ‘D’ is the only part that matters when it comes to making a difference. Hartmann is only 25 years old, but his contributions to the local community lead him to be awarded the Model Citizen Award in 2009.
Changning District Council’s Model Citizen Award is given one winning candidate who is found through residents’ selection and is based on outstanding contributions that an individual, in this case Hartmann, has made towards social and cultural developments in Shanghai.
Robert Hartmann left his home in Switzerland to explore the world when he turned 19, and first landed in Shanghai in 2005. His first course of action: Hartmann immediately enrolled at Fudan University to study Mandarin and is now fluent – a skill which has been vital for his work and progress within his local community in Shanghai.
He said, “These days when people tell me I speak good Chinese, they sometimes ask if I grew up here. In some ways this is true.”
Hartmann can be described as a fully fledged member of his Changning District community here in Shanghai, and he’s an asset at that! He adopts stray animals, works on maintaining the local gardens and gives a hand to any bits and bobs that may need doing in the area.
But what he is most respected and known for is the help he gave to one man in his community: Mr Yu. After an occupational accident left Yu unable to work or support his family, Hartmann helped raise the money needed to get Mr Yu an artificial limb. Since then Mr Yu has been able to run a successful bicycle repair shop in Changning District.
Hartmann also dedicated time and energy into helping the victims of 2008’s Wenchuan earthquake and is also currently involved in the expat run charity and networking organisation BEAN. He regularly attends BEAN events and helps out with projects such as the Dental Education Program where volunteers educate children in migrant schools about dental hygiene.
He’s taken on so much that, last September, all his efforts won him the Model Citizen Award, much to the delight of Hartmann’s local community and family. His certificate reads ‘Mr Hartmann has harmoniously integrated into the community. He won high praises by the neighbours with favorable behavior such as caring for the environment and helping others. He is young, handsome and speaks fluent Chinese, becoming a member of the new generation of this international metropolis’.
For those who think that Hartmann is abnormally special though, he admits he isn’t – like so many of us, when he first came to Shanghai he was… somewhat unfocused. “You can imagine that at 19 when I first came to the city I was blinded by the bright lights and dove right into the party. Shanghai did not get the nickname ‘whore of the orient’ for no reason.”
So what’s his advice? He explains, “If you ask me what I say to other young people. I think that it’s important to find a balance. Charity is a great way to get back in balance.”
Hartmann finishes our interview by quoting one of the greatest, most respected men that has ever lived. “Be the change you want to see in the world”, Mahatma Gandhi. From someone who changed the world, to one young man that’s changed individual lives, we should all feel inspired to make a difference, no matter how big or how small.
He encourages everyone to make contact with local charities like BEAN and get involved. “I find that that the people I meet at Bean events are very nice. They have strong sense of integrity and do “walk the talk”‘. Not only is BEAN a great way to do something amazing, but clearly also a good opportunity to make friends and network with other like-minded expat individuals in Shanghai.”