By Caroline Neligan, Director Partnerships and Development, GuideStar International and TechSoup Global
I recently travelled to China to participate on the International Advisory Board of the Ci Yuan (China Philanthropy Incubator) programme led by the US nonprofit group Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), in partnership with several Chinese and international organisations. Ci Yuan, known in English as the ‘China Philanthropy Incubator’, brings together influential Chinese and international representatives of the business, nonprofit, foundation, and government communities to advance both the quantity and quality of social investment in China.
In essence, there are 3 strands to the 3 year programme:
- Building strong NGO-Corporate partnerships
- Promoting civil society transparency & accountability
- Fostering the foundation/philanthropic sector
The project was launched in Beijing on the 17th September and the International and Chinese Advisory Boards met at the same time.
Some Impressions of China’s Growing Civil Society Sector
This is a timely initiative. As China’s economy continues to grow, providing new opportunities for many, it is also generating increasing inequality between those that benefit from the booming economy and those that don’t.
The Sichuan earthquake in May 2008 is seen as a catalysing event when CSOs and philanthropists came to the fore to help those affected. It follows that the importance of civil society and a responsive philanthropic sector is gaining increasing attention both from the private sector but also from the government that recognises that it is unable to meet all the needs of all of its citizens. With this increased influence however, come demands for accountability and transparency of these organisations, from the government, but also from the public whose support these organisations also seek.
Many wealthy Chinese are aware of these growing social issues and are establishing civil society organisations (CSOs) to tackle the problems, or looking to donate to others already working on them. Ci Yuan considers its 3 programme areas to be key (although not complete) building blocks required for a strong foundation for philanthropy in China.
Against this background and focus on the growing influence of civil society, ways to promote giving, and build strong relationships with the growing foundation sector, business and government, it was perhaps natural that the corresponding demands for transparency and accountability were addressed as well as the barriers to transparency and incentives to encourage reporting.
China Charity Donation and Information Centre (CCDIC)
While in Beijing, I was given the opportunity to meet with The China Charity Donation and Information Centre (CCDIC) to discuss their work on CSO disclosure and to share our experience with GuideStar.
Established in 2008, and led by Peng Jianmei, who has extensive experience working in media, business and the philanthropy sector in China, CCDIC is a non profit organisation supported by, and working closely with, the Ministry of Civil Affairs. Its mission is to promote effectiveness and transparency of Chinese CSOs and of the sector as a whole. CCDIC has recently undertaken an apparently comprehensive mapping of transparency initiatives and reporting/information services both domestically and internationally as well as a needs assessment for Chinese civil society. They have developed a transparency and reporting standard that they will publish in October.
From these initial meetings it seemed that Peng Jianmei and her team share many of the values that we hold at TechSoup Global and GuideStar International, with respect to the value of CSOs for society and the importance of finding ways to encourage and enable them to describe their work to their many supporters and stakeholders, and to promote a holistic view and understanding of their goals, activities, achievements and needs. This means viewing reporting as more than filing a financial account and expecting people to assess the worth of the organisation and its work from this information alone. I hope that we will be able to build on these initial conversations in the future.
Reasons for Optimism
The people I met during this visit have a passion for social change and to ensuring that philanthropy in the country develops in strategic and innovative ways. The government and its GONGOs (government organised NGOs) are playing a key role in the transition from an all embracing Party State, used to controlling decision-making, to one where other sectors play an important role. This will surely not be a straight and easy path and there are obstacles to overcome however, this is an important time for Chinese civil society and philanthropy, and it would seem from the mood of the meeting, one of general optimism.