AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 39

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Session 39: Insider Insights into the Changing Environment for Civil Society Development in China - generously supported by the Ford Foundation

Organizer: Xiulan Zhang, Beijing Normal University, China

Chair: Dali Yang, University of Chicago, USA

Recent restrictions imposed on Chinese civil society organizations (CSO) that depend on foreign sources of funding, and new government measures compelling foreign donors to change their practices in supporting Chinese CSOs, draw attention to the historical role of foreign organizations in the development of civil society in China. Do these measures mark an abrupt reversal of recent trends in civil society development more broadly? Or do they merely signal the diminishing importance of foreign funding? What does China’s own rapidly changing domestic environment mean for the development of civil society? What prospects and challenges does this new environment present for the development of civil society in China? China is at a crossroads. In 2010 GDP per capita GDP reached $4000, placing China in the ranks of middle income-per-capita countries and, in aggregate, pushing China into the ranks of the world’s leading economies. The country’s emergence as a global economic power heralds a shift of focus among Chinese policymakers. If the current path of asymmetrical development continues then already serious inequalities will become intractable. Many issues in the development process need to be addressed at policy level including a) the role of governance reform and its relationship to sustainable development b) the challenges of balancing competing economic and social interests c) the need to redefine the relationship between state and citizen d) the need to balance direction from above with participation from below and e) increased demand for public services. This panel brings together a few insiders (professionals, policy makers and academics) to present their views on current trends, issues, debates, and innovations surrounding the changing domestic environment for civil society development in China. The panel will focus on the key issue of resourcing CSO development, because one obstacle which may block the development of the non-government sector is lack of stable funding sources. Professor Wang Zhenyao will discuss the changing policy environment and the growth of China’s domestic philanthropy sector. Mr. Gao Guangshen will speak on the changing patterns of resource mobilization among Chinese CSOs. Dr. Zhuang Ailing will focus on the support organizations that are helping to build professional practices among emerging CSOs. Professor Zhang Xiulan will discuss the broader paradigm shifts affecting civil society development in terms of the policy environment, new financing mechanisms such as government purchase of services and domestic philanthropy, and new trends towards professionalization and leadership development among CSOs.

Welfare trends and the role of civil society: a service delivery model
Xiulan Zhang, Beijing Normal University, China

China is at a transitional moment in its development where social policy is being driven by economic factors. As China is moving into a middle-income country, with a rapidly aging population, with massive labour mobility and dynamic urbanization, and with increasing inequalities on all sides, the challenge for China’s policy-makers is to maintain growth, reduce income gaps, increase domestic consumption, and provide welfare benefits to people who are unable to access, for one reason or another, the available socio-economic welfare system. There are signs that civil society will develop in China as an advocate of rights of entitlement in relation to provision of social services. Civil society can deliver policy to parts of society which neither government administration, at whatever level, nor the private sector, can reach, or which the private sector does not find it profitable to reach. Civil society organisations are active in combating social exclusion and poverty, as well as all forms of discrimination, and are working among those people who are most in need or face difficulties that require special or individual approaches or intense support. Civil society development in relation to rights and services is not without challenges of its own. Neil Gilbert’s model of a transforming welfare state that adopts an “enabling” approach of promoting labour force participation, involving NPO and private organizations in services delivery, presents for China the challenge of how to thicken the glue of civil society without diluting the role of government. This paper presents empirical findings on the role of Civil Society as service providers in China’s welfare regime, based on China’s first economic census (2004) in addition to the CSO registration database maintained by the Ministry of Civil Affairs, and data collected on CSOs by the researcher. It describes the changing profile of China’s CSOs over the past thirty years and the growth of financing mechanisms from development aid, to service fees, to government purchases of services, to domestic philanthropic funds. It maps out donations and distributions of philanthropic funds. The paper also discusses issues such as the role of international funding in relation to China’s CSO development, and the professionalization and service sector growth based on an enabling policy framework. The paper argues that civil society can become part of the landscape of social policy, with implementation evolving around the “Four P’s” – Public, Private, Philanthropy, and Partnership.

Turning point in China’s philanthropy
Zhenyao Wang, Beijing Normal University, China

Chinese philanthropy is at a crossroads. Following the Wenchuan Earthquake, in March 2008, three million volunteers stepped forward to assist, hundreds of millions of individuals offered over Y100 billion in donations, and many small CSOs flocked to the area to lend a hand. Since then the situation has become more fluid. Problems of effectiveness, feedback, and communications that could affect any organization are frequently highlighted in an environment highly critical of do-gooder non-governmental organizations. If these problems and attitudes are not addressed then the prospect of philanthropy maintaining anything near the rate of growth shown in 2008 are slim. On one set of assumptions, we could see Chinese philanthropy maintaining steady growth, with annual donations in the order of Y50-100 billion pa. On another set of assumptions, resourcing could be maintained at a level of around Y30 billion pa. In a worst-case scenario, philanthropy could show serious regression over time. This paper highlights some of the problems that attract attention, including poor service quality, over-politicization, over-moralization, and a tendency towards polarized thinking on the part of philanthropy and CSOs. It also highlights ways forward, including the need to draw on foreign experience, to open new international training and exchange opportunities, to undertake combined theoretical and experimental research, and to enhance international academic exchanges and dialogues.

Resource mobilization for civil society development in China
Guangshen Gao, Independent Scholar, China

The patterns of resource mobilization for CSOs in China are changing rapidly. Many “traditional donors” including international foundations, bilateral organizations, multilateral organizations, and international organizations such as the World Bank and UN agencies, have ceased or are in the process of phasing out support for Chinese social development. “New donors” in China’s own government, philanthropy, and Corporate Social Responsibility sectors are increasingly important sources for fund raising and project support for Chinese CSOs. Drawing on information collected from grass root CSOs, this paper focuses on some of the challenges presented by this transition from traditional to new donors, some of them arising from differences among donors themselves, including 1) Traditional donors have relatively deep understanding of civil society and social development and new donors have very limited knowledge of civil society 2) Traditional donors tend to support rights-based programs while new donors normally focus on direct service provision 3) Traditional donors understand the importance of supporting CSO institutional development and capacity building and new donors decline to cover institutional costs and overheads 4) Traditional donors support proposals and innovative ideas from within communities whilooe new donors prefer to contract “vendors” to carry out their strategic programs 5) Traditional donors use the language of “development” and new donors use the language of the “market”. Chinese CSOs need to understand these differences and their implications for CSO governance, programming, communications and strategy setting when planning their for resource mobilization. Efforts must be made to influence, or “educate”, new donors to provide more effective support to civil society development. Two specific initiatives (“Hand to Hand, Heart to Heart”, the biggest CSR project in China; and “From Success to Significance, China Philanthropy Salon”, a donor education program) will be introduced in this panel. Lessons derived from these initiatives will be shared and discussed.

Support organizations in the development of nonprofit sector in China: functions, challenges, impact and trend
Ailing Zhuang, Independent Scholar, China

Non-profit organizations have developed rapidly since their initial emergence in 1981. By 2009, 440,000 CSOs were legally registered as nonprofit entities at the national and local level of the Civil Affairs administration (excluding non-profit corporate registrations). CSOs have been actively involved in almost every aspect of social service including education, health, poverty reduction, welfare, disaster relief and reconstruction, environmental work, legal aid, arts, sports, research, labor, and international exchange. Although now largely viewed as positive forces for social development, by the public and among many government officials, the CSO sector still confronts many challenges in the process of development. Around the year 2000, a new type of CSO support organization emerged. These did not provide direct services nor did they implement programs. Instead, they supported CSOs on the frontlines with funds, technical assistance, professional services, and other resources. They are called Support Organizations (SOs) and provide different types of support: giving funds, doing capacity building, incubating grassroots CSOs, researching CSOs, providing legal or financial services, and organizing CSO networks, among other activities. Although small in number, Support Organizations have played an active and in some respects unique role in helping the grassroots CSOs improve their capacity and accountability. This paper traces the efforts that Support Organizations have made to assist grassroots CSOs, identifies some of the challenges they have confronted, assesses their impact and speculates on future trends in their development.