I’m at a conference focused on Charity and Education in China, so this week we’ll be focusing on these two issues.
One of the biggest misconceptions in the west about China is that “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” is anything like “Socialism”. From the 1970’s China has maintained only the State owned enterprises, which are incredibly profitable, but has done away with most of the social programs.
For nearly thirty years many of these holes grew larger, and are now reaching a point that is beyond rescue even for the party. The Central Government has mandated a “Harmonious Society”, but has left the details to local governments. So in the last ~5 years these gov’t bodies have encouraged the growth of a civil society, finally admitting that there were many needs left un-addressed by the party. Now NGO projects are sprouting up all over China, some like beautiful flowers, and a few like dangerous weeds (more on that tomorrow). These NGO’s are often very small, many employing only 2 or 3 full time staff. China has a total of around 350,000 of these organizations (America has over 2 million), but many lack the structure and management to have much of an impact on their towns/cities.
Popular efforts include: improving the environment, caring for the elderly, helping disabled people, and preserving culture. You’ll notice that most of these topics are ones that I highlighted last week when talking about the gov’ts efforts beyond GDP to promote stability.
These NGO’s are one of the bright spots I see for China’s future, and I would like to highlight two of the more exciting projects I have recently learned about:
One was an environmental project aimed at cleaning up the Huai River. The group realized that even though there was a lot of garbage, and other pollutants in the river, the majority of the problem was a single MSG factory. So after registering with all of the relevant departments, they made contact with this company. Through their own research they discovered that many of the waste products could be converted into fertilizers and sold. Once they presented this to the company, who realized that this was an obvious win for themselves, a problem was quickly solved that the gov’t had been unwilling to address.
The other project was started by a graduate who was interested in special education. He realized that for the most part, schools for disabled children did little to educate the families about their children’s needs. His new NGO provides in home care for these children, allowing the parents some help, but also teaching the family new ways of meeting the challenges their children face. His project is currently being reviewed for a grant from the US gov’t, and I sincerely hope that they recognize the value of his work (for further reading check out my post: The plight of the mentally disabled and China wasn’t built for wheelchairs).
One of the most important developments is that NGO’s are becoming increasingly transparent, which may eventually convince the gov’t to open its books as well.
China’s NGO’s are starting at a crucial time, and are benefiting from relaxed standards, and increased funding as local gov’ts scramble to address the rapidly changing society.
Tomorrow we’ll be looking at a few of the challenges NGO’s face in China.