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What have Overseas NGOs brought to China?

Author: HUANG Haoming
Translator:Workgroup of China Development Brief
Proofreader:XU Xiaoxiao
On July 25, the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Public Security and Civil Affairs co-hosted the Overseas NGO Forum in Shanghai, so as to better understand the development of overseas NGOs in China. Suggestions on improving their services and governance were collected. Guo Shengkun, a member of the State Councilor and Minister of Public Security, made a statement claiming that “the Chinese government highly appreciates the positive role overseas NGOs play, and welcomes and supports their friendly exchanges and cooperation with China. Additionally, the government will provide better services and governance for overseas NGOs, including more benefits and security and better environment.” I have been working at the China Association for NGO Cooperation (CANGO) for 18 years. From previous experiences in dealing with more than 200 overseas NGOs, I have had much dialogue, conflict, communication and cooperation with the staff of overseas NGOs. There was a certain period of time when I lost confidence in dealing with overseas NGOs, but the objective comments on the impact of Overseas NGOs in China given by state councilor Guo Shengkun, as a representative of the Chinese government, greatly encouraged those who cooperate with overseas NGOs and enhanced our sense of responsibility and belief in this mission. So what have overseas NGOs brought to China?
Friends often ask me whether overseas NGOs have a significant impact on the development of Chinese social organizations (namely, NGOs). After 18 years of practice, I feel that overseas NGOs have promoted the standardization of Chinese NGOs’ operations, capacity building and professional talents nurturing. Overseas NGOs also play an important role in guiding and promoting the development of Chinese civil society, by making Chinese NGOs more transparent, self-disciplined, and providing them with more opportunities for exchange and cooperation. This means that the gap between Chinese and overseas NGOs has been narrowed, and they have developed a platform to foster dialogue and cooperation.
In my opinion, overseas NGOs do not merely bring financial support, but rather strengthen China’s soft power. Take poverty alleviation as an example, overseas NGOs have impacted China significantly and have played an active role in the Chinese government’s hard work in eliminating poverty. The World Bank has appreciated Chinese government’s contribution in poverty alleviation, and the UN also praised the Chinese government’s work in achieving its Millennium development goals between 2000 and 2015. Experts have estimated that Chinese civil society has contributed 20% to China’s poverty alleviation. The contributions of overseas NGOs shouldn’t be neglected either. This contribution has taken a number of forms.
First of all, their financial support has promoted China’s poverty alleviation. Generally speaking, overseas NGOs’ financial support has always been an important part of China’s reform and opening up. Taking CANGO as an example, by December 2014 it had set up programs and cooperation with 181 overseas NGOs and international multi-lateral/bilateral organizations, among which 97 organizations from 19 countries/regions have provided 815 million RMB to China via CANGO, alongside matching funds of 545 million RMB from domestic sources. Cooperation projects between CANGO and overseas NGOs have benefitted 118 poverty-stricken regions and counties, covering 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities of China. 238 of their charity programs have benefited 6.6 million people in need of help. According to the Nanjing Amity Foundation’s data, between 1985 and 2011, the Amity Foundation had cooperated with 25 American NGOs and received a total sum of 200 million RMB from American NGOs.
Secondly, overseas NGOs’ technological support has brought in new modes of poverty alleviation. As is known to all, the biggest advantage enjoyed by NGOs is innovation. When cooperating with Chinese civil society, overseas NGOs have developed new mechanisms and models for poverty alleviation. For example, the Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) has been successfully applied in several cases to assist the poor. The new concept microcredit has helped millions of farmers to escape from poverty. Liang Dan, former president of CANGO, once remarked that “the practice and promotion of microcredit have fundamentally solved the problems concerning door-to-door poverty alleviation and the efficient use of funds. It has fostered a sustainable poverty-alleviation method, and once more has manifested how innovation can contribute to economic development and social progress.” Chen Taiyong, from the Heifer Project International, has also told me that since they started working in China, the number of households which benefitted directly from their projects increased from 104 in 1984 to 8658 in 2014. During these 30 years, they altogether supported 110,682 rural households and played an important and active role in promoting poverty-elimination in rural areas.