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The Role of Chinese NGOs for China’s Opening Policy(3)

AF: How do you deal with resistance in project and programme implementation? How flexible are you in meeting new demands of your partner organisations? What kind of demands would you not meet and thus consider ending the project or programme cooperation?

HHM: This is fundamentally a problem of the design phase of a project, the feasibility study. If mistakes are made in this phase, a lot of problems will emerge at a later stage. If the feasibility study is being done properly, you will see less problems. The key in this stage is to consider the wish of the donors, the absorbing capabilities of the beneficiaries as well as the capabilities of the implementers. These three factors are essential. The three pillars of donors and donor organisations, beneficiaries and implementers are often at odds with each other.
For example some donor organisations have very demanding requirements which implementing organisations can not meet and recipient organisations can not live up to either. In such cases you see contradictions. In such situations implementing organisations need to tell donors that only some but not all of their ideals can be realised. This way the contradiction can be solved. Implementers need to avoid giving the impression that they lack capabilities. Because if you do not have the capability, donors will certainly not agree to support you, and this would be a kind of extreme phenomenon.

So to me the key is to study the relationship between donors, beneficiaries and implementing organisations. If all are pulling in different directions it will be impossible to accomplish anything. In such cases you may have no option but to stop the project or not even start it, which would be another extreme option.

Most times it is possible to reconcile the various positions. It is key to talk frankly about the existing problems and the wish of the donors. If there is a gap between the two we need to seek common objectives. Alternatively everyone needs to compromise, both the donors and recipients. This way the gap can be decreased. I consider this the only way out. If none of this works, it is going to be rather painful. It means that everyone’s efforts are to no avail. In such situations it is necessary for donors, beneficiaries and implementers to compromise.

AF: This is what you referred to as the run-in period (mohe).

HHM: That is right.

AF: But are most foreign organisations willing to engage in this kind of run-in period? Or are there some organisations which consider this process too cumbersome and thus stop their engagement?

HHM: The run-in period is key to project design and the search for cooperation partners. So for example we may find you a great cooperation partner in Jiangxi province, but the one in Sichuan is not living up to your expectations. So the choice of partners is very important. If this kind of preparatory work is not done well, you will not be able to achieve much at a later stage; that is for sure. So the key is to make the right choices. The feasibility study is also very important. It is also important to be very professional. You need to be able to convince people, no matter whether it is in rural or urban communities or whether you are speaking to ordinary people. They all need to be convinced that what you are doing is worthwhile.

AF: Let us talk more generally about outreach on the national and local levels. You mentioned that the whole sector has shifted from a uni- directional relationship to a two-way relationship. Would you mind elaborating on this a bit?

HHM: What you are referring to is indeed very intriguing. When we as organisers think about scaling up we think about the feasibility of a project. We think about whether or not it is exemplary. If a project is not exemplary, we think we should not do it. If it is exemplary, we will do it. Let me give you an example. We did a project on straw vaporization. Straw vaporization is very common in minority regions. The costs, however, are very high. The refining process of refining straw into pellets for heating brings pollution with it. Of course there is also the by-product of gas, which allows ordinary people to use it. But the problem is that straw vaporization can not be done everywhere due to resource constraints. Also the process of straw refinement brings pollution with it. The third issue is that it is costly. In some areas it can work very well, but it will not work in places without straw, where there is insufficient money or technology available. So these kind of factors can influence the feasibility of a project.