Shaky foundations

By Zhao Yusha Source:Global Times Published: 2016/8/29 19:38:39

Chinese NGOs struggle to go global due to funding, staffing and policy hurdles

Pan Shiyi (far right) and Zhang Xin (far left), founders of property developer SOHO China, sign an agreement to provide scholarships worth $15 million to Chinese students from poor backgrounds studying at Harvard University on July 24, 2014. Photo: IC

As China's level of development increases, more and more of its domestic charities and NGOs are looking to help other countries on their path to greater living standards.

The China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation (CFPA) launched the Paukphaw Scholarship Project in Yangon, Myanmar in early August, aiming to help Myanmese students from poor backgrounds go to college, Wu Peng, chief of the CFPA's Department for International Development, told the Global Times on Thursday.

By helping people in foreign countries, these foundations can improve China's international image, as they are able to be more effective than governments in some areas, Yang Fuqiang, senior advisor on climate and energy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the Global Times on Thursday.

The Paukphaw Scholarship Project will provide 1,700 yuan ($255) annual scholarships to 600 freshman university students this year in Myanmar, according to Wu. 

The 600 students are attending the Yangon University of Economics, East Yangon University, West Yangon University and Dagon University.

"The number of students involved in our project will increase to 1,000 over the next four years," said Wu.

One reason the foundation is choosing to help college students in Myanmar specifically is that almost half of the country's students are held back in their higher education by funding difficulties, Wu explained.

Wu said the other reason is that the CFPA wants to increase their influence on the world outside China as part of their 'going global' strategy.

In 2015, the CFPA was formally registered with Myanmar's Ministry of Home Affairs to operate within the country as an international NGO, said the CFPA's official website.

During the past decade, the CFPA has raised 100 million yuan for projects in 15 countries and regions, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

"It is difficult for Chinese foundations to operate in other countries. It took us almost ten years to finally establish our first office in a foreign country," said Wu.

Promoting aboard

Some have questioned why these foundations are eager to expand abroad when there are many people in need living in China, said an employee from the China Soong Ching Ling Foundation.

"Official bodies and businesses have been the main ones trying to 'go global,' while the influence of Chinese foundations and NGOs remains very small," said Yang.

In fact, these foundations and NGOs are very effective at promoting China abroad, as they represent civil society which makes them less political, and the aid recipients are more willing to accept them, said Yang 

Little experience

However, Chinese foundations still face significant challenges in their attempts to begin operating overseas.

Few Chinese foundations and organizations have overseas operations due to their lack of experience, small number of talented workers and the ambiguous national policy toward this practice, said foundation workers.

According to the China Charity Development Report (2015), as of August 31, 2014, only 37 out of 4,005 Chinese foundations had oversea projects, and only 27 of these projects had provided funds for other countries and regions.

What's more, only 5 of these foundations had sent personnel to other countries and only two had overseas offices, said the report.

"We have two offices in Nepal and Myanmar, and they welcomed us when we launched our offices there," said Wu, adding that the only reason why few Chinese foundations have offices overseas is because of government policy.

"Previously there was no policy to tell these organizations how to establish their oversea offices, so we had no idea where to register," said Wu.

On August 21, the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council published a guideline to reform the management of social organizations so as to promote their "healthy and orderly" development, Xinhua reported.

Wu noted that though things will become more regulated with the new guideline, the lack of clear policy guidance is not the only reason for the scarcity of Chinese foundations operating in other countries.

It is very difficult for these foundations to raise money.

"They have no fixed financial resources, no fixed projects, no personnel in target countries and even no office," said the anonymous employee.

Moreover, Yang mentioned that Chinese foundations lack experience compared to influential international foundations.

According to Wu, Myanmar needs huge funds in agriculture, medical care and education, but since the CFPA have little experience regarding the first two, they can only invest in education.

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