August 26, 2010
Despite some of the recent concerns about restrictions on NGOs in China, there are some important trends in China that civil society watchers should keep an eye on.
One trend that has been written about here, and elsewhere, is the rise of private foundations and their growing influence in China. A number of the more prominent private foundations like Narada and Youcheng have taken the lead in supporting grassroots NGOs, and encouraging the government and GONGOs to support grassroots NGOs.
Another trend that has been not been as visible or discussed is the rise of social networks. I hesitate to use the term, NGO networks, because these networks are generally quite informal, varied and fluid in their composition. NGOs and NGO leaders are an important component, but these networks also include individual activists and individuals from GONGOs, mass organizations and even the government. In the aftermath of the Wenchuan earthquake, we saw many networks form in response to the relief effort. We also see networks forming in the environmental, HIV/AIDS and foundation sector.
A third trend is the outsourcing of government services to NGOs in the area of community development, migrant education, poverty alleviation, and industry and commerce. This trend is important not just because it provides new sources of revenue for NGOs, but also because it may evolve into a more institutionalized channel by which NGOs can participate in the provision of public goods, and in shaping public policy.