Thursday, January 27, 2011

Good news for 2011: Starting up China Development Brief (English)

January 27, 2011

I’m pleased to announce that we’ll be starting up China Development Brief (English) this year.  The mission of CDB (English) is to improve understanding and cooperation between the international community and China’s growing nonprofit and philanthropic community by providing authoritative and timely English-language coverage of China’s civil society sector.
To achieve this goal, CDB (English) is partnering with the Beijing Civil Society Development Research Centre which publishes the Chinese-language CDB and maintains a website,   The content for CDB (English) will come from translated reports from CDB, the Chinese media, and Chinese academics, as well as translations of government laws and regulations governing the civil society sector.
After that rather long-winded announcement, a bit of explanation is in order here.  In my first post for this blog, written in October of 2009,  I mentioned that I'd been thinking of starting up the English-language China Development Brief (CDB) that was closed down in 2007, but found the environment was not quite right and decided to start writing this blog instead.  For those who are not familiar with CDB, it had been providing some of the most authoritative and timely English-language coverage of development and civil society issues in China over the previous decade.  Since its closure in 2007, the civil society sector in China has been undergoing substantial and complex changes, some of which I've discussed in this blog, yet there has been little English-language coverage aside from occasional media reports, and certainly no informed and sustained coverage.  The Chinese-language CDB, which is a spin-off of the English-language CDB, has however continued to operate and provide quality, detailed coverage on the civil society sector in China.
A few months ago, I decided to give it another go by approaching the Chinese-language CDB about starting up an English-language service.  Not knowing what to expect, I was a bit surprised to find my proposal welcomed enthusiastically by the CDB staff. 
In the coming months, we will be applying for funding and working on developing a website, a pilot newsletter and a special issue on New Trends in Philanthropy and Civil Society in China.  I’m looking to use a “crowd-sourcing” model that relies on communities of volunteer translators to translate the content for the website, newsletter and special issue.  More on that later. 
I’m excited about working with CDB on this project and hope it lays the foundation for high-quality, timely, authoritative yet accessible coverage of China’s civil society sector.  I’m convinced that the time is now ripe to start this project.  Civil society in China has encountered some setbacks, but most informed observers that I know, myself included, have been impressed by the gains made by civil society organizations over the past two years, and we are hoping that those gains build momentum over the next few years.  Whatever the trends maybe, CDB (English) plans to be around to cover them.
With wishes for a Happy Year of the Rabbit,
Shawn Shieh, Founding Editor, China Development Brief (English)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Two More Additions to the Best of 2010 for China's NGOs

After posting The Best and Worst of 2010 for China's NGOs, I received two emails adding a few other items to Best of 2010:

The Red Ribbon Forum in Beijing in December of 2010 was the government's second ever meeting with NGOs on human rights and HIV/AIDS.  The Forum was a productive and lively discussion. At the meeting, UNAIDS for the first time publicly called for compensation for victims of China's blood disaster, and for the release of imprisoned AIDS activist Tian Xi.

Tian Xi was also named one of Housing Works' 5 AIDS heroes of 2010:

In October, Beijing Yirenping Center, an anti-discrimination grass root NGO, was accepted as a voting member by the World Hepatitis Alliance. It is the the second voting member from China and the only Chinese grass root NGO that was accepted as a voting member by the WHA.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Best and Worst of 2010 for China's NGOs

January 13, 2011

I generally avoid these kinds of lists, but then got emails from two different people in the NGO community, each with their own list of what had happened in 2010 that were complete opposites.  One listed all good things, and the other listed all the bad things.  This led me to construct my own list that seeks to reconcile these very opposite views of what happened in China's civil society sector in 2010.  The reality is that if you combined both of these lists, you wouldn't be far off the mark.  The year 2010 was truly a schizophrenic year for Chinese civil society with rapid progress in the Chinese philanthropic sector, but setbacks for grassroots NGOs in other sectors.  If 2008 was seen by many as the “Year of the NGO” then 2010 could be said to be the “Year of Philanthropy”.  It was (with apologies to Charles Dickens) the “best of times and the worst of times” for China’s civil society. 
Following are some (and I stress “some” because this list is by no means exhaustive) of the best and worst moments of 2010 for China’s civil society.

The Best of 2010

APRIL – after the Yushu earthquake in Qinghai, a number of NGOs participated in the earthquake relief, including NGO networks that had formed in response to the Wenchuan earthquake, as well as new networks.

APRIL – The Green Choice Alliance, a group of 34 grassroots NGOs, among them Friends of Nature, Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs and Green Beagle, released an investigative report on heavy metal pollution from the information and technology sector.  The Alliance is yet another sign of the growth and maturation of China’s civil society networks.

JUNE -- The Beijing Normal University Philanthropy Research Institute was established with funding from Jet Li’s One Foundation.  In a move that signals how much progress civil society has made in China, Wang Zhenyao resigned his post as a government official in the Ministry of Civil Affairs to head the Institute.  The Institute will provide training and counseling to promote professional philanthropic talen in China.

JULY -- The China Foundation Center was established after a decade of effort led by private foundation leaders such as Naruda’s Xu Yongguang.   The CFC is modeled after the U.S. Foundation Center and seeks to strengthen transparency and accountability in China’s foundation sector, and thereby strengthen public trust in philanthropy, by providing a database on foundations' financials, activities, and performance. 

In response to public dissatisfaction with government restrictions on fundraising for the Yushu earthquake (see the Worst of 2010 below), the Ministry of Civil Affairs established a special office to collect public opinions. With more than 420 million internet users and more than 805 mobile phone users in China, this mechanism may be an opportunity for social media to shape policy making in China.

SEPTEMBER -- The Social Innovation Forum in Shanghai—also called the New Philanthropy Carnival—was organized by the China Social Entrepreneur Foundation (or YouChange) to encourage new thinking on addressing China’s social, economic, and environmental challenges. The Shanghai municipal government was one of the first local governments to invest in and support social innovation centers in China.

SEPTEMBER -- Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) launched CiYuan, an initiative that builds innovative, cross-sector partnerships to enhance the value of social investment in China. Working with the Taproot Foundation, BSR will introduce a skills-based volunteerism model in China to leverage corporate human capital to build NGO capacity.

SEPTEMBER --Bill Gates and Warren Buffett held a dialogue with Chinese billionaires about investing their money in philanthropy.  The dialogue generated a nationwide discussion on how China’s growing class of wealthy entrepreneurs in China can make social investments and become strategic philanthropists. 

About this time, news also came out about the Shenzhen experiment to make it easier for NGOs to register.  Jet Li’s One Foundation was able to use the more liberal rules to register as a public foundation (see below).   These experiments have been going on for some time and in different localities for different types of social organizations, and illustrate just how complex and fluid the regulatory environment for nonprofits is in China. 

OCTOBER -- Liu Xiaobo receives the Nobel Peace Prize.

JANUARY 2011  (Ok, technically not a 2010 event but close enough!)  The Jet Li One Foundation was the first private foundation to be legally registered as a public fundraising foundation in Shenzhen— yet another sign that the government is loosening its control over philanthropy.  

The Worst of 2010

FEBRUARY -- the Ministry of Education issued a notice asking all Chinese universities to not work with Oxfam HK and other international NGOs that seek to recruit college volunteers for their projects. 

MARCH (This story did not come out in the media until March, 2010 when these new regulations went into effect but other sources say the regulation was first issued in December of 2009) -- the State Administration of Foreign Exchange issued a new set of regulations that made it more difficult for Chinese enterprises to receive donations from foreign organizations by asking for notarization and additional paperwork.  These regulations have especially made life harder for grassroots NGOs registered as businesses who are receiving funds from international donors.

MARCH – Peking University announced that it was disassociating itself from the well-known NGO, Peking University Women’s Legal Aid Center.  The Center continues to operate and has registered as both a law firm and an enterprise.

MARCH -- NGOCN (NGO Development and Exchange Network), a Kunming-based NGO that serves as a information clearinghouse and training center for grassroots NGOs was closed down, supposedly for encouraging NGOs to participate in activities to combat the drought in southwestern China.  It has since reemerged as

MAY -- Since January 14, 2010, Beijing Aizhixing Institute, one of China’s foremost HIV/AIDS NGOs has been investigated and harassed by numerous government departments, and faced difficulty in getting its funds.  In May, saying he could no longer tolerate the harassment, Wan Yanhai, founder of Beijing Aizhixing, left for the U.S. with his family.

SUMMER – Authorities sought to restrict NGO participation in the Yushu earthquake, asking a network of Qinghai NGOs to disband, and restricting NGOs from fundraising for the earthquake.  The Ministry of Civil Affairs asked 15 national-level foundations to turn the relief funds they had raised over to relevant government agencies so the funds could be better managed.

NOVEMBER – One the eve of World AIDS Day 2010, another AIDS organization, Ai Yuan, “Beijing Loving Source Information Consulting Center" announced that it was closing its doors because of tax audits by Beijing tax authorities.

NOVEMBER – Liang Congjie, founder of Friends of Nature and one of the leaders of the first generation of China’s NGO leaders, passed away in Beijing.

DECEMBER – A number of activists who were invited to Oslo for Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Peace Prize ceremony were not allowed out of the country.

Finally, the Charity Law that was expected to come out this year was held up for further review in the NPC.  Revisions of the registration and management regulations for social organizations continue to be held up as they have for the past few years.

The big question of course is why we’re seeing this schizophrenic pattern in China’s civil society.  I’ll address this question in my next blog. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Getting involved in the nonprofit community in Beijing

January 5, 2011

Happy new year!  For those interested in getting involved in Beijing’s nonprofit, charitable community, but may not have the Chinese language skills needed to participate in Chinese NGO activities, there are a growing number of groups and events that seek to bring together both foreigners and Chinese in helping China’s nonprofit community.  The following list consists of organizations/events that I, or others I know, have participated in.  It is certainly not a comprehensive list, and if anyone knows of other groups and events that are not included here, please contact me and I’ll make sure they get on my next list.

Beijing Community Dinner – BCD was started in 2007 and has been organizing dinners every two weeks at a Beijing restaurant specializing in Chinese regional cuisine.  Interested individuals can go for a meal and hear someone from a Chinese nonprofit talk about their work.  Diners pay for the meal and are encouraged to add a donation which goes to the nonprofit.  BCD has also organized several fieldtrips to visit selected nonprofits in Beijing.

To be added to their mailing list, email  Their website is

Chi Fan for Charity – Chi Fan was started by Michael Crain to bring together local opinion leaders, celebrities and other individuals who get together to share a meal at some of Beijing’s hippest restaurants.  The proceeds go to local charities such as the Dandelion School for Migrant Children, Prevention through Education which works on HIV/AIDS awareness, and Rural Women.

To sign up for their events, go to:

Compassion for Migrant Children – this nonprofit was started by Jonathan Hursh in 2006 to help China’s urban migrant children by offering social and educational programs.  CMC has also started a collaborative network called the Migrant Resource Network to link together organizations and resources to benefit migrant children and their communities.  They offer numerous opportunities for people to get involved in helping migrant children ranging from paying jobs to volunteer and internship opportunities.  See their website at:

Crazybake – this nonprofit organization was started in 2004 by several expatriates who wanted to use baking to improve the lives of the mentally ill in Beijing.  The organization works with the Chaoyang Mental Health Center, a privately-run organization, to provide therapeutic work for its patients as well as a source of income.  They make delicious white farmer’s bread and sweet challah bread for 20 RMB a loaf, and bagels which cost 10 RMB for a bag of 3 plain bagels.  Those interested in purchasing bread from Crazybake can contact Natascha Prigge at 135-2089-3359 or email

Roundabout Charity Distribution Store -- Roundabout was started by Leslie Simpson as a way to collect gently used clothing and household items for redistribution to communities in need across the country. You can also shop their Shunyi store for paintings, sofas, and other secondhand treasures. Goods can be donated there or at their downtown drop-off location at Links Moving (9B, Tower D, Ginza Mall at Dongzhimen). Volunteers welcome.
  • Roundabout, Kaifa Jie, Xi Baixinzhuang, Houshayu, Shunyi, near Mrs Shannen's Bagels, Shunyi District
  • 顺义区开发街后沙峪顺义区
  • Mon-Sat 9.30am-6pm
  • 13718 777 761 ( English ) 13718 053 814 (Chinese)
  • Website:
Wokai Beijing Volunteer Chapter’s Drinks for a Better World (DFBW) – the Beijing Volunteer Chapter of Wokai, a U.S.-based nonprofit that does microlending in China, organizes a bimonthly get together called Drinks for a Better World in which people come together for drinks and to hear speakers on a range of development issues and social causes. 

To get on the mailing list for these events, email the Chapter president, Eric Pasewalk at