When I was in Beijing this first week of November, I had the opportunity to attend the Tsinghua International Conference on Philanthropy （公益慈善国际研讨会）announcing the opening of the Tsinghua University Institute for Philanthropy （公益慈善研究院）. The conference was held at the Wenjin International Hotel in the Tsinghua Science Park on November 5, 2015.
True to the conference’s name, both overseas and Chinese guests were invited. The international guests included the president of the International Society for Third Sector Research (ISTR), the dean of Indiana University’s Lilly School of Philanthropy, Chairman of the Asian Venture Philanthropy Network (AVPN), chair of the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Program, along with other academics and NGO representatives from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. The Chinese guests included officials from Tsinghua University, the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce, the head of the One Foundation, and leading lights from the academic world such as Wang Ming (the dean of China’s NGO studies and the Dean of the Institute of Philanthropy), Deng Guosheng, Kang Xiaoguang from Renmin University, Jin Jiping from Beijing University, Tao Chuangjin from Beijing Normal University, and Zhu Jiangang from Sun Yatsen University.
For those steeped in the history of NGO studies in China, the opening of the Institute is an important event because of the place Tsinghua occupies in NGO studies. Tsinghua established one of the earliest NGO Research Centers back in the late 1990s. That center published the first Directory of Chinese NGOs in back in the early 2000s, and Tsinghua scholars such as Wang Ming, Deng Guosheng, and Jia Xijin have played an instrumental role in promoting the field of NGO studies, and in pushing for an enabling regulatory environment for NGOs through their work. Currently the center publishes China’s leading journal on NGOs, the China Nonprofit Review (中国非营利评论).
Notably, the Institute was set up jointly by Tsinghua University and the Ministry of Civil Affairs. It will be directly under the university and separate from the School for Public Administration and Policy which houses the NGO Research Center. Unlike the School for Public Administration and Policy, the Institute will not have degree programs of its own. It is only a research institute for now, although that may change in the future.
The themes of this two-day conference are cross-boundary, innovation and sharing. Plenary session 1 addresses the essence of philanthropy; session 2 examines borderless philanthropy; session 3 looks at philanthropic innovation and the market; and session 4 discusses the power of philanthropy. I was only able to stay for the opening remarks, and had to miss the plenary sessions.
Toward the end of the opening remarks, the Associate Dean of the Institute, Wang Chao (who spent much of his career in the NGO world working for international NGOs such as World Wildlife Fund and World Vision) introduced the Ci-Lab (“ci” as in philanthropy or charity) or Social Innovation Lab which will be one of the Institute’s programs set up with the aim of promoting innovative ideas, individuals and organizations and matching innovators with resources.
The newly-issued Charity Law draft was on the lips of a number of the opening speakers, including the Ministry of Civil Affairs official who mentioned that the Charity Law draft is now available for public comment and hoped that it would be passed quickly. Professor Wang Ming also spoke about how the Charity Law would provide a more open environment for philanthropy in China and asked the audience to reflect on what the post-Charity Law era would bring for Chinese philanthropy.