Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Charity Law and the mainstreaming of philanthropy and civil society (sort of) in 2016-17, Part 2

In my last post, I mentioned some events and trends that suggest philanthropic and civic activity is slowly entering the mainstream of Chinese society. These are trends that some of us may not want to recognize but we ignore them at our peril. Whether we like it or not, Chinese (and here I mean citizens and non-governmental actors and not just the government) are driving social change. Below are two more trends we should be keeping an eye on.

One is the growing interest of Chinese individuals in giving as evidenced in the rapid rise of online fundraising. In 2016, the Ministry of Civil Affairs approved 13 charitable organizations’ online philanthropy platforms. Among them, the Tencent Philanthropy (腾讯公益平台), Ant Group Philanthropy (蚂蚁金服公益平台) and Taobao Philanthropy (淘宝公益平台) platforms raised 1.289 billion RMB, 37.79% higher than the figure for 2015. Looking at the age groups of the donors, the generation born in the 80s ranked first, making up more than 45% of the donors. Online donations went mostly to education and health, followed by disaster relief and environmental protection. More than 70% of online donations were via mobile phones.

One event that has stimulated a great deal of public interest in philanthropy is Tencent’s 9/9 (September 9th) Day of Giving which began in 2015. This year’s 9/9 Day of Giving (which actually takes place over three days) was the most successful so far, generating over 1.3 billion RMB in donations, of which 829.9 million RMB came from public donations, 299.99 million RMB came from matching funds from the Tencent Foundation, and 177 million RMB from social enterprises.  A total of 12. 68 million donors made contributions to around 6,466 charitable projects.

While the results of the 9/9 Day of Giving are impressive, concerns about fraud have cropped up with reports about a small number of donations being machine-generated. Tencent Foundation has promised to investigate the issue and issue the results soon.

The second trend is the internationalization of Chinese philanthtropy. Over the last few years, largely following the outflow of Chinese investment, Chinese foundations have begun to fund and even set up their own charitable and CSR activities in Southeast Asia, Africa and even Europe, sometimes leveraging the expertise and experience of international NGOs. Until now, however, there has been little connection between Chinese foundation activities abroad and global development goals such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). That was the aim of a recent report, “Philanthropy for the SDGs in China,” jointly released by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and China Foundation Center (CFC) which are jointly setting up a knowledge sharing platform to mobilize Chinese philanthropic actors to link their activities more closely to the SDGs. One contribution of the report was to call attention to the current imbalances in Chinese philanthropy which has poured funding into education and poverty alleviation, yet neglected areas such as gender equality, sanitation, clean energy and climate change.

As with online fundraising, the internationalization of Chinese philanthropy is going through growing pains. While some Chinese philanthropists and foundations have started to make donations and set up projects overseas, they have done so warily, sensitive to public backlash against Chinese resources being used to support development abroad rather than development at home. One of the first studies of Chinese NGOs internationalizing found that while over half of the NGOs surveyed felt it was necessary to internationalize, only about 17% felt the current environment was right while about 46% felt the environment for internationalization was not sufficiently developed[i]. Still there is no doubt that internationalization is taking off and will gather steam following China’s growing footprint overseas and initiatives like One Belt One Road.  The same study found that the value of overseas donations from Chinese foundations in 2015 had risen by a factor of 3.66 since 2014 and 1209 since 2008.

[i] Deng, Guosheng. 2017. “Trends in Overseas Philanthropy by Chinese Foundations.” Voluntas, (April).

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