Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Charity Law and the Mainstreaming of Philanthropy and Civil Society (sort of) in 2016-17, Part 1

I’ve been informed that today is International Volunteers Day and the start of International Civil Society Week, with a gathering of civil society people in Fiji of all places. Fiji sounds like a nice place to be at this time of year. Not that you have to go there to be reminded that civil society exists. All you need to do is walk out your front door and find a gathering of people. Ask them what they’re doing and why. More likely than not, they’re getting together for some civic-minded purpose.

At any rate, since this is Civil Society Week, I feel I should write something about philanthropy and civil society in China. I’ve been planning to write something about Xi Jinping’s 19th Party Congress report and its implications for philanthropy and civil society in China, but will return to that weighty subject when I have more time to wrap my head around it.

Speaking about Xi’s report, a number of informed, sober-minded commentators gave some pretty optimistic appraisals about it after the Congress was over, particularly Xi’s recognition of the role that social forces and organizations play in China’s governance. They may have a point. Xi is making his pronouncements at a time when a number of initiatives and trends are taking place that suggest philanthropic and civic activity are slowly entering the mainstream of Chinese society. It may not always take forms that we in the West recognize, but the changes are happening more quickly than many would think. The 2016 Charity Law had a major role to play in stimulating these changes, some of which are reflected in the following events and trends that took place over the last few months.

In early September, almost exactly one year after the Charity Law went into effect, the Ministry of Civil Affairs launched the National Charity Information Platform (全国慈善信息公开平台) in early September. The purpose of the platform is to make it easier for the public to find information about charitable organizations and supervise their activities, and encourage charitable organizations to disclose information about their fundraising and activities. The platform currently has information about 2,134 charitable organizations and 38 charitable trusts which were made possible by the Charity Law. The official website of the information platform is http://cishan.chinanpo.gov.cn. The platform can also be accessed by visiting the Ministry of Civil Affairs’ website at www.mca.gov.cn or China’s NPO website at www.chinanpo.gov.cn, and clicking on “Charity Information Platform” box at the bottom of the website.

A recent report released by the China Charity Alliance, “Giving China: The Annual Report on Philanthropy,” shows clear evidence of significant growth
in philanthropy in Chinese society last year. According to the report, total donations in 2016 reached a new historic high to 139.294 billion RMB, a 25.65% increase over 2015 (100.859 billion RMB). Per capita giving was 100.74 RMB, a 23.32% increase over 2015 (81.69 RMB).

Unlike the U.S. where individual giving dominates, corporate giving in China continues to account for the lion’s share with 65.35% of total donations in 2016. However, individual donations are rising faster, increasing by 73.52%, compared to corporate donations which grew by 15.86%.

Social donations are heavily concentrated in three areas: education (30.44%), health (26.05%) and poverty alleviation (21.01%). Social donations primarily went to foundations (62.55 billion RMB) and the China Charity Federation system (40.41 billion RMB), although a fair share still went to government departments, public institutions and mass organizations (26.06 billion RMB).

Comparatively speaking, China still lags behind the U.S. and European countries such as the UK. Total donations accounted for 0.19% of China’s GDP, compared to 2.1% for the U.S. and 0.52% for the UK. However, if the growth in giving continues at the current pace, we can expect China to close the gap significantly over the next few decades.

I’ll discuss two other trends – the rapid rise of online fundraising and the internationalization of philanthropy - in my next blogpost, hopefully before Civil Society Week is over.

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