About a year ago, I wrote a blog post about my consulting company, Social Innovations Advisory, Ltd. I started SIA up in 2018, after leaving my position as Deputy Director of the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin, to help NGOs carry out innovative and impactful programming and reporting in China, Asia and beyond.
Most of what I did in the first year was limited to China – monitoring and reporting on the legal environment for civil society and philanthropy, doing a mapping of active labor organizations in China, and helping with funding proposals for China-based projects.
During that year, I increasingly found myself venturing further afield, writing about how CSOs can expand civic space in Asia (mobilize local resources!), and going on a fact-finding mission to interview human rights CSOs in Israel and Palestine on challenges they were facing on access to funding.
In 2019, SIA’s core work continued to be on China:
· Monitoring and updating ICNL’s China page for the Civic Freedom Monitor, and updating ICNL’s China Philanthropy Law Report and related info graphs, timelines and FAQs to explain the civil society and philanthropy environment and laws.
· Updating the Council on Foundation’s Country Note for China.
· Evaluating a China project, carrying out a China philanthropy seminar at HKU, helping an international NGO convene a meeting in Hong Kong to rethink their China strategy, and helping an international NGO with its temporary activity filings.
But increasingly our work is taking us further afield, focused on helping NGOs build resilience by diversifying their access to local resources and funding, and helping Chinese and international NGOs to address the challenges and risks posed by Chinese investment in the Belt and Road Initiative. Here’s a sample of some of our work:
· A Financial Sustainability for Rights-based CSOs in the Global South project funded by Counterpart International and USAID, leading to the creation of 1) an online database of cases of CSOs that have moved from foreign funding to local resource mobilization; 2) a report analysing the cases; and 3) a toolkit to train CSOs on mobilizing local resources. More on this later.
· Helping international CSOs seeking to localize in China to identify funding sources and come up with an outreach strategy to support programming in China and overseas.
· A UNDP China project examining the social risks to sustainable development posed by Chinese investment in BRI countries. For this project, SIA put together a research team of four researchers from an international CSO and a Chinese CSO to carry out fact-finding missions to Nepal and Zambia, and draft a Discussion Paper which will be published by the UNDP at the end of 2019. There are plans for follow up projects to manage some of these risks.
· Participating in a Chinese civil society delegation to the 2019 General Assembly of the African Coalition of Corporate Accountability (ACCA), whose theme is the impact of Chinese investment, to share our China experience and knowledge with our African counterparts.
In these projects, one can discern pathways by which CSOs can flourish in this changed environment in China. One is experimenting with new models for mobilizing resources inside China. A second is going abroad, following Chinese companies and individuals, and learning how to operate internationally and engage with international civil society.
While both are challenging and have their pitfalls, CSOs may have little choice but to move ahead because of the tantalizing opportunities they offer.