Building credibility in the charity sector

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As China’s charity sector enters a critical period of development, a major challenge is maintaining public trust amid high-profile controversies like embezzlement cases. But Zheng Gongcheng, an expert on the sector, argues that learning the right lessons is key, and emphasizes the importance of not overreacting in ways that stifle innovation.

Zheng, a National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee member, believes China must build a charity sector with Chinese characteristics that adapts to local culture and rules. Neither traditional mutual aid nor Western-style models are fully suited for the current situation. The government should nurture professionalized charities while also supporting informal community efforts. Tolerance, inclusiveness and recognizing diverse public charity are crucial.

This balanced approach requires policy support. Grassroots community initiatives should be encouraged to grow into the foundation of a uniquely Chinese charity ecosystem. Heavy-handed crackdowns on all players in response to particular incidents must be avoided. While wrongdoers should be punished, overreaction can destroy public confidence and participation.

For instance, the recent China Children and Teenagers’ Fund scandal led some to question all charity crowdfunding platforms. But Zheng argues that while the fraudster himself deserves punishment, it would be misguided to vilify the entire online charity space. The proper response is to improve regulations to protect the public while continuing to nurture technology-enabled giving.

Indeed, digitization is transforming charity by breaking down geographic and sectoral boundaries. Technologies like Tencent’s neonatal screening app in Ningxia showcase how digital innovation expands access and precision. The key is leveraging technology to create more convenient, appealing charity services, enhance project design and service targeting, build trust, reduce costs and boost efficiency.

Meanwhile, private companies have been the mainstay of charity contributions, comprising over 60 percent of organized efforts. Amid current economic pressures, their role may diminish. But confidence in long-term private sector vitality remains, given China’s vast market and upward mobility. Recent State Council reforms aim to actively strengthen private enterprise as a driver of balanced development.

In sum, China’s rapidly changing charity landscape requires balanced policy support. Neither excessive rigidity nor laxity in regulation is appropriate. Measured governance can nurture diverse productive innovations while reasonably mitigating risks. Such an approach will sustain credibility while allowing charity with Chinese characteristics to evolve.