CDB Forum 2020 Event Highlights | Greenpeace China’s Li Yan On Fulfilling Empathy and Purpose in the COVID-19 Era

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Editor’s note:

The China Development Brief (CDB) Forum 2020 was held in Beijing on December 9, 2020 and focused on “Challenges and Responses for Cross-Border Philanthropy under COVID-19.” Leaders from NGOS and experts in relevant fields discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected organisations’ survival and development, grassroots-level struggles faced by communities, and the pursuit of social wellbeing. Below is an excerpt from an abridged compilation of statements shared by guests participating in Roundtable Discussion 1.

This excerpt concentrates on Chief Representative of Greenpeace China Li Yan’s perspective. While Li said COVID-19 did not result in any funding challenges for Greenpeace China, she underscored how it’s increasingly critical for Greenpeace China to understand how best to apply its resources in a meaningful way and how it can make a difference in a time of great cataclysmic change.

Li Yan: Greenpeace is an international NGO that has been dedicated to environmental protection over the past five decades since its establishment in North America. Our primary source of funding is the general public, and we have not been seriously affected by the pandemic. But the question we have to ask ourselves is: With the huge disruptions caused by the pandemic and the shifting attention of society and the public, how can we adapt our work to keep up with the trends of the times if we cannot do what we planned last year, for ecological conservation and to especially address the global climate and biodiversity crises? How can we keep our work going? Continuing to effectively use the money from donors is a challenge for us in terms of strategic and project development…

…It’s been almost a year since the pandemic began, and a norm has clearly developed. For ecological issues, the pandemic provides an opportunity for society to reflect on the relationship between humans and nature as people usually don’t think about how the health of the ecosystem relates to human health. The biodiversity conference that China was planning to hold has been postponed to 2021, and our plan will have to be adjusted accordingly. Also, we had previously planned to conduct a routine public education initiative; following the outbreak, however, we thoroughly changed the general tone of the programme, focusing mainly on a reflection on the relationship between humans and nature, rather than just looking at how cute the rainforest animals are and how beautiful the landscape is.

Another interesting thing: We buy psychological support services for our staff members during the pandemic. This is because the pandemic not only has an impact on their work, but also brings forth a heavy psychological burden. Meanwhile, it is also necessary to provide counselling and maintain the sustainability of work efficiency.

When the pandemic first broke out, everyone was distracted from work and felt that we should join in the fight against the pandemic and help others. We had a lot of impulsive thoughts at the time, considering whether we should provide donations and assistance. But it was not our job and we might not be able to do that kind of work effectively; yet we felt that we still had to do something, so we felt torn. We later worked with Xishuangbanna Tropical Rain Forest Conservation Foundation in Yunnan to distribute free supplies, such as masks and disinfectant, for the forest rangers, and helped our partners continue their work. This was our first attempt to make a humble donation.

With regard to funding, the impact was not huge overall, and there has been no major budget cut that was previously expected. Personally, I reckon it has to do first of all with the funding model, because our main source of funding is individuals. Suppose an individual in Europe donates a few dozen euros per month. It’s not so much that it affects that person’s living condition. Another possibility is that it is believed the origin of the pandemic is likely to be associated with animals and ecosystem destruction. Against this backdrop, there are many people who would like to see environmental protection and ecological conservation efforts continue. The bigger problem for us this year instead is that money cannot be spent as planned because of the pandemic, despite there being no major budget cut. We need to think about how to spend our money wisely and we need to plan ahead if the pandemic continues throughout 2021 as it has in 2020.

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