Chinese social organizations contributed 278.9 billion RMB to the economy in 2016

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On August 16th, a conference presenting the results of the “Chinese Social Organization Economic Scale (N-GDP) Calculation” research project was held in Beijing. During the conference Ma Qingyu, a professor from the Chinese National School of Administration and director of the Beijing Wanzhong Institute of Social Innovation, presented a set of data that specifically reflects Chinese social organizations’ contribution to the overall economy.

In 2016, the added value of Chinese social organizations was approximately 278.9 billion RMB. This figure constitutes 0.37% of the annual GDP and 0.73% of the added value of the tertiary industry. Meanwhile, the total expenditure of Chinese social organizations in 2016, 637.3 billion RMB, contributed to 0.86% of GDP and 1.66% of the added value of the tertiary sector of the economy. The project also reveals, however, that over 10% of social organizations were “inactive/suspected to be inactive” in the same year.

At present, forty years after the Reform and Opening, the number of social organizations in China has exceeded 800,000. These organizations have continued to develop and have become a non-negligible force within China’s economy and social construction. But what exactly is the scale of social organizations’ contribution to the economic and social development of China? This question remained a grey area in research on social organizations in China until 2016. In June that year, entrusted by the Nandu Charity Foundation, nine scholars from the Chinese National School of Administration, the Central University of Finance and Economics, Beijing Normal University and the Party Committee of Chongqing came together to form the “Chinese Social Organization Economic Scale (N-GDP) Calculation” research team. The team utilized stratified system sampling to calculate 16 pieces of data about all three categories of social organizations (social groups, social service agencies, foundations) registered within the Chinese civil affairs system.

Ma Qingyu is one of the nine scholars who took part in the project. According to him, during the past four decades the Chinese economy has gone through a “restoration period”, a “tortuous development period”, a “stabilized development period” and an “accelerated development period”. These four phases created a certain economic climate. Nonetheless, Ma criticises China for still being far behind compared to comparable developing countries in terms of the development of social organizations. “This does not match with China’s rapid economic development. It tells us that the economic capacity of social forces requires targeted support from national policy-making departments”, says Ma.

Ma also explained that this research was the first attempt by social research institutions to systematically and comprehensively calculate economic data related to Chinese social organizations. He believes that their effort can contribute to a more reliable judgement of the overall operation and service capacity of social organizations.

Even though most scholars and professionals who attended the conference on the 16th acknowledged that the “N-GDP” research project was ground-breaking, some expressed concerns about the data’s accuracy. Xu Yongguang, the chairman of the Nandu Charity Foundation and a researcher in the Counsellors’ Office of the State Council, claimed he is “very satisfied” with the project but pointed out three issues with the data that he felt were worth remarking upon.

Firstly, over half of the annual expenditure of social organizations in 2016 went to the government, and was in fact calculated as part of the government GDP. Secondly, apart from the income from their own services, the funding of social organizations mainly originates from government-purchased services, rather than from foundations. Thirdly, a large number of private educational and medical bodies and organizations that provide care for the elderly are operated by companies, even though they are officially counted as “citizen-run non-enterprise units” (民非机构), so their expenditure was counted as public service and commercial investments, rather than being counted as coming from social organizations.

Based on the advice and opinions of other scholars, Ma hopes that the statistical departments of the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the international academic community can cooperate with scholars like him to improve research work on social organization practice in China.