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 Humana People to People Chief Representative Michael Hermann’s perspective. Hermann’s branch in Human’s Yunnan Representative Office has been dealing with special challenges in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic related to survival. From outreach to kindergarten students unable to attend school to working with other NGO partners within China, he emphasised that Humana’s priority is with its team and beneficiaries regardless of the branch agency’s lack of fundraising capacity.
Michael Hermann: Humana is a small organisation. We have about 130,000 beneficiaries. Whether in an economic crisis or in a strategic crisis, our priority is to protect the team and the rights of the beneficiaries. There were some 100 kindergartens in rural areas that remained closed during the pandemic. The population most affected from that is a clear target of our programme. If our programme cannot be developed or becomes ineffective, the funders will stop funding. If we fail to obtain funds, survival will become a challenge for us.
I’d like to talk about a specific issue of survival. On February 1, 2020, for instance, there were no masks available. We could find no masks in more than 100 pharmacies in Kunming; we have 30 members working in 45 countries, and I contacted them to help me find masks, but they could not find them in Spain or Germany. Finally, I found a mask supplier in India. On February 6, however, the Indian government told us the goods were not allowed to be exported. At last, we brought back more than 4,000 masks from a pharmacy in Nepal and bought another 5,000 masks from Zimbabwe. We distributed more than 50 masks to each staff member, and a number of masks to government partners and project community partners.
To safeguard the beneficiaries, we work with many programmes in China. We now work with five organisations on branded programmes that benefit more than 9,000 children. In March, children were unable to attend kindergartens, and we carried out family mobilisation through WeChat. In order to encourage parents to communicate more with their children, we assigned them tasks on a weekly basis, such as communicating with other parents, telling stories to their children, and craftwork with the children. In March and April, we also provided online training to teachers and helped develop parenting skills. In May, we paid home visits to some vulnerable children. On May 26, the preschools were finally ready to operate again.
With regard to funding, in China, we are a branch agency and currently have no fundraising capacity. Globally, Humana member agencies spent roughly USD $100 million in 2019, 16 percent of which (i.e. USD $15 million) came from the second-hand clothes businesses, while the rest was raised by each member agency itself. The Spanish member agency has 25 second-hand clothes stores; suddenly the pandemic came, and the stores were closed and could make no more money. On March 1, I was told that only 2 million of the 4 million RMB previously committed for this year would be in place. From March to April, we had to think hard about how to fill the 2 million RMB gap.
To survive, we need to “prepare for the future” by using last year’s money to support this year’s survival and this year’s money to support next year’s survival. If funds raised this year account for only 70 percent of the target, how can we survive next year? Therefore, costs must be continually reduced; we may have to close one representative office next year and expand the scope of work of another representative office later, in order to reduce institutional costs.