Feng Yuan talks talent recruitment, development

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Narada Foundation’s project director Feng Yuan recently shared some practices and reflections on talent acquisition and personnel development in the philanthropy sector. Since joining the foundation in 2011, Feng has been responsible for disaster relief and post-disaster reconstruction projects, as well as the capacity building module of the foundation’s Good Public Welfare Platform.

As a foundation dedicated to promoting the development of non-governmental public welfare, the Narada Foundation, while funding public welfare projects, also pays great attention to staff development in the sector, according to Feng.

Talent lies at the core of an organization or a sector, Feng said. However, society now seems to have many unrealistic perceptions about public welfare and the charity sector. For example, restrictions are common on personnel funds for public welfare projects, and for most social organizations that depend on projects, attracting and cultivating talent seems to be an unrealistic hope.

Narada Foundation has made a number of attempts to improve the situation, including by supporting its partners’ training sessions.

“We have created a support fund project to encourage employees at our partner organizations to study certain subjects based on their own needs,” Feng explained.

“This project adopted a reimbursement system, so employees working for partner organizations needed to apply for reimbursement of their study expenses once the course was over.”

But the post-reimbursement system didn’t work too well, he said. “We found that the time-consuming process of claiming money back was an important factor which discouraged them from participating in this project.”

Narada Foundation then adjusted the project by replacing the fund with more flexible and convenient support grants sent directly to their partners, which turned out to be a more effective way for partner organizations to encourage their employees to study.

The foundation also found through their previous training projects that in many cases people are not quite sure what their real needs are. Even if they do know, it’s still hard for them to find the exact training sessions they need.

To address the gap between what the organizations need and what’s available in the marketplace, Narada Foundation has tried to develop courses and training sessions by itself.

“We developed training according to the demands we collected from our partners, such as influence scale strategy and operation agency management and quality control,” Feng said.

“But when we started to recruit students for training, the number who signed up was still below our expectations.”

Although some of the training sessions received positive feedback, Feng said, they learned during the process that the foundation itself should not take absolute control of these capacity building (training) sessions, or the funded parties will feel an obligation to participate whether they need the training or not.

“It’s better that we as funders exercise a certain level of restraint and constantly seek better solutions,” he said. “For example, we can support our partners in finding existing training or courses on the market that meet their own development needs.”

The development of a sector, in addition to talent, can benefit a lot from the accumulation and precipitation of shared knowledge. Philanthropy, as an emerging sector, has witnessed a range of new explorations by social organizations specializing in different areas and subject matters. But some of the accumulated experience is often neglected because of the high staff turnover in the sector, and organizations often need to keep busy with projects in order to survive, according to Feng.

“When working on disaster relief projects in the past, a common criticism was that they could easily be messed up — and the valuable experience accumulated from them often got lost,” Feng explained. “This also reflects a more general status quo in the public welfare and charity sector, to a certain extent.”

Narada Foundation, together with One Foundation and Zhengrong Foundation, supported the “Post-disaster Community Reconstruction Action Learning Network Project”, which Feng was part of.

He feels that if a safe space for communication can be built along with a more general thought-exchange network, it will contribute to preserving the shared knowledge of the sector.