Introduction: The following article is a profile of Wang Yi’ou, founder of the up-and-coming China Dolls Care and Support Association which offers support to people suffering from “brittle bone” and other rare diseases. Wang’s career trajectory is interesting because it shows how important other NGOs are in nurturing future leaders in the nonprofit field. Wang was originally turned off by her experience working in a GONGO, but her work in, and collaboration with, some well-known grassroots NGOs such as Yirenping, Beijing Aizhixing and NPI gave her the knowledge and confidence to start her own NGO. Collaboration with GONGOs like the China Social Welfare Education Foundation also proved fruitful as a means of securing a platform for public fundraising, and shows that grassroots NGOs need to consider collaborating with more mainstream players like GONGOs and the government to ensure their long-term survival.
In 2010, the Narada Foundation initiated its pilot project “Ginkgo Partners Support Program”. The selected Ginkgo Partners would each receive annual funding of 100,000 Yuan for three years and a tailored learning program. A total of five talented NGO professionals were selected for that year. China Development Brief interviewed four of them with the hope of sharing with our readers the story of their personal and institutional development through this series of articles. We also take this follow-up as an opportunity to better understand the support program for each Gingko Partner.
Wang Yi Ou: Getting Things Done Diligently
The slogan “Doing pretty well, our love is still strong” gives confidence to patients suffering from osteogenesis imperfecta (OI, also known as brittle bone disease) and also motivates Wang. An OI patient herself, she has long suffered from painful bone fractures. Her own struggles inspired her to help OI patients like herself.
In 2005, Wang went to Beijing to continue her education, majored in accounting and intended to complete the remainder of the last two years of her law courses through self-study. Although her parents worried about her health, they allowed her to start a new life independently. Watching the establishment and growth of the China-Doll Care and Support Association (瓷娃娃罕见病关爱中心), her parents realized that they made the right decision and are more supportive of her work.
While in school in Beijing, Wang learned that OI is treatable with medication. However, access to medical information in cities outside of Beijing was limited and other “China-Dolls” lacked that access. She began to build a website about OI in her spare time to share information with other patients nationwide. From time to time, she also tried to help fellow patients who came to Beijing to seek treatment, picking them up at the bus or train station and arranging for inpatient care. In this way, she made many friends from around the country.
In 2007, she completed her courses and graduated from school. She found a job doing project planning for a poverty alleviation organization. After working there for a while, Wang realized that the organization was a GONGO (government organized non-governmental organizations) and as such would not provide her an environment which would allow her to do the work she wanted to pursue. Consequently, she resigned after having worked there for little more than half a year.
She wanted to go to “a place where she could actually do things.” Coincidentally, Bejing Yirenping Center (for social justice and public health) had just been established. Wang joined the Center as a legal project assistant and researcher where she began to learn about the concept and work of NGOs. Observing Yirenping’s focus helping hepatitis B carriers who encountered discrimination, she saw similarities between the hep B group and OI patients, and began working on the OI issue. Her work on this issue was approved and supported by Lu Jun, the founding director of Yirenping.
By the end of 2007, Wang had researched the OI patient group for over half a year and began thinking of setting up an organization. She later recalled that she was not “determined” to do it until she met co-founder Huang Rufang. Huang was working at Beijing Aizhixing Research Institute ((Editor’s Note: Aizhixing is one of China’s first HIV/AIDs NGO founded by Wan Yanhai who is known for his outspoken advocacy work on behalf of AIDs patients.)) and had become involved in social work on AIDS since college. After meeting Wang, the two hit it off. Huang’s participation strengthened Wang’s determination to establish an organization.
In May 2008, Wang left Yirenping to set up China-Doll. In the first six months, the Association borrowed office space from other charitable organizations, moving four times. It took half a year for China-Doll to have its own office space.
In May 2009, China-Doll moved into the Beijing Nonprofit Incubator (NPI) where it received free office space, capacity building support, and a monthly subsidy of 3,000 yuan.
During that developmental period, China-Doll was faced with a shortage of personnel, and was able to mobilize a large number of volunteers whose potential was demonstrated at the end of 2009 when China-Doll independently organized its first China-Doll Patients National Conference. More than 400 volunteers helped on every aspect of the conference.
On the day of the conference, China-Doll won approval to establish a special fund affiliated with the China Social Welfare Education Foundation ((Editor’s Note: The China Social Welfare Education Foundation is a public fundraising foundation that has the authority to raise funds publicly unlike private foundations and nonprofits. Recently, a growing number of public foundations are allowing nonprofits to set up a special fund within the foundation. Nonprofits can then solicit donations publicly for the special fund which are managed by the foundation in exchange for a small management fee.)). Wang believes it is very important to have such a legal public fundraising platform. With limited funding from foundations and enterprises, the ability to accept public donations became vitally important to China-Doll. From the perspective of China-Doll’s development, opening up this fundraising channel was a first step in collaborating with foundations and the government.
Wang recalled that there were low expectations during the early days of China-Doll when there was a scarcity of resources and personnel. They just wanted to “diligently get things done.” However, with the launch of one project after another, new resources and funding channels became available and better conditions were created for future projects. She believes that this development process is “relatively natural”, and subsequently, with “the improvement of the general philanthropic environment, public recognition and support, and the expansion of its own professional team, China-Doll experienced relatively fast development.”
In 2010, Wang was selected to participate in the “Gingko Partners Support Program” sponsored by the Narada Foundation. Her understanding of the “partnership” is that it is not limited to the partnership among the five NGO professionals chosen as Gingko Partners, but also extends to the partnership between the Narada Foundation and the Gingko Partners, because the former is not only a sponsor, but also a collaborator and supporter.
When the Ginkgo Partnership Program started selecting candidates, Wang submitted her own plan for support, which stated that the funding from Narada would mainly be used for her salary and educational expenses, nevertheless, she also intended to use part of the funding to support other employees at China-Doll. This plan is currently under discussion.
With the help of this funding, Wang hopes to improve her theoretical understanding, and her knowledge of management through a Masters of Public Administration program, so that she can better manage the organization as it grows, and not to “become a hindrance to the organization’s development.” It is indeed the Gingko Partnership Support Program’s objective for the individual to systematically realize her own development. Wang also hopes to be able to help her team improve their knowledge of, and professional skills in, the public interest sector.
Wang’s own plan for 2011 is to address the lack of reference material for the treatment of OI and other rare diseases in China, and improve communication with overseas institutions. In June, the Narada Foundation arranged for Wang and the other four Gingko Partners to visit the United Kingdom to exchange ideas with and learn from their overseas counterparts.