Give2Asia webinar: how overseas NGOs are navigating the new environment

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Editor’s Note

This report was originally published by ChinaFile on November 27, 2018. You can find the original here.


U.S.-based non-profit Give2Asia hosted a webinar in October on foreign grant-making in China. University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mark Sidel joined Give2Asia’s Adam King to discuss the state of play nearly two years after the Foreign NGO Law went into effect. Among the highlights:

– Sidel believes that the implementation of the law represents an almost complete success for the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), in that it has established control of foreign groups under one bureaucracy and has helped mold the work of those groups in China.

– Sidel, in collaboration with colleagues in Europe, has developed a typology to describe how the Foreign NGO Law has effectively divided international non-profits working in China into four main categories: survivors (those who have successfully registered an office or filed for temporary activities); hibernators (those who are still waiting to see how implementation evolves); groups going underground (those who see no possibility of filing or registering, but who feel they must remain engaged in China); and groups moving on from China (those who have definitively decided to stop working there).

– Sidel noted that it is a difficult time for the “survivors,” despite the fact that they have managed to work in China under the Foreign NGO Law. They must navigate new procedures, restrictions on their activities, and barriers to working with some domestic NGOs and universities. Many must develop new strategies, such as partnering with government entities, to ensure their work continues.

– King described Give2Asia’s lessons learned after one year of registration in China. He said that his organization is adapting to the increased oversight and administration required for every grant they make in China—the process often takes much longer than it did in the past because of the additional formal approvals required on both the U.S. and Chinese sides. In a positive development, King said that he finds grantees to be much more diligent than in the past, raising more questions about contracts and offering more feedback. And though the process continues to evolve, King stated that Give2Asia believes the current state of affairs is “the new normal.” There may be changes around the margins, but foreign NGOs should expect that the basic ground rules have been established and are not likely to fundamentally change.

– King also offered tips for other organizations looking to make grants into China. First, donors should have a long-term strategy and plan ahead. Under the new system (particularly if donors are working with an intermediary like Give2Asia that is registered in China and has to submit all proposed grants as part of its annual activity plan), donors should be prepared for the paperwork to take a long time. Depending on what time of year an activity is scheduled to take place, planning may need to begin a year (or more) in advance. With this in mind, donors should be flexible about activity start dates—but once an activity begins, should stick to the planned schedule as much as possible. King also noted that grant implementation has been easiest when either the original donor or Give2Asia has already had a long-term relationship with the grantee. Finally, King advised donors to respect local partners’ deeper understanding of on-the-ground realities and needs in their communities, even as they may need to educate those same partners about the ins and outs of the Foreign NGO Law.

You can watch the full webinar, which includes more from both Sidel and King, as well as a Q&A with webinar participants, here.

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