Hunan Province: report outlines development of philanthropy since 1979

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In 2019, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening up, Narada Foundation and Guangzhou Philanthropy Academy launched a research project to examine how philanthropy has changed in the country.

This article is a summary of the findings in the project’s Hunan sub-report.

The recovery of official and private charity in Hunan Province (1979-2000)

As reform and opening up got underway, the resumption of work at the local Red Cross Society in Hunan and the emergence of NGO activities marked the recovery of local philanthropy.

In 1979, the Red Cross Organization of Changsha City (the provincial capital of Hunan Province) held its first enlarged meeting of directors to resume work. In addition, during this period, individual philanthropists such as Yu Pengnian became active in charitable activities.

In the early 1990s, some government officials and entrepreneurs also began to participate in philanthropic activities. Most of their activities involved social assistance and relief actions, rather than civic activities, and were recognized and supported by the government.

The rapid rise of grassroots philanthropy in Hunan driven by the development of social media (2000-2005)

Around the year 2000, social media platforms such as BBS (Bulletin Board System) and QQ (Tencent) became popular. Amateur photographers and outdoor enthusiasts became very active online. They had the opportunity to present the living conditions of disadvantaged groups such as poor children in mountainous areas and patients with serious diseases to the public.

During this period, a large number of grassroots groups became active on the internet, with most not registering as social organizations or maintaining public accounts. As a result there were potential legal and moral risks in the use and supervision of their funds.

Partnerships form, groups try to register (2006-2007)

After 30 years of reform and opening up, many grassroots organizations or volunteer organizations were born. Many groups struggled to register, with “affiliation” becoming an important way for organizations looking to obtain legal status. Government-run social organizations (who have the status) became their ideal partners for affiliation.

On the other hand, government-run social organizations were also influenced by the modern philanthropic ideas and new technologies of grassroots social organizations. Through training and exchange activities, the interaction between grassroots NGOs and government-run social organizations has been significantly strengthened.

The development of philanthropy in Hunan through disaster relief activities (2008-2010)

In January 2008, a severe winter disaster occurred in Hunan Province; later, in May 2008, a huge earthquake occurred in Wenchuan, Sichuan Province.

Numerous grassroots organizations were involved in the disaster relief and fundraising activities. Government departments, institutions, and social organizations contacted relevant volunteer organizations to initiate fundraising activities. The relationship between the government and society became unprecedentedly close. Volunteers and affiliated grassroots organizations have been incorporated into the joint disaster relief planning of government departments.

Government-social services cooperation promoted by innovative social governance and government procurement (2011-2018)

Since 2011, social work has become an important factor impacting the development of Hunan’s public philanthropy, and the government’s support for social work has also facilitated the registration of social work agencies.

In 2013, the State Council issued the “Guiding Opinions on the Government’s Purchase of Services from Social Forces” (2013 No. 96). Since then, the government’s purchase of services has become an important tool used by the government to promote innovation in social governance.

The prerequisite for the government to purchase services from social organizations is that the organization in question must be legally registered. In economically developed regions such as Shanghai, Beijing, and Zhejiang, grassroots social organizations generally achieve legal registration through “social organization incubators”, “platform organizations”, and “hub organizations”. This model was also introduced to Hunan during this period.

Since 2018, the Hunan Provincial Department of Civil Affairs has promoted the establishment of social workstations in townships through a method in which the government is responsible for registration and NGOs are responsible for management. This method covered 1,929 townships in 122 districts and counties in the province, with more than 4,000 full-time social workers widely distributed in counties and towns, and has played a positive role in promoting the development of public philanthropy in counties and rural areas across Hunan.

In conclusion, it can be seen that since the start of reform and opening up, the development of philanthropy in Hunan has been continuously influenced by the following important factors:

(1) Technology. Photography and the internet have transformed how people take part in charitable activities and public philanthropy;

(2) The media. Social media and traditional media have played an important role in promoting public participation in charity and public philanthropy;

(3) Education. Training exchanges between institutions and the education and training of workers in the charity sector have also promoted the development of charity and public philanthropy;

(4) Disasters. The role charities have played in disaster relief has become an important way of attracting public attention and promoting the development of charity and public philanthropy;

(5) Policy and resource factors. Innovative social governance, social worker team building, government purchasing service policies, and resource orientation have an important impact on the registration method and development direction of social organization registration.