NGOs in China: increasing but at a lower rate

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On Nov 12, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences released the “Report on Social Organizations in China 2021”, which summarizes key information about the development of Chinese NGOs (known locally as social organizations) in the past year.

The report points out that the number of NGOs continues to grow. According to the statistics of the China Civil Affairs Statistical Yearbook 2022, as of the end of 2021, the total number of NGOs in the country was 901,870, an increase of 0.86 percent compared to the previous year. The growth rate fell by 2.35 percent.

The decrease in the growth rate can be attributed to two main reasons. First, the central government has been actively guiding the healthy development of NGOs, with a focus shift from quantitative growth to quality improvement. For example, in March 2021, the Ministry of Civil Affairs and twenty-one other departments jointly issued the “Notice on Eradicating Illegal Social Organizations and Purifying the Ecology of Social Organizations”, which provides strict regulations for the operation of NGOs, aiming to combat and rectify illegal organizations and clean up “zombie organizations”.

Second, the uncertainties caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic harm the development of NGOs. How to balance COVID controls and operations under the “dynamic zero” policy is a major challenge facing organizations in China.

Despite the slowing growth rate, the profile of NGOs has become more diverse in the past 12 months, with the education (32 percent) and social service (15 percent) sectors accounting for almost half of the total. There are now more than 13 categories of NGOs covering areas including culture, sports, business services, rural development, and healthcare.

As China aims to promote the high-quality development of its NGOs, professionalism is a must, the report concludes. The increasingly diversified and individual needs of the people require NGOs to be more professional and provide society with a variety of high-quality and high-level public products and services. Organizations in Hubei, Heilongjiang, and Beijing have already rolled out training programs and plans to improve the skills and knowledge of NGO staff.

Another prominent role of NGOs is to serve as a valuable force for rural revitalization. As the report points out, organizations have a unique role in achieving industrial prosperity, rural civilization, effective governance, and better living standards. Provinces including Fujian, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Shandong, Gansu, Tianjin, and Shannxi have all put forward programs to integrate NGOs to promote rural development.

For example, in 2021, there were 7,055 NGOs in Shandong Province working on rural revitalization issues, investing a total of 300 million yuan ($42 million) in funds and materials, and carrying out more than 10,000 projects of various types. 505 organizations participated in counterpart support to Tibet, Xinjiang and Qinghai, investing a total of 85 million yuan and sending 107,000 workers, benefiting 885,000 people as a result.