The 512 Voluntary Relief Services Center Opens Its Chuandao Academy

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Fu Tao, profiles the Chuandao Academy which was set up by the Chengdu-based 512 Voluntary Relief Services Center to promote exchange and learning among grassroots NGOs..

The 512 Center was established a few days after the Wenchuan earthquake of 2008 as a network of NGOs working in the earthquake zone.  Recently, after years of negotiation, it succeeded in registering with the Sichuan Civil Affairs Department as a civil, non-enterprise unit (minban feiqiye) and has been expanding programming consistent with its mission of strengthening grassroots NGO capacity through exchanges, training and information support.  For more about the 512 Center, see China’s Quiet Activists and its profile in CDB’s NGO Directory.

The Chuandao Academy (川道学苑) launched its second phase of learning activities in Chengdu on February 28-29 of this year after half a year’s break since the first phase ended. More than 70 people from 43 organizations participated in the launch ceremony and the first learning activity. The Academy invited Zhang Shuping, China’s Rabbit King from Dayi, Sichuan, to share her thoughts on the theme of social enterprise development. Ni Kaizhi, founder of Rural Public Interest Inn (乡村公益客栈)and China Volunteer Tourism Network (中国公益旅游网), Chen Tao, head of Spring of Lancil (成都南夏春生态农业公司), and Wang Xia, co-founder of Love Knot Handicrafts Company(童心结手工艺公司) shared their stories of starting a business ((Editor’s Note: Rural Public Interest Inn and China Volunteer Tourism Network seek to combine public interest concerns with tourism.  China’s Rabbit King is a social enterprise that trains farmers to breed rabbits to raise rural incomes. Love Knot Handicrafts Company is a social enterprise helping rural women make and sell handicrafts.)). 

Zhang Shuping built up her business from scratch and has successfully combined commerce and public interest. She has for a long time put a great deal of effort into the development of the public interest sector while also raising the income of farmers. Her experience, practical thinking, humorous words and witty comments impressed the audience. The activity provided new ways of thinking about social problems for the participating organizations.

Chuandao Academy was established by the 512 Voluntary Relief Services Center (512民间救助服务中心,hereinafter the 512 Center).  Its current activities focus on newly-founded grassroots organizations, while mature organizations also take part based on their needs.

The Wenchuan earthquake in 2008 led to the creation of a number of local NGOs, including the 512 Center, which aimed at coordinating all parties in disaster relief. As Sichuan began to recover and rebuild, the 512 Center turned into a platform for NGOs to learn from and support each other. Grassroots NGOs in start-up stage never lack passion and ambition, but often face confusion and difficulties as they grow. A supportive platform (like the 512 Center) becomes necessary when they are seeking to broaden their horizons, share ideas and values, build capacity, draw on resources and expand their network. As put by the head of the 512 Center Gao Guizi, the platform was established “to create a favorable environment for NGOs”.

The training focuses on the spread of the non-governmental public interest concept and methods by inviting thoughtful and experienced NGO activists to share their ideas. The curriculum is also designed to give participants and their organizations an opportunity to display themselves. The Academy hopes to connect start-up NGOs with mature ones and facilitate the sharing of information and resources, as a means to raise the professional awareness and management ability of grassroots NGOs.

According to the 512 Center, the Academy organized 12 learning activities in its first phase from September 2010 to September 2011, involving 586 people from 97 organizations. The subjects included environmental protection, gender, community governance, disaster relief, organizational management, local governance, support for the disabled, civil society and sharing experiences from Taiwan.

As shown in the first phase, participating NGOs came from diverse backgrounds and experiences. The people from these organizations were of different levels and had specific needs, and the participants in each activity varied widely. Considering these factors, the 512 Center had to adjust the learning content to meet these different needs. “These circumstances had an impact on the continuity and structure of our course content and will require us to make some adjustments in the future,” said Gao.

The Academy will hold 16 learning activities in the second phase, including trainings every two months and monthly salons. Apart from lectures, interactions and on-site visits, the Academy will embrace new forms such as case studies, consultations and reviews of hot public issues from a NGO perspective. As a part of the curriculum, the “Social Development Dictionary” will bring in experts to discuss relevant keywords in the fields of civil society and development, thereby contributing to the participants learning. The Academy’s bimonthly journal devoted to grassroots NGO voices is also under preparation. In her speech at the opening ceremony, Guo Hong, consultant to the 512 Center, noted that the 512 Center and Chuandao Academy are dedicated to building a public platform for the Sichuan NGO community to promote exchanges, activities and cooperation.

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