Wang Ming: the Biggest Challenges for Social Organizations

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Editor’s Note

This is a translation of a talk Prof. Wang Ming, from Tsinghua University, gave on the 14th of January in Beijing. The original version was published by the official WeChat account of Tsinghua University’s Institute for Philanthropy. Below is CDB’s translation of their introduction and the talk.

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On January 14, the 8thth annual China Philanthropy Conference was held in Beijing. The theme of this year’s conference was “Philanthropy and Reform and Opening up”, primarily focusing on the last 40 years of achievements associated with philanthropy and Reform and Opening up. Focus was placed on achievements in poverty alleviation, while also forecasting further developments in China’s philanthropy and actively responding to vocal calls from the sector to deepen reform, in order to stimulate the sector’s confidence. Wang Ming, Professor at the Tsinghua University’s School of Public Policy and Management, as well as Dean of the Institute for Philanthropy, Tsinghua University, and Head of the Institute for Social Governance and Development, Tsinghua University, attended and delivered the keynote address of the conference.


Good morning, everybody!

It is a great honour to have the opportunity to stand upon this stage and share with everyone our reflections and research regarding philanthropic organizations. I will be using 20 minutes to discuss some of the major and minor trends that have emerged within the context of a flourishing philanthropic movement on the rise, and to discuss the opportunities and challenges we face.

I will focus on the following five issues:


1 Multi-force Arrival 


I call the development from social organizations to philanthropic ones “Multi-force Arrival” (众势所至). The road we set off on 40 years ago went from economics to politics to culture and then to society. Each of these fields shaped a general trend in development. This general trend had led to the rise and development of philanthropic organizations.

Let us turn our attention to the classification of social organizations in China. They include foundations, social organizations and social services agencies, as well as other organizations, including those exempt from registration. This is the general look of things.

We have witnessed the total number of social organizations increase from 100,000 to 820,000. Although Professor Zheng mentioned that two years on from the enactment of the Charity Law the number of certifications of charitable organizations is not ideal, we have nonetheless already witnessed their emergence.

Especially the development of social organizations has led to a very strong developmental impetus. We saw this vigorous impetus for development first appear 40 years ago, and it resurged with vigor 10 years ago.


Engines of Change in the Background


There are several extremely important background engines propelling forward the development of social organizations and philanthropic causes. They include governmental reform and the development of the market economy, as well as the transformation of the whole society and participation in philanthropy.

Within this process, philanthropic organizations could be said to be newly risen forces, functioning as historical “locomotives.” Particularly after the enactment of the Charity Law, we can now say that philanthropic organizations have come to constitute a part of social organizations in general. It might just be a small part, however in a certain sense philanthropic organizations are showcasing the future direction for all social organizations, and in doing so they have shaped ten major trends.

These ten major trends reflect the enormous changes in this field. From social organizations to philanthropic organizations, and from the relatively non-mainstream to the mainstream, we have seen trends towards mainstreaming, public welfare, the rule of law, transparency, cooperation, self-discipline, co-governance, symbiosis, trans-border partnerships and systemization.


3 Microtrends


Within this process, there are actually several microtrends that are very worthy of attention. This is something that I particularly want to emphasize. These trends also represent important challenges facing charitable organizations.

The “microtrends” in question are very useful for every charitable organization. As Mang Ge once said, “the macro-level is something we must accept. The micro-level, however, is where we can make a difference.”


What kind of Microtrends?

Recently we have been following the development of charitable organizations and social organizations. We have noticed that, looking at some important trends, cooperation between government and society has been an important process for the future development of social organizations. Within this process social organizations, and particularly charitable organizations, have been extremely effective, but there are still a number of important issues.

We have put forward a very important concept called skill professionalization. We have tracked social and charitable organizations over a long period of time, paying particular attention to the recent flourishing of cooperation between government and society.

Over the past decade, government and community cooperation has shown a momentum of vigorous development, primarily, although not entirely, in the field of consumer services. Many social organizations, and particularly charitable organizations, are actively investing in government and community cooperation in consumer services, reflecting a mainstreaming of this trend.

We use a concept called “skill professionalization” to consider and research some related issues that are worth paying attention to. This concept of skill professionalization is a category of institutional economics, and through this conceptualization, we can think about and research cooperation between charitable organizations and the government, and draw some important conclusions.

This concept itself comes from institutional economics. It is used to study the evolution of institutions, particularly the core competitiveness of organizational evolution. It is also used to study wealth and capital. Its earliest conceptualization was the professionalism of capital, and it has later been used to research core competitiveness in the workforce.

This concept is very meaningful for research into social organizations. We use this concept to analyze an endogenous mechanism of cooperation that has been created when social organizations, and especially charitable organizations, cooperate with the government. We have found that community organizations have produced two relatively extreme situations.


4 Skill Professionalization


In contrast with the specialization of capital or technical ability, we have put forward the idea of “skill specialization”. It is a concept that is still being improved upon. I published an article in this year’s Volume 1 of the China Non-Profit Review, which focuses on discussion of this concept of skill professionalization.

Revolving around this concept, in the past we have tracked many social organizations in different fields of study, including AIDS prevention, environmental protection and community governance. We have found that this concept can be used to comprehensively and systematically study the internal mechanisms of cooperation between charitable organizations and the government.

I define this concept as a type of organizational ability that social organizations express in their cooperation with the government. More specifically, it is expressed as cooperation with the government; doing deep and meaningful work in a specific field, and over a long period of time; producing outstanding work; having a professionalized staff and volunteer crew; and the stable relationship with partners, including the government, developed through long-term experience and accumulation of social capital.

We give it a four-dimensional view; the first dimension is that aspects of the field are displayed through deep and careful work in that particular field; the second is that within the team there is professional staff, team and volunteers; the third is that there should be an extremely close and stable cooperative relationship with the government; the fourth is that it should show related attributes; in this process it forms attributes such as being non-profit, non-competitive and having a cooperative symbiosis.

We use this concept to go and research cooperation between government and society, and discover that within the process of cooperation between the government and social organizations, in reality two different trends exist. One trend is that, following long-term stable cooperation with the government, a higher professionalisation of skills has developed, and this type of professionalisation of skills also conversely encourages socio-political cooperation and makes these cooperative relations tighter and tighter.

In the end, the government is not able to do without social and charitable organisations, and charitable organisations also cannot do without the government. Another kind of situation is if cooperation between the government and social organisations is relatively relaxed, and professionalisation of skills cannot be developed. If it is like this then a pattern of being ‘united in appearance but divided at heart’ will form between the government and the social organisations.

We put this kind of concept to the test firstly in the field of AIDS prevention and treatment. We compared different kinds of AIDS prevention social organisations in Mainland China and Taiwan. We choose 23 organizations in Taiwan and 48 organisations in the Mainland, and we researched the circumstances of cooperation between social organisations working on AIDS prevention and the government in the last 40 years. We discovered that in Taiwan, overall, the professionalisation of skills in social organisations was stronger, and they formed a model of co-operative symbiosis with the government. In the Mainland areas the professionalisation of skills in AIDS prevention social organisations was lower, and it took shape through a model of policies on charity characterised by arbitrary allocation. Our initial discovery was that different social organisations had different professionalisations of skills.

The professionalisation of skills is a key factor in influencing cooperation between government and social forces and its different models. We want to further research why different social organisations come to form different professionalisations of skills, and we discovered that there are three big historical factors behind the different professionalisations of skills. The first is support from the system and policies; the second is support from the system of training human resources; the third is support from the system and mechanism of examination and evaluation.

Simply speaking, the support of the system and policies is provided by the government, including the corresponding policies where the government encourages social organisations to participate in these fields, and encourages social organisations to cooperate with the government. The system of training human resources can provide persistent support in the field of human talent, and guarantee that there is outstanding talent entering these social organisations. The mechanism of examining and evaluating is relatively more relaxed, it is not about seeking fast returns, but it enables social organisations to form their abilities in a more relaxed environment.

In Taiwan there are some corresponding processes that support the forming of a professionalisation of skills, and corresponding systems and mechanisms. But in comparison to the Mainland, in the sphere of AIDS prevention what we see is exactly the opposite; the support of policy systems is not strong enough, and the support of talent training systems is not strong enough. At the same time, there is also one extremely unfavourable and competition-based examination and evaluation mechanism, and we especially need to stress that this evaluation system is not only carried out by the government, but in reality it also comprises international organisations, and international organisations also require these kinds of ‘seeking instant benefits’ mechanisms.


5  Conclusions and Recommendations


The greatest challenge for social organizations comes from the lack of professionalization of skills, which manifests itself in the organization’s specialization in certain areas of cooperation with the government, the professional team it has, the social capital accumulated from years of experience, and many other aspects.

The professionalization of skills of social organizations is an important factor affecting the relationship between government and society. When the professionalization of skills is strong, cooperation between government and social organizations can more easily resemble a close relationship of mutual dependence. Whereas when professionalization of skills is weak, the government is more likely to have an advantage and be able to exert arbitrary control.

The cultivation and development of professionalization of skills depends on three historical factors, which include the area of need, education and a system for training and evaluating personnel. In the absence of these factors, social organizations will find it difficult to develop a high level of professionalization of skills.


Recommendation: adjust policies with a focus on professionalization of skills

The professionalization of skills of social organizations is the most important factor affecting the cooperation between the government and social organizations. To truly play the role of social organizations and promote the modernization of the national governance system and governance capacity, we must start by cultivating and developing the professionalization of skills and making it an important policy goal to promote and deepen reform of social organizations.

At the same time, we find some important disadvantages in government procurement services, where adjustments and reform of unfavorable policy mechanisms around assessments can help to establish and improve the system of appraising the professionalization of skills. This can then encourage social organizations to develop professionally, establish specialized teams and increase their professionalization of skills, in order to improve the overall ecology of social organizations.

These conclusions and recommendations are most suited to charitable organizations in the context of the current systems and policies. After the introduction of the Charity Law, charities are the most institutionally developed out of all social organizations, and their greatest challenge still lies mainly in the insufficient professionalization of skills.

Before the introduction of the Charity Law, we faced two challenges, an institutional bottleneck and a funding bottleneck. Now that both these bottlenecks are largely overcome, the main challenge we face is the lack of professionalization of skills.

The difference in professionalization of skills is dividing our charities into two types. There are several charities that are able to access resources and opportunities in the midst of collaborative symbiosis, strengthen professionalization of skills and achieve innovation and growth. They can be found among foundations and in environmental protection, AIDS prevention and treatment, and community building, but they are few and far between. The majority of charities are still fluctuating between being social organizations and being charities. The best proof is that there are only five or six thousand recognized charities.

It is difficult for charities to establish professionalization of skills when they are struggling to survive in the midst of cooperation with the government and arbitrary allocation of resources. The formation of this situation is closely related to inadequate systems to support the areas of institutional policy, talent development, and assessment and evaluation. Therefore our recommendation is to make the development of charities’ professionalization of skills a focus, accelerate the reform and improvement of our systems of institutional policy, talent development and assessment and evaluation, in order to vigorously promote the capacity building of charities.


Thank you everyone!

In Brief

Our translation of a talk by Tsinghua Professor Wang Ming, looking at the current situation of China’s social organizations.
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