Wang Zhongping: ‘five community linkages’ points to vast potential for volunteering in China

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In July 2021, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party and the State Council together issued their “Opinions on Strengthening the Modernization of the Grassroots-level Governance System and Governance Capabilities”, which for the first time clearly stated the need to “innovate the mechanisms for linking up community organizations, NGOs, social workers, community volunteers, and charitable resources” – otherwise known as the “five community linkages”.

Compared with the “three community linkages”, the “five community linkages” also attempts to incorporate community volunteers and charitable resources. What kind of role are these two newly added components – and especially community volunteers – serving in connection with the others? And how exactly should they be combined with the “three community linkages”? Moreover, after the Opinions were issued one year ago, how much progress has been made to date?

A reporter with China Philanthropy Times got to the bottom of these questions in an interview with Wang Zhongping, who serves as both an associate professor at Beijing Forestry University’s School of Economics and Management and as director of Hozon, a management consulting agency that Wang established in 2010. Hozon has been providing consulting services focusing on corporate social responsibility, voluntary services, charitable and philanthropic activities, and the latest best practices to businesses, governments, NGOs and other clients for the past 12 years.

Wang regards the introduction of the “five community linkages” as a significant piece of positive news for the development of voluntary services in China. Voluntary organizations carry out their activities with a goal and direction in mind, and with the “five community linkages” becoming fully engaged in social governance, these organizations will be able to give full play to their value, while also making a more favorable social impact.

Interviewer: What kind of influence has the introduction of the “five community linkages” had on the development of volunteer services?

Wang Zhongping: I think that in terms of volunteer services in China, this is certainly a tremendous piece of good news. First, this is an affirmation of the importance of volunteer services to social governance and a full-scale acknowledgement of its value. Second, it has given volunteer services a clear-cut orientation for its development, serving as a means to strengthen the modernization of the system for grassroots-level governance and governance capabilities. With the guidance provided in documents issued by the Central Committee and the State Council, we can go on exploring and putting volunteer services into practice. Third, volunteer services have been provided with a historic opportunity and space for further advancement.

For example, at one community in Beijing’s Chaoyang District, we got involved in a company’s efforts to support the community with a donation of equipment for the disposal of kitchen waste – creating a “zero waste space” – with the company’s staff likewise serving as volunteers in the community to raise public awareness on environmental protection. We also incubated a community-based NGO, letting residents organize their efforts spontaneously and achieving a “zero waste” community based on an operational mode that incorporates “guidance by the government, coordination by the community, participation by residents, operations by NGOs, and support by companies”.

In addition, we collaborated with the Beijing Chaoyang District Committee of the Communist Youth League to launch a “CVSC plan” (CVSC: company, voluntary service and community) and projects integrating community and company volunteer services, as well as setting up a platform for directly linking up businesses with local communities. In many localities we promoted community “CES plans” (CES: create, enjoy and share), mobilizing community residents to propose solutions and organize teams to join together in resolving social problems.

Moving forward, we hope to draw support from the new orientation provided by the introduction of the “five community linkages” to engage in further exploration, while continuing to accumulate more experience.

Interviewer: At present, what kinds of problems are there with bringing the work of volunteers fully into play in terms of the “five community linkages”?

Wang: Realizing the “five community linkages” requires following through on the logic of mobilization efforts to galvanize volunteers into action, which is the only way to have long-term sustainability. As for the problems we’re faced with now, one is that the number of volunteer organizations and their resources are both inadequate, which means there’s no way to meet the demands placed on volunteers in alignment with the “five community linkages”. The second problem is that some localities lack platforms and systems to put the “five community linkages” into effect, while a third problem is that communities have insufficient means and capacities to organize volunteers and establish volunteering teams.

Interviewer: Looking ahead, what is the future development path for the “five community linkages” and how in particular will the efforts of volunteers be harnessed?

Wang: In the context of the modernization of China’s system of governance, we’ve already come to realize that a diverse array of entities will inevitably need to partake on equal terms in governance at the grassroots level. During the course of this process, the form and features of mobilization will undergo a significant transformation, with a number of creative and innovative approaches expected to emerge. The number and quality of voluntary organizations will gradually increase, with their dominant role in community governance potentially being bolstered to a certain degree, though routine efforts must be further strengthened in innovation, accumulating experience, training, and fostering a favorable environment. All in all, the number of volunteers and voluntary organizations in China is immense, which can serve as an important complementary resource for the government, having an oversized impact especially in those localities where NGOs have a relatively diminished presence.

Interviewer: What kind of support needs to be provided in order to encourage volunteers to play an even bigger role?

Wang: It is important to put in place institutional guarantees, forming a favorable external environment for the development of volunteers and voluntary organizations. And it is important to also promote a culture that encourages and supports people giving up their time to do volunteer work.