What do the secretary-generals have to say in reply to “Frontline Voices ”?

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Since September, CDB has published 19  articles in the online Chinese column Frontline Voices (See here for the Chinese Column and here for the English Column). It has also released a hardcopy report including all the 23 articles and a survey based on questionnaires collected from 124 project officers from 102 private foundations during the China Private Foundation Forum’s annual meeting (see CDB news here and here).  The frontline foundation project officers have thus had their voices heard. So what is the response from the management of Chinese private foundations? CDB interviewed 11 secretary-generals during the intervals in the annual meeting regarding their views on the articles and the report. The following is the feedback we received from 8 secretary-generals.

Secretary-generals appearing in this article:
Chen Jian, Secretary-general,Beijing Vantone Foundation
Huang Yi, Executive Secretary-general, China Merchants Charitable Foundation
Huo Qingchuan, Assistant to the Secretary-general, Zhejiang Dunhe Foundation
Peng Yanni, Secretary-general, Narada Foundation
Wu Junjun, Director, Fujian Zhenro Foundation
Yang Chunyan, Secretary-general, Jiangsu Charming Education Foundation
Zhu Yi , Executive Secretary-general, Yangjing Community Foundation
Zou Weiquan, Vice Secretary-general, Rural Women Development Foundation Guangdong

Which articles have the secretary-generals read?(Most secretary-generals pay more attention to the articles by the project officers from their own foundations, or those who they know personally)

Peng Yanni: I was obviously most interested in my own colleagues’ articles, such as Feng Yuan‘s (see here) and Xiaoxue’s …

Chen Jian: I’ve read through the whole column, because it includes articles by project officers from our foundation.(Some secretary-generals focus on the articles that express strong feelings and opinions)

Huang Yi: the articles which impressed me the most are Leng Feng’s (see here) and Jingjing’s. They are both new comers to the sector, and their articles illustrate their true feelings.

Huo Qingchuan: the articles by anonymous authors who chose to leave their foundations left me quite shocked.(What will Qingchuan do after being shocked by the articles? We don’t know, but we imagine that Yang Chunyan’s measures, which we detail below, will strike fear in those who think that working at a foundation is just a way to while away their time.

Yang Chunyan: I was of course most impressed by Qiuhua’s article (See here). I got to know Qiuhua not long ago, but she left a deep impression on me. She is young and very active, which is exactly what the sector is lacking. She thinks proactively and promotes community development rigorously. Such people are rare, especial since external support is lacking. This sort of quality is exactly what we are looking for in our foundation. That is why I fired four people this year. (Chunyan actually did fire four people this year!)

(Some secretary-generals prefer articles that identify problems and give solutions)
Zou Weiquan: I was actually impressed by all the articles. But the most outstanding one is a recently published article –‘My Path through the Charity Sector’ by Zheng Haoping, from the Guangdong Baichuan Charity Foundation. The article is very realistic and down to earth. Many young people in the NGO sector may have gone through similar emotional waves. Yet his article is very positive, and he looks at the sector and his job in an open way. He looks at those who are the beneficiaries of his services, and from this he draws the strength to conduct his work. He has compassion and empathy, which are essential for NGO practitioners. I think many in the NGO sector can learn from him.

Wu Junjun: I’ve read all the articles and the report, three times! I paid special attention to the articles written by people Iknow, including Xiaoxue, Yuanze, and also Zhou Qiuhua, who comes from our foundation. But I looked closely at the other articles too. I found that many newcomers felt the same way towards issues such as grant-making and governance as I did when I first joined a foundation. So there isn’t a single author that stood out ,but I am very aware of the problems described in the articles, especially since they still exist.

Zhu Yi: All the articles are good. Most of the people who wrote them began their NGO work as undergraduate students. They are able to observe and discover social needs, and are positive and diligent in conducting their work.

What are the secretary-generals going to do?

Peng Yanni: We have already conducted some “sharing of life stories”activities within our organization. After reading the frontline voices articles, the purpose of doing this has become clearer. I have also sent the articles to our council, and all the members think they are excellent. We will conduct more sharing of this type in our team, because we are all striving for the same cause.(The articles by the two project officers from the Narada Foundation are both the result of internal “sharing of life stories”activities. Yanni will ensure that the sharing continues.)

Huo Qingchuan: if the NGO sector is not attractive for job seekers or cannot retain the project officers, then there must be a problem within the NGO sector. We should reflect on our own operations in the Dunhe Foundation to see whether there are problems like those mentioned in the articles. Do the employees feel uncomfortable with our management style, organizational culture, and values? If so, we must change and provide a comfortable working environment so as to inspire their creativity and enthusiasm.(Even though he felt stung by some of the articles, Qingchuan didn’t react rashly. He conducted some self-reflection instead.)

Yang Chunyan: Young people born in the nineties can also achieve a lot! I may try to recruit more young people for our foundation. Perhaps this was also inspired by the Frontline Voices project.(Employing young people- a very direct measure that Chunyan, who fired four people within a year, wants to take.)

Chen Jian: Our foundation always stresses training for project officers. Even without a sufficient budget, this year I still managed to get two project officers to the Xieli Camp and other exchange/training programs. I personally emphasize the HR strategy of the organization and the capacity building of employees. This way they can remain in this sector and have a clear career plan. Our foundation will thus keep up its cultivation strategy for employees.(Chen Jian, secretary-general of the Vantone Foundation, states that he will seek funds for training even with a tight budget)
Wu Junjun: Young people in foundations often have the same questions: how to conduct a project or grant-making? Who can solve their problems concerning career development? I am trying to think of a way to bring these people together and let them discuss such questions. For instance, are their suggestions considered in the course of designing and implementing a project, or are they just following instructions from the management? This is what I have been working on. Does everyone have a voice in the foundation? How can I engage them deeper? Therefore, more platforms are required to enhance participation.(So does Junjun mean that the Zhenro Foundation will not only launch Hepingtai, a project to support platform NGOs, but also support the establishment of a platform for frontline foundation project officers?)

Zhuyi: Selecting and cultivating undergraduate students for the NGO sector is essential for a foundation’s long term human resources strategy. At the same time, I suggest that foundations, businesses and grassroot NGOs can join efforts in this cause. For instance, undergraduate students could intern in turn in all the three types of organizations to understand the working environment and the type of work. On the other hand this may not be very feasible since the organizations may not want others to see their difficulties too closely.(Zhuyi, from a community foundation, gives a very practical suggestions here. The idea of rotating internships was mentioned in several discussions after the China Private Foundation Forum annual meeting. Will this be considered by more foundations?)

In Brief

Since the release of CDB’s Frontline Voices column, have the voices of these grant-making officers been heard by the management? Will there be any measures to address the issues mentioned in the articles? In this interview, eight secretary-generals of private Chinese foundations give their own answers to these questions.
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