Zhu Jiangang: community foundations are the promoters of a community agenda

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“We need to be more active and view ourselves as a platform for cross-border cooperation, aiming at promoting communication and cooperation between all the interested parties. We also need to view ourselves as promoters of a community agenda, urging innovations in policies and speeding up cooperation among NGOs. These are the responsibilities that community foundations in China must shoulder.”

In December 2016, the Global Summit on Community Philanthropy was held in Johannesburg, South Africa. More than 360 community foundations from 60 countries attended the summit. The Guangdong Harmony Foundation (GHF) was present as the representative of China’s community organizations. Zhu Jiangang, Vice President and Secretary-General of GHF and Executive Dean of the School of Philanthropy, Sun Yat-sen University, delivered a speech entitled Community Organizations in China.

Zhu has worked on promoting and supporting community organizations for more than 20 years. In his view, all the community organizations share one characteristic: they are small. Zhu thinks that “small” does not necessarily have a pejorative meaning. Smallness means flexibility, independence, vitality and ease of survival. However, smallness also carries negative impacts, like fragility, weakness, vulnerability to outside influence and a lack of resources and attention. A journalist from China Philanthropy Times has interviewed Zhu on the characteristics of community charity and the trends of its future development. Perhaps his views can provide some enlightenment regarding the development of community charity organizations, including community foundations.

“Community foundations are the experts on communities”

China Philanthropy Times: The Guangdong Harmony Foundation (GHF) was established in 2009. What are the major fields that the Foundation works on? How has the Foundation developed in recent years?

Zhu: As a community foundation, we focus our work on the area of the Pearl River Delta. According to our research and surveys, there are three major problems in the Delta that need solving. The first is the challenge of assimilating the floating population. The second is the environmental pollution brought about by “pollute first, solve the problems later” policies. The third is the problems of the development of community charity for disadvantaged groups caused by disparities in wealth. Currently, the GHF spends about 15 million yuan annually on charity.

Personally, I am most satisfied with the “Ronghe Project” which supports local charities to speed up the integration of the migrant population. By September 2016, the “Ronghe Project” has worked with governments, enterprises, the press, charity organizations and Walking Proud, supporting 56 projects on the floating population, covering more than 20 communities in the Delta, donating over 3 million RMB, and directly serving and influencing more than 10,000 people.

China Philanthropy Times: You have been involved in promoting and supporting community charities for almost 20 years. What do you think have been the different phases of the development of community charity in China?

Zhu: Community charities’ development has taken place in synchrony with that of grassroots NGOs. At the early stage, they focused on care and services, including providing services for the elderly and the disabled. Gradually, some organizations started to get involved in rights protection. Now they participate in communal management. These three phases reflect the government’s reforms and its emphasis on the diverse co-management of community affairs. These changes also reflect the citizens’ attitudes towards community affairs, the improvement in their character and the stronger awareness of rights and interests. Of course, this development also demonstrates that activists are touching upon the deeper problems of communities, gradually promoting the development of community charities.

China Philanthropy Times: What methods does GHD use to work with neighborhoods, communities, cities and districts? How can we understand the position and orientation of community foundations?

Zhu: The main work of GHF is aimed at providing technical support for community charities, helping them with venture capital investments. We also establish foundations with other parties. For instance, in Luohuo, Shezhen, we work with the local government to set up a social service organization and specialized foundations, helping with local venture capital investments. In the meantime, we try and spread this valuable experience to other places, such as Guangzhou, Shunde and Foshan. As community foundations are rooted in communities, focus on communities and support communal development, they know the real conditions of communities. In a sense, community foundations are experts on communities. Thus governments are willing to work with them, and NGOs hope to seek help from them.

China Philanthropy Times: Community organizations have to work with officials from the governments, neighborhoods and communities. How can this relationship be balanced while maintaining the foundations’ independence?   

Zhu: This is a challenging problem. I think that in order for independence to be maintained, the funds for community organizations must come from the public and be diverse. This is an important foundation for independence. However, this does stand in the way of the relationship between community foundations and other parties. Foundations should play the role of a platform, bringing NGOs, governments, neighborhoods and relevant parities together to discuss issues, eliminate misunderstandings and achieve common objectives. The core of balancing these relationships is to seek common ground. Of course, seeking common ground while preserving differences is also important.

“Development must be localized”

China Philanthropy Times: At present China already has 5,393 foundations, but only dozens of community foundations. Meanwhile, the development of community foundations is unbalanced. Community foundations in Shanghai and Guangdong account for 70% of the total community foundations. What do you think?

Zhu: Although the number of community foundations is small, I think there is a great potential for development. The unique strength of community organizations is their locality. They are greatly connected with the local needs, resources and diverse benefits. In Chinese culture, there is a strong identification with one’s locality. Thanks to this, we are more willing to devote resources to our hometowns, and focus on problems related to our places of origin.

However, community organizations also suffer from “intrinsic shortcomings.” Many of the domestic community organizations are influenced and limited by administrative concepts. Many people regard neighborhoods as communities. In fact, people need to have a deeper understanding of communities: communities can be big and small. A street, a neighborhood, or even a city, a district.

As for the imbalance in geographic distribution, the reason is simple: government support. Why do these local governments support community organizations? They realize that the problems confronted by communities cannot be settled only through the efforts of the government, but through the diverse forces of society.

China Philanthropy Times: The concept of community foundations originates abroad. From your understanding, what are the differences between China’s community foundations and those from overseas? What can we learn from them?

Zhu: The major difference is that community foundations abroad are largely initiated by social organizations or individuals, while in China they are initiated by the governments. I think the vitality of community foundations relies on the public. Only by stimulating the strength of the public can community foundations obtain real development.

The Global Summit on Community Philanthropy was held on the first two days of December in Johannesburg, South Africa. GHF, as the representative for China’ community foundations, attended the summit. I was greatly impressed by the varied and versatile community foundations and their development patterns. Before the summit we only understood the American model, which is largely based on guaranteed funds. However, we have seen how small and medium community foundations have developed their own paths. In addition, the charm of Africa and the work carried out there by many organizations and activists also left me with a deep impression.

China Philanthropy Times: Some commentators think community foundations will become the next development trend, but some say that China does not have any real community foundations. What do you make of this?

Zhu: At this year’s Global Community Foundation Summit we understood that there is more than just the American model for development, and we should not use solely the American model to measure community foundations around the world. The most important thing is to generate foundations that rely on internal power and suit local needs. This is the real development trend. Community foundations’ development in China should be diversified. The whole process may involve eliminating the fake foundations and retaining the real ones, or the fake ones may be mistaken for the real ones. Many will find it hard to understand this process.

Taking GHF as an example, we have learnt from the American model and we now fit the six standards set by the American Community Foundation. Fitting these standards is however not our aim. Our aim is to develop foundations that are in line with local needs and cultures after drawing on the experience of foreign foundations. This is what we really need to do.

Interconnection promotes capacity building

China Philanthropy Times: You mentioned the “He Platform” at the Global Community Foundation Summit. What kind of platform is it? What influence do you wish this platform to exert?

Zhu: The “He Platform” is a platform launched by the Zhenro Foundation, the Dunhe Foundation and the Narada Foundation to support the development of grassroots social organizations in second and third tier cities. We found that if we first support the community organizations, and then use them to support charities, this may be a better strategy. Our efforts may yield better results.

We want to work together and use this platform to support community foundations, and individuals and groups who are working on establishing community foundations. If community foundations are properly developed, more resources will be drawn into communities, supporting more charities. The GHF is also prepared to provide funds for the “He Platform” and invite experts from the Global Community Foundation to strengthen the capacity building of China’s community foundations. This platform is precious and valuable. We hope it will become a key channel for the development of China’s community foundations.

China Philanthropy Times: Looking at last year’s performance, what do you think are the highlights of the development of community foundations?

Zhu: In 2016, we are seeing an increasing participation of philanthropists in community philanthropy. Community foundations driven by governments, businesses and the public are all developing. The connections among foundations themselves are tightening. China’s First Community Foundation Forum, held at the China Charity Fair in Shenzhen, as well as the Global Community Foundation Summit we held together with the Zhenro Foundation all attest to this fact. This connection will exert great influence on the capacity building of community foundations, the exchange of ideas and the expansion of their influence.

China Philanthropy Times: As one of China’s first community foundations, what’s this year’s plan for GHF?

Zhu: As one of China’s first community foundations, we are obliged to promote the development of community foundations. However, this does not mean we have to create a “GHF Model” or an “American Model” to evaluate the properties of community foundations. The key is to raise public awareness on the importance of community philanthropy and community charity organizations, and on the fact that the soil for social change lies in the community. This year we hope to hold national training sessions for the general secretaries of community foundations, and forums for such foundations. We also hope to translate and publish books on the development of community foundations, allowing more people to understand them. But of course, the most important thing is to do our work well and raise more funds to provide support for more social organizations.

In Brief

In this translated interview Zhu Jiangang, the general secretary and vice-president of the Guangdong Harmony Foundation, discusses the development of community foundations in China.
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