Government centre aims to converge “parallel lines” of charity
Civil Society | Corporate Social Responsibility | Governance and Social Policy
February saw the formal launch of a Ministry of Civil Affairs information clearing house designed to facilitate information flows across China’s charitable sector and foster a more favourable philanthropic environment for both donors and beneficiaries.
The Ministry expects the China Charity and Donation Information Centre (中民慈善捐助信息中心) to improve linkages between government, business, and civil society organisations, according to Chen Tao (陈涛), a ministry official who heads the Centre.
“There is an absence of co-ordination and integration among these three parties. They work like three parallel lines that never converge,” Chen told China Development Brief.
Chen notes that whilst China’s booming economy has brought increased disparities,
many better-off people are willing to help the disadvantaged. Individual and business donations have become an important force in social welfare, which used to be the sole responsibility of the government.
Last year, Civil Affairs departments across the country, whose responsibilities include disaster relief and care for orphans, received a total of nearly CNY 4 billion (USD 500 million) in donations. But Chen estimates that there must be at least CNY 6 billion more in donations that are off the Ministry’s radar.
“Many spontaneous aid groups and international organisations have done a lot of charity work in China. However, it is hard to collect information on these activities and we have little knowledge of them,” Chen says.
The Centre means to collect information from various sources, including government agencies, media reports, and foundations, to form an authoritative database. Through a charity portal (www.juanzhu.gov.cn), a monthly magazine and a weekly newsletter, it also hopes to enhance transparency and integrity of charitable groups.
Wang Zhenyao (王振耀), Director of the Disaster Relief Department of the ministry, told a news briefing in January that charity in China is hobbled by problems such as a lack of transparency and unappealing projects. The China Daily (January 12, 2007) quoted Wang as saying that charitable organisations, especially NGOs, are not professionally managed.
The Donation and Information Centre expects to encourage to better discipline and sound governance structures by publishing financial and other information on organisations’ programmes.
Wang says the Centre aims to create a transparent, open and tight network and become a good example of how government and the rest of the society can work together.
Chen expects that with a more transparent system and credible reputation, charity organisations will be better trusted by public, thus encouraging more people engaged in charity work.
He adds that the Centre could also serve as a bridge between donors and people in need. By using the website or calling the Centre, needy individuals or groups may receive advice on which organisations to seek help from.
The Charity and Donation Information Centre, although set up and managed by the Ministry of Civil Affairs, is registered as a “people-run non-enterprise organization” (民办非企业单位).
In the long run, the Centre aims to become more independent and grow into China’s most authoritative platform for charity work.
TV viewers to rank prizewinners
The Centre is also organising an official, annual China Charity Award, approved by the State Council. This will award prizes for the best donor, best volunteer, best domestic charity enterprise, best foreign charity enterprise and best charity project.
Nominees for this year range from a handicapped woman who runs a school to support disabled people, to billionaires who donate millions to charity, and from community groups to national campaigns run by national and international organisations.
The stories of short-listed nominees were aired on national television over the Spring Festival holiday, with viewers invited to submit votes via cellphone SMS.
The final decision will be made by a panel of judges, with the results to be announced at a grand gala in March.
Report by Chang Tianle, February 18, 2007