Disability NGO pioneers local fundraising
Civil Society | Social Welfare
An independent non-profit organisation that provides community-based care for mentally handicapped youngsters is managing to raise enough funds in China to expand its services without increasing dependence on international donors—despite a restrictive legal framework that leaves the fundraising market dominated by a handful of large, state-backed players.
The Huiling (慧灵) network, which now has ten service centres in major cities across China, is recovering 40% of its costs from fees and local fundraising, according to its founder, Meng Weina(孟维娜).
Meng, a Guangzhou native, quit her job with a labour union in 1985 and established the first Huiling in 1990 in her home city. After some difficult, early years, the operation was stable enough for her to start a new branch in Beijing in 2000, and others soon followed. In the capital, Huiling has had no choice but to remain registered as a business with the local Bureau of Industry and Commerce, but other branches have all registered with local Civil Affairs authorities as “people-run non-enterprise units” (minban feiqiye danwei).
Beijing Huiling is based in a traditional courtyard close to the Forbidden City, and Meng and her colleagues have turned this location to their advantage. Since 2003 a tourist agency has integrated a stop at the courtyard into a city tour that takes an average of three tour groups a week.
As well as seeing a traditional Beijing hutong (alley) and courtyard, the tourists have an opportunity to learn about Huiling’s work and sample snacks prepared by Huiling’s young clients who also give short kuaibanr shows (a traditional Chinese performance technique, somewhat akin to rap, with a rhythm accompaniment). Anticipating criticism that this exploits the mentally handicapped youngsters, Meng says that they benefit from the interaction and socialisation, and that their parents recognise the value of this. Huiling has for several years used music therapy to engage and stimulate young people with learning difficulties.
Last year, Huiling earnings from the tours topped CNY 250,000 (USD 31,250), according to Meng. The travel agency has also paid for upgrading some of the courtyard’s facilities—such as a toilet to cater for foreign tourists’ needs.
In Xi’an, another magnet for foreign tourists, Huiling followed Beijing’s example in 2004, receiving tourists on premises loaned to Huiling by the local Catholic Church. This generated more than CNY 100,000 (USD 12,500) last year in income for the Xi’an branch.
Back in Guangzhou, Huiling has since 2004 been organising an annual, “walkathon” on May 21, officially designated as National Disability Day. Money is not raised from per-lap sponsorship but by the sale of tickets to participants and onlookers in what is designed as a fun day for all. Companies donate products, such as water and T-shirts, for the use of participants.
The walkathon, Meng says, has become a social occasion for many Guangzhou citizens, and the funds raised have increased by 50% each year to top CNY 80,000 (USD 10,000) in 2006. This year the Finnish Consulate in Guangzhou facilitated the event by encouraging a luxury resort to provide a free location.
Huiling branches from Xi’an, Beijing and Qingyuan (in Guangdong) this year also held walkathon events. Interestingly, Meng notes, Qingyuan, with a population of 500,000 managed to raise CNY 12,000, while Xi’an raised CNY 8,000, and the capital city raised a mere CNY 500.
In Xi’an, senior officials from the Civil Affairs Bureau and provincial Disability Federation were among those who showed off in the jogging and the event has been highlighted in most major local media.
Other fundraising initiatives include a charity concert held in 2005 and the sale of artwork and handicrafts made by Huiling’s mentally handicapped youngsters.
Huiling’s fundraising success is all the more notable in an unclear legal context that limits opportunities for organisations started by private citizens. Only officially approved foundations have a clear right to engage in public fundraising, and permission to place collection boxes in public places is granted only to a handful of government-initiated agencies such as the China Charities Federation, China Red Cross Society, China Children and Teenagers Fund and China Youth Development Foundation. Social organisations and people-run non-enterprise units are allowed to receive donations, but generally only solicit funds privately.
Report by Tina Qian July 14, 2006
Click here to read our 2001 profile of Meng Weina and Huiling