Symposium presents "social enterprise" as key to sustainability
Civil Society | Social Welfare
Although oceans apart in some respects, social entrepreneurs from the UK and China share common experiences and challenges in their organisations, as they found at a symposium in Beijing on October 18.
Two British non-profit organisation leaders, Jim Baker, Director of Community Action Network North West and Tony Crocker, head of Track 2000, met with about 30 representatives from Beijing organisations and introduced their work in the UK. They shared their experience with Chinese counterparts on issues such as how to work with government and how to grow an organisation without relying entirely on grants.
One of the Chinese participants was “Sun Village” (太阳村) an 11-year-old organisation that takes care of children whose parents are in prison. It has four homes in China serving more than 800 children. To supplement donations it has tried its hand at “self-survival industry” (产业自救), including recycling business. Recently, it rented a date farm in the countryside outside Beijing and sells the dates it produces. It also encourages Beijing citizens to visit the farm and pick the dates themselves. The fruit from each tree costs visitors CNY 50, and harvest time around 1,000 people arrive at the farm each day.
“I’m surprised to learn that people in the UK are doing similar things and facing similar problems,” said Fei Yang (飞杨), who works at Sun Village. “I’m impressed by what they have achieved. Their success and experience are very helpful to us.”
According to Li Fan (李凡), Executive Director of Global Links Initiative (GLI), which organised the event, Chinese NGOs have limited sources of funding and rely too much on grants from overseas, which can lead to unsustainable organisational development. “The concept of social enterprise may enlighten Chinese NGOs to look for creative and sustainable ways to develop themselves,” she said, adding that she is optimistic about the future of Chinese social enterprises.
As an international non-profit organisation that aims to foster links between social entrepreneurs around the world, GLI has organised several exchange events between UK and Chinese NPOs. In addition, it plans to send staff of Chinese and UK NPOs to work in their counterpart’s organisation and share their expertise.
“Social enterprise is an efficient way to mobilise social resources, emphasising partnership and networking with other sectors. This is what Chinese NPOs need,” Li said.
Report by Chang Tianle, October 21 2006