We entered a large building and took the elevator up to a humble office space where we met an energetic woman by the name of Ms. Pia MacRae. Pia is the Country Director for Save the Children in China, and as we settled into our seats, munching on cookies which were generously spread before us, Pia began to give us a brief history of Save the Children.
Save the Children (STC) was set up in 1919 by its founder Eglantyne Jebb. Currently 90 countries have STC programs and there are 30 independent STCs. STC China does not hold an independent legal position. Pia, like many of our other meetings, reiterated- the landscape in China is completely different from the 1980s. With regards to the NGO sector in China, STC is the first NGO to persuade the government to let her register as a non-profit under the Department of Commerce, and other NGOs followed in her footsteps.
NGO work is still a contested issue in China. There are two streams of thought:
- The government cannot “do everything”; therefore there is a need for NGOs. This is considered acceptable.
- An adversarial civil society should lead social reform efforts, this is considered unacceptable.
The end state of both debates is government accountability, the idea that the government is responsible to deliver social services and a strong civil society should balance these responsibilities, assist where possible, and ensure that people are benefiting from such services.
STC China works with migrant and minority groups, as well as on disability and anti-trafficking issues. The organization focuses on “system strengthening”, working within the political system from the central government to the village level. STC delivers capacity building programs at each level of government. The organization works on protection and prevention. With an emphasis on child rights advocacy, STC works on constructive solutions, not attacking the government but acknowledging shared success.
STC has a good working relationship with the Ministry of Civil Affairs. The costs to the government to reach rural populations are high so the government increasingly looks to NGOs to fill the gaps. STC’s relations with the Chinese government have even allowed them to influence legislation. There is a belief that non-governmental organizations are equivalent to anti-government organizations. STC China rejects this conception by working with the government and has established a good reputation in China. STC China is therefore a model for international NGOs to build effective coalitions and lasting solutions to China’s pressing social issues.
– Amanda J Van Dort, MPP 2015