During the Ford School Trip to China we have had the privilege of being exposed to multiple NGOs. In the United States we would classify these as one essential type of organization, but in China these programs can differ in various ways ranging from their origin to their execution. One type of these NGOs may appear ironic in name as its government run, but may be the most effective despite traversing grey areas.
The Yangjing Community Foundation appears to be a normal NGO on the surface; it’s a modest building with a few staff members that work multiple roles in order to provide themselves a substantial living income. Rooms are filled with community members participating in programs such as mental health services to clothing donations. In the States, a Boys and Girls Club is the easiest visual comparison to make when imagining the YCF. Both of these organizations directly serve the needs of their respective communities and are driven by a sense of a community vision to create future programs.
This is where the comparisons stop. Organizations like many other NGOs in China and all types of non-profits in the U.S. are heavily dependent upon donations for their organization to survive. Although YCF is theoretically the same in this sense it has a direct link with the government to access these funds. A good example is that all NGOs in China must register with the Civil Affairs Bureau in order to determine your rating and receive additional support. A rating of AAA allows your NGO to obtain government subsidies—a reward for providing excellent services to your community. But the YCF obtained a AAA, but this raises questions of how strict this criteria is and if it is equally being used for non-governmental NGOs.
Further research might reveal if there is any positive discrimination towards NGOs that are affiliated with the government. One benefit of YCF being government run is that it is accountable to its people. Although this might not seem like an issue in a one-party state, since the local government runs the organization it allows the needs of its community to be quickly served in the most effective manner. The problem is if this creates any competition with non-governmental NGOs for funding and the future effects this may have.
It is worth nothing that many of these welfare services would be provided by the government if the NGO didn’t exist but YCF allows these programs to have local input, creating a culture that otherwise would be non-existent.
Despite the irony of its title, a non-governmental NGO is nothing to be concerned about. Despite the grey areas that exist in its funding procedures it still serves much like any other NGO would and provides access to the needy.
- Ray Barrett