Charity does begin at home
Increasing numbers of Hong Kong non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have set up shop on the mainland in recent years, training local recruits, boosting co-operation with mainland government departments and grassroots NGOs and showing them the ropes to help them grow.
Oxfam Hong Kong (OHK) — a part of the prominent global chain of crusaders against poverty — too has called the mainland its home and is one of the pioneers in the development of NGOs across the border. It all began in 1976 when volunteers opened a second-hand shop, raising funds for antipoverty projects around the world. A decade later, OHK launched a project in Guangdong Province, heralding its push into the mainland.
“We not only focus on rural development and poverty alleviation on the mainland. We pay a lot of attention to improving the livelihood of migrant workers in the cities,” said OHK’s China program director Howard Liu Hung-to.
On top of their minds, Liu said, has been the health of migrant workers in the manufacturing industry in the Pearl River and Yangtze River deltas, providing them special training before they work in factories, offering them legal aid and helping them to integrate into the community.
As of March this year, OHK has been involved in projects across 29 provinces and regions on the mainland, with total capital invested reaching HK$1.1 billion — a 10-fold rise from HK$114 million two years ago.
To speed up the localization effort, one of the group’s chief strategies is to recruit mainland employees and strengthen bonds with various mainland partners, such as government departments, mass organizations, NGOs, communities and academics.
“About 90 percent of the staff at our mainland offices are local people and they have the chance to be relocated to our Hong Kong headquarters to get professional training,” Liu said.
“Each year, we work with some 100 partners in more than 300 projects. Of course, the proportion of money invested in social organizations is also rising rapidly,” he said.
In the aftermath of the devastating Wenchuan earthquake in 2008, OHK worked with the State Council’s Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development and signed agreements on reconstruction projects. A total of 80 million yuan was poured into 80 villages to rebuild stricken areas in Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi provinces. The organization also teamed up with the disaster relief center under the Ministry of Civil Affairs in Yunnan Province to fight against earthquakes and other natural disasters.
According to OHK’s 2012/13 annual report, the mainland topped the list of countries and regions in receiving donations from Oxfam Hong Kong. Nearly 54 percent of the funds raised were used for projects on the mainland, followed by those in the Mekong Delta region (including Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam) and Southeast Asia, which received 11.7 percent and 9 percent in aid, respectively.
“In future, we intend to allocate more funds for the mainland, depending on the circumstances. But, the proportion of aid will be no less than half of our total project expenditure,” said Liu.
By the latest count, there are between 3,000 and 6,000 foreign NGOs on the mainland, according to Wang Ming, deputy director of the School of Public Policy and Management at Tsinghua University.
According to the China Development Brief (CDB) — a mainland NGO working in the civil society, social development and philanthropic sectors — the United States has the largest number of NGOs operating on the mainland, followed by Hong Kong. Their main areas of concern include health, education, rural development, environmental protection, and the welfare of children and the handicapped.
Chu Ying, a researcher with Tsinghua University’s NGO Research
Hong Kong NGOs are mature and they are affected by a mature social environment and donation culture. The capital for many NGOs comes from public donations, so it’s significant to win public trust.” HOWARD LIU HUNG-TO CHINA PROGRAM DIRECTOR, OHK
Center, said Hong Kong NGOs often provide training for their mainland partners, offer financial support and supervise the implementation of various programs. But, he said, their expectations of mainland partners is high. “They pay much attention to their partners’ talent cultivation and capacity building, and would assess the usefulness of each program and monitor each step of operation.”
However, due to cultural differences, Hong Kong NGOs might come across maladjustments. For instance, some expenditure might not be included in the budget, but it’s inevitably generated such as the cost of a meal for their customers, Chu explained, adding that when such a thing happened, the grassroot NGOs might need to request for additional funding.
In such cases, Hong Kong NGOs might plan extra funding in advance and provide them with more funds, according to local customs and the local environment.
The Cultural Development Center for Rural Women — a Beijing-based NGO that seeks to promote the social development of women in the mainland’s rural areas — has been working with OHK for more than 15 years. The center’s director Xie Lihua said OHK gives them greater respect and work space. “In our co-operation, they focus more on venerable groups, exercise gender awareness, offer related training and share their experiences with our employees,” Xie said.
“After we’ve delivered the plan to be implemented for each program, OHK would offer us suggestions on personnel assignment and how to make better use of the funding. We would make changes if necessary and execute each program based on their advice. In fact, we have a lot of space to show and improve our working ability,” added Xie, expressing satisfaction with the partnership.
The 12,000-member Friends of the Earth (FoE) Hong Kong — a Hong Kong-based environmental organization founded in 1983 — followed the OHK trail, joining the environmental protection campaign on the mainland in 1992 as environmental protection awareness on the mainland grew.
Since its mainland foray, FoE (HK) has been networking with academics, NGOs and government agencies through environmental education exchanges and workshops.
Chen Zhiqiang, assistant mainland program manager for FoE (HK), said they have so far set up only one office in Guangzhou, capital city of Guangdong Province, run mainly by mainland staff. He said localization is not a big problem for them, as all of their employees in charge of mainland programs are local people and they could handle any problem with great flexibility. “We have strengthened links with mainland green groups, including Greenovation Hub and Guangzhou Green-Point, paying more attention to the quality of water in the Pearl River.”
Yuan Shuwen, initiator of Guangzhou Green-Point, said: “FoE (HK) is a professional organization. It provides overall planning and resources for us and we are only responsible for the execution of projects. After a project is completed, both sides will assess the situation and decide whether to take any follow-up action.”
Yuan paid tribute to the role of FoE (HK), saying it not only supports their development, it has been their strong partner in fostering growth over the years.
Compared with their mainland counterparts, Hong Kong NGOs have a long history, a complete organization structure and abundant resources, which could be valuable references for green NGOs.
“Hong Kong NGOs are mature and they are affected by a mature social environment and donation culture. I think the most important thing for an NGO is to ensure credibility and transparency. The capital for many NGOs comes from public donations, so it’s significant to win public trust,” Liu said.
But, the case with mainland NGOs is vastly different, he said. Many mainland NGOs don’t have the qualifications to raise money and they need donations from charitable foundations. “So, the cooperation and interaction with these foundations are critical for the development of mainland NGOs.”
Oxfam relief supplies being delivered to the victims of an earthquake in Gansu Province.
Oxfam has worked with villagers at Shuijingba, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, in building new roads.