China’s Response to Earthquake Recovery May Crack Open Door to Real Nonprofit Presence

China's Response to Earthquake Recovery May Crack Open Door to Real Nonprofit PresenceUpdate 5/20/08: New York Times reports on unprecedented volunteer movement among Chinese citizens wanting to help earthquake survivors.

As I listened to earthquake news this morning from China’s Sichuan province, I realized that the cards may be aligned for the Chinese government to welcome a real nonprofit sector. Reminds me of post-Berlin wall days in Eastern Europe.

There are already thousands of grassroots nonprofits in China, but they are fighting just to survive without the necessary support and infrastructure, much less to provide services to this huge population (estimated at 1.4 billion). Weak management skills and lack of operating resources are among the  key barriers to Chinese nonprofit impact, as cited in a recent McKinsey & Company report.

However, dramatic events are the most common harbinger of major change, and there’s little more dramatic than the events of the last days in China. There may be a star in this dark, dark sky.

The Chinese government’s response to this earthquake is strikingly different than that to the last major quake in Tangshan in 1976. In those last days of Mao’s regime, the government tried to hide the earthquake, vastly underestimating the death and injury toll. By the end of the year, the Gang of Four was out of power.

In this last ten days, we’ve seen the Chinese government act very differently in:

Yes, this is political maneuvering (aka crisis communications) as China tries to shine in contrast to Myanmar’s government’s disgraceful power play rather than the well being of its people and to the worldwide critique of its anti-human-rights approach, while maintaining some semblance of national glory in hosting the 2008 Olympics. Nonetheless, it’s the end result that really matters.

In addition, over $1 billion in domestic donations have been made by a citizenry largely unpracticed in giving. What a great start. Much of the giving, according to NPR, is coming from students, and those who have achieved urban success after migrating from rural locales who are already busy on message boards questing for accountability for the use of their gifts. 

This is a society aching for nonprofits to fill the gaps the government has been content to hide for so long. This is a people no longer willing to live without rights, or in poverty. This is a country where nonprofit organizations can bring their issue and functional expertise to complement what the government can provide.

Watch, look and listen. With over 50,000 dead and 5 million homeless quake survivors, there’s no better time than now for China to birth a robust nonprofit sector.

Your thoughts?

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Nancy Schwartz on May 19, 2008 in Nonprofit Marketing News, Special Opportunities | 2 comments
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  • Tera Wozniak

    I don’t know if you read GOOD Magazine, but their most recent article was all about China. It was amazing to get an indepth look at China, one I never thought of before. What they said is China is in a huge reformation stage, like you said crisis brings big change, and it definitely has in China. I think I agree with you, it is time for the nonprofit sector to capitalize on these changes in China. It is going to be a rough path down a previously untrecked path, but nonprofits are used to it and now is the time!

  • Doug Smith

    Let me update you on the Amity Foundation of China which responded quickly to the recent quake with the help of funds from Chinese and its world wide network of church support. Founded in 1982 by leaders of the unified Protestant church, the China Christian Council, Amity receives contributions from U.S. church bodies and from individuals through Church World Service. Amity’s extensive development aid and its disaster response programs are described at http://www.amityfoundation.org

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