Social Entrepreneurship in China: A Resource Guide
At the (past) Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard University, where I manage the Nonprofits in China program, I am regularly approached by students who are interested or already involved in “doing good” in China.
One Harvard international student from China sees his involvement in volunteering and starting nonprofits since high school in China as key to his admission to Harvard. Speaking of the amazing personal and professional growth he achieved through his experiences, he once said to me, “The water of doing good runs deep!”
He is right. It takes courage, perseverance, empathy and compassion, a sense of responsibility, and openness to learning to be willing to volunteer or create something new. In the context of China, an understanding of the burgeoning sphere of doing good is also important.
In this section, I would like to guide you through the most common approaches to doing good in China and introduce you to resources for becoming involved.
Launching into Making a Difference
Most people can say they have been inspired by the desire to help a stranger or to do good without expecting anything in return. However, very few have actually transformed their aspirations into action. Doing so is a crucial first step to making a difference.
The key to doing good is to first find ways to link who you are and what you have to offer—your talents, gifts, skills, resources, and experiences—to the needs of others. A mental exercise like this is helpful:
- Think about the kinds of issues or social needs you are passionate about—issues that make your blood boil or fill your heart with compassion. Is it environmental pollution? Is it the migrant worker standing alone along a busy street of a big city, waiting to work?
- Think about and identify the talents, gifts, interests, skills, resources, and social connections you have.
Once you have identified the issues or social needs you are passionate about and what you have to offer, determine what action speaks to you more: volunteering or creating something new. Of course, this doesn’t have to be a permanent, linear choice; many successful social entrepreneurs and others who have started their own organizations and initiatives in China and globally began their work in the field of doing good through volunteering. The founder of the Huizeren Human Service Center, Zhai Yan, was a volunteer counselor with a nonprofit organization before he launched his own organization.
- 1. Become a Volunteer
There are numerous organizations and initiatives covering all subjects that engage volunteers in their programs. If you are not looking for an engagement with an organization or an initiative that is full time, participating in a volunteer project is a good way to gain experience in the civil society sector in China.
You can begin your search for volunteer opportunities in your locality using the following web resources:
- China Development Brief—Opportunities to Help (English and Chinese)
Provides a bulletin where organizations can post announcements and requests—from volunteer and job opportunities and conferences to bids for projects and partnership requests.
- Douban Tong Cheng—Public Interest Page
Lists volunteer opportunities on its Public Interest page. Anyone can post an
opportunity or event activity on the Website once they have registered.
Offers volunteer opportunities for professionals.
- NGO Forum (NGOCN)—Volunteer Section
Lists volunteer and paid opportunities with and events organized by NGOs.
Is an online platform that tracks recent media coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits in China. It offers a good general grasp of the most important happenings in the nonprofit sector.
- The Public Service Network
Created by Google, this volunteer and nonprofit online platform, which, at the
time of printing, was in beta phase, lists volunteer opportunities.
Offers opportunities to volunteer within China and internationally.
Some organizations, in particular those that focus on education and the environment, especially use volunteers as an integral part of their programs. Below is a list of key education and education-related organizations that use volunteers:
- Dream Corps International
Recruits Chinese-speaking summer volunteers to participate in establishing or maintaining a school or community library and teach extracurricular classes to children in underprivileged communities.
- Rural China Education Foundation
Recruits summer and annual volunteers to teach in rural schools.
- Peer Experience Exchange Rostrum (PEER)
Recruits summer volunteers to run camps for children in underprivileged communities.
Recruits college graduates to teach in rural schools in China for at least a year.
Recruits volunteers to deliver goods and materials to children in remote areas.
- Beijing Western Sunshine Rural Development Foundation
Recruits volunteers for the summer or for a longer period of time to teach in remote schools.
Recruits volunteers passionate about education and promoting literacy to run its local village libraries across China.
The Rural China Education Foundation has a listing of all rural education-related organizations. See www.ruralchina.org/get-educated for a more comprehensive list of education organizations—though some of them do not recruit volunteers.
For opportunities with environmental organizations, a web search of the key word “environmental protection volunteer” can also help you with your initial search for volunteer opportunities in your locality. Many activities can be replicated locally if there is no such program in your area. However, that will require more than just participating in an existing program (see “Create Something New”).
Below are some tips on how you can join an existing organization or initiative as a volunteer:
- Network: Try to follow or “like” the initiative on social media. Make comments on its posts, or directly write to the organization, targeting the specific department with which you want to get involved. Ask friends and contacts who are connected to the organization or initiative to make introductions.
- Highlight Your Value: While many organizations and initiatives welcome volunteers, with limited staff many do not have the capacity to respond to all the inquiries they receive from the public. By highlighting your value—your talents, gifts, skills, and experiences—and what you can contribute, you have a better chance of attracting attention.
- Be Committed: Committing yourself is the first step to becoming an owner of what you do. Dedication, team spirit, and professionalism are crucial in building your reputation in and creating ownership of your actions.
Volunteer Opportunities for Professionals
If you are a professional, another way you can volunteer is through pro bono consulting. While general volunteering does require skill, pro bono consulting provides opportunities for business professionals to “donate” strategic services to enhance the impact and performance of an organization. In other words, it is a form of volunteering that enables professionals to provide a specialized business service that a nonprofit or social enterprise would otherwise have to pay for—such as a website developer creating a website or a marketing specialist designing and implementing a marketing strategy for a program of an organization. Pro bono consulting can be undertaken individually; through an organization that provides pro bono services (for example, some professional schools have pro bono consulting programs); or through the company with whom you’re employed, if it has a pro bono program.
Becoming a Board Member
The many new, early stage organizations in China’s emerging civil society have an enormous need for board members.
Becoming a board member requires dedicated commitment; willingness and ability to help the organization build its capacity, fundraise, and expand its network; and by and large a proven track record of achievement in a field or industry.
You can learn about board opportunities by becoming involved in the founding process of or through contacting a current member of the board of an early stage organization you are interesting in joining.
2. Create Something New
Creating something new, such as a social enterprise, a nonprofit organization, a network, a club, or an online group, is especially attractive to those with a strong sense of mission, an innovative approach to solving a problem, or an entrepreneurial and creative spirit.
There are different ways that you can create something new. If you have an idea for and want to start a nonprofit organization, you can begin by registering it. Depending on your location in China, registering a nonprofit organization with the government may require you to first find a government agency to be the official sponsor of your organization before you file a registration with the local Bureau of Civil Affairs.1 If you have an idea for and want to start a social enterprise, you will have register your social enterprise as a business. However, with good ideas and a good team, there are other ways you can launch and grow your organization.
For example, if you are a student, you can register a club or other forms of student organizations with your school. Your school can provide the platform for you to organize a team, recruit volunteers, and fundraise to build your organization. The New Sunshine Charity Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes marrow donations in China, for example, started as a student club at Beijing University. Founded by Beijing University student Liu Zhengshen after he was diagnosed with leukemia and discovered that there was no marrow banks in China to offer a marrow match for him to cure his leukemia, the club continued to work for seven years before it achieved the minimum foundation registration equity requirement to become a foundation.
If you are a student outside China, you can register your organization locally and still carry out projects in China. Founded by overseas Chinese students at Duke University and the University of North Carolina, Dream Corps International is an organization dedicated to promoting reading among children in rural China by opening libraries and developing reading programs. Although it originated overseas with an international team, it was selected to join the Non-Profit Incubator (NPI), a leading nonprofit organization in Shanghai that supports social innovation and social entrepreneurs in China.
The Internet provides another vehicle through which you can create something new. The social enterprise 1 KG More started as an online forum mobilizing travelers to rural China to pack “one kilogram more” of books or school supplies to bring to village schools before becoming a social enterprise.
Your current community is also a good platform for you to introduce an initiative. For instance, you can start a community library and also use that space for community building or youth activities, like what the Ruomu Reading Room has done in Zhengzhou City. Bookstore owner Hu Shengnian opened up his shop and invited local residents, mostly migrant workers, to read books in his store for free, and renamed it the Ruomu Reading Room. Ruomu has since become a local community center, where children hang out after school, young people come to read, and volunteers offer free or discounted classes. The constant flow of visitors has contributed to Hu’s eyeglass business, whose profits help sustain the Reading Room.
Starting an organization or an initiative and sustaining it takes dedication, perseverance, time, resources, as well as good management and strategy. There are a number of supporting organizations that foster social entrepreneurship in China. They include:
A boutique investment and advisory firm based in Hong Kong in Beijing that
supports social enterprises that effect positive social and environmental change.
- British Council China—Social Entrepreneur Capacity Building Program
Provides capacity building workshops to selected social entrepreneurs in China.
An incubation program for entrepreneurs looking to build or expand a social business in China. Each year, ECSEL selects a cohort of fellows, social entrepreneurs, and provides them with professional support and fully subsidized training trips to the United States and China.
Inspires, connects, and accelerates social entrepreneurs and the field that supports them in Asia.
- Future Generations China—Gen Fellowship
A grassroots youth-driven community development program that gives young leaders from across China the opportunity to develop and manage high-impact community development and conservation projects of their own design with a 20,000 RMB project budget.
- Hong Kong Social Enterprise Challenge (HKSEC)
Is a social venture business plan competition organized by the Center for Entrepreneurship of The Chinese University of Hong Kong that encourages students to employ a creative entrepreneurial approach to solve real world social issues.
- Intel Xin World Philanthropy Innovation Award
An award sponsored by Intel China given to social initiatives that have demonstrated social innovations involving technology. The award includes a grant, training, and volunteer support.
- Lenovo Micro-Philanthropy Competition (or Youth Public Entrepreneurship)
Encourages youth entrepreneurship in China’s public welfare organizations. This innovative program assists young people building careers in public welfare while helping to make China’s public welfare enterprises more vibrant and dynamic.
Facilitates the establishment of community organizations and social enterprises in Chinese communities worldwide.
- MaD (Make a Difference) Asia
Is a Hong Kong-based organization devoted to inspiring and empowering young people (ages 18-30) all over Asia to create positive personal, economic, social, and environmental change. Each year, MaD holds a competition of social innovation projects created by young people.
- Narada Foundation—Gingko Fellowship Program
Provides selected young social entrepreneurs with living stipends of $15,000 or 95,000 RMB a year over two years and professional support to enhance their capacities, expand their networks, and organizations.
- Non-Profit Incubator (NPI)
An organization that has started numerous initiatives promoting social innovation and supporting social entrepreneurs in China, including
- Enpai (an organization of NPI)
Through a one-year training program, provides early-stage nonprofit organizations with registration guidance, capacity building and financial support, and public relations.
Advocates for NGO capacity building and sector development through project analysis, assessment and due diligence of local NGO projects, and building a community of investors who share a vision for investing in social causes in China.
- YES (Horizon Center of Youth Entrepreneurship for Society)—Black Apple Youth Social Entrepreneurship Program
Provides seed funding and capacity building, program evaluation, management, and media support to encourage university students to participate in social services.
- Youth Business China, Ying Foundation
Supports youth business entrepreneurship, but has begun consider supporting youth who have started nonprofit initiatives.
- China Social Entrepreneur Foundation (YouChange Foundation)
Helps social entrepreneurs plan and implement strategic philanthropic projects.
- Social Ventures Hong Kong (SVhk)
Provides financial and non-financial support to social purpose organizations or social enterprises in Hong Kong.
Identifies promising early-stage social ventures in China and Asia and supports these ventures in strengthening their organizations and growing impact.
Make Doing Good a Way of Life
In addition to volunteering and creating something new, you can incorporate volunteerism and philanthropy into your life by getting a job in the sector and supporting sustainable and healthy living by purchasing fair-trade products or goods and services from social businesses.
Employment in the Sector
The growing number of nonprofits, social enterprises, and foundations has naturally developed a demand in the sector for management and business professionals to lead these organizations.
The following resources can be helpful in finding a job in the sector:
Generally lists full-time job opportunities with international and local organizations in China. Most of the positions are for experienced professionals.
- Idealist.org (search by location “China”) (English)
Lists job opportunities for new and experienced professionals with international organizations in China.
Lists job opportunities for new and experienced professionals.
- Browse the “gongyi” sections of portal websites such as sina.com; sohu.com; and qq.com, which sometimes list openings.
- Start networking (see “Network” in the “Become a Volunteer” section above). In addition to utilizing the resources listed in this guide, you can always directly contact the organizations or leaders of the organization that interest you. Express your interest in their organization and ask them to inform you of any openings.
Sustainable and Healthy Living
Choosing fair-trade goods and social business products in your daily shopping is a great way to make a difference and support sustainable and healthy living. Places where you can find goods and services that support philanthropic causes in China include:
A portal where nonprofits can sell goods to generate income for their causes and post donation opportunities.
- Shan Tao Wang (Buy42.com)
An online market where buying supports a specific nonprofit chosen by the buyer. You can also donate goods to sell to support a certain organization or initiative.
A shopping portal where donors of goods get Gongyi (public interest) credit; proceeds
are donated to causes by Google.
Companies that sell fair-trade and sustainable products include:
Promotes fair-trade by selling fair-trade and organic products from all over the world online to Chinese-speaking customers.
Sells fine silver jewelry made by local artisans in Guizhou and Yunnan Provinces. The social enterprise uses a portion of profits for community development and production training.
Develops and sells luxury fashion products from yak down from Qinghai Province,
China. It returns 1 percent of its retail revenues to local partner communities.
Offers a range of compostable, biodegradable, and disposable tableware made from renewable virgin straw fibers.
- LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability)
Promotes healthy and sustainable lifestyles. The website sells organic, natural, and local goods.
Congratulations on seeking out and finishing this guide with interest and taking your first steps toward serving the greater good. I wish you the best in finding strength from within as well as being resourceful without on this journey.
*Note: As the sphere of nonprofits and social enterprises in China undergoes rapid growth and development, the organizations and websites listed here, as well as the key actors in it may change. With the help of search engines like Baidu, you can search keywords related to doing good to stay up to date.
(This is a chapter from the upcoming book Beyond Service, to be published in China in 2014. Thanks to Hannah Alexander for her editing and inputs. )