China Development Brief, No.56 (Winter 2012)
The recently established Chengdu NGO Service Park (成都公益组织服务园) has drawn much attention as a potential model of social management innovation in Chengdu city and Sichuan province. Those who participated in the Service Park’s opening ceremony have been impressed with how it integrates various resources to support the public welfare.
The four-story building housing the Service Park is located in a quiet, secluded neighborhood along the tree-lined Zirui North Street, just north of the busy Zirui Avenue in the high technology zone in southwest Chengdu. The first group of 15 NGOs supported by the Service Park have their office space arranged in two rows of cubicles on the third floor of the building. The NGOs are also provided with access to space on the first floor where they can organize events. During large events this 200 square-meter space is filled to capacity.
Xu seems in a good mood when we sit down for the interview in a sunlit open terrace on the fourth floor. Chengdu usually lacks sunshine, but the late autumn day of the interview is bright and the terrace is bathed in sunlight. Xu officially joined the Service Park in February 2012, and took part in the preparatory work for its opening. He says now that they are up and operating, the biggest challenge for him lies in finding effective ways of working with both the relevant government departments and the Service Park’s management team. This is quite stressful and Xu does not handle the pressure well. In fact, he was even thinking of seeing a psychologist to help deal with the stress.
Xu is a member of the Service Park’s Advisory Committee together with Guo Hong, the director of the Sociology Institute, Sichuan Provincial Academy of Social Sciences and 4 other experts. The function of the Committee is to provide advice to the Service Park on main decisions, carry out high level strategic planning, and (after the initial start-up period has ended) continue to provide day-to-day advice. When Xu participates in internal management providing suggestions on management systems and hiring decisions, his advice is well received. But when he tries to participate in routine business operations, the situation became somewhat awkward. As someone who always asked the Service Park’s support team to respond to the needs of the incubated organizations, its support team complained for many times for meddling excessively. Hailing from Taiwan, Xu is used to a quick pace of work, and cannot get used to the working habits and slow pace of work of the members of the support team, who previously worked at public institutions (shiye danwei) and have been assigned to work at the Service Park.
Xu admits openly that his work partners acknowledge his skills and expertise, but his work is often restricted due to diverse perspectives, and does not achieve the impact that those in the sector expect. In spite of the challenges he still cherishes the opportunity to witness the social transition in China and to take part in the government’s innovative project. Indeed, the existence of the Service Park is proof of the government’s attempt to bring the state and society closer to each other.
As early as 2001 Xu participated in a failed attempt to set up a NGO incubator in Taiwan. Together with professor Jiang Mingxiu and several aspiring public officials, he designed a scheme for an incubator for charitable organizations, the first establishment of its kind in the Greater China area. From Xu’s perspective, this incubator failed because NGOs already enjoy a very supportive environment in Taiwan, and do not need the support of an incubator to help them access different resources. Moreover, Taiwanese academics and NGOs have remained very close. It has long been a tradition that the various departments and institutes of more than 120 universities cooperate closely with NGOs as they conduct action research. Moreover, academics in Taiwan often serve as staff or advisors to NGOs.
The incubator model was introduced to mainland China in 2006, five years after the first attempt in Taiwan. The first mainland pilot, Non-Profit Incubator (NPI), developed in Shanghai and has since been replicated in Beijing, Chengdu, Shengzhen and other cities. In the process NPI has produced a large collection of local materials and case studies that are useful for NGOs in mainland China. Given its expertise NPI has emerged as an important center of capacity development on the mainland. In 2009, NPI expanded its model by helping to establish the Shanghai United Foundation (上海公益事业发展基金会, also known as 联劝). This vertically integrated social enterprise builds a funding model that combines venture philanthropy services provided by the Shanghai United Foundation and the NGO incubator services to form a new approach to support the development of the public welfare ecosystem.
It is clear that the Chengdu Service Park has been influenced by NPI’s experience. This is most visible when looking at the similarities in the design and implementation of the incubation process and, similar to the NPI model, the establishment of the Chengdu Social Organization Development Foundation (成都社会组织发展基金会) which specializes in grant making while the Service Park focuses solely on capacity building support. There are also differences, however, between NPI and the Chengdu Service Park model. The Service Park relies on government resources to help participating grassroots organizations link up with community needs and provide services in the community, what could be described as more of a “learning by doing” approach. In comparison, the NPI incubator’s on-site technical support and capacity development resembles more of a lab environment. Moreover, in addition to supporting emerging organizations, the Chengdu Service Park introduces mature organizations from within and outside of Sichuan province to the city. This approach not only contributes to an increased quality of social services, but also enables the Service Park to draw on the experience of more mature organizations and encourages these organizations to guide the emerging ones. However, due to the resulting diversity of participating organizations, the Service Park also needs to provide diversified and individualized services. Thus the name “Service Park” more completely expresses the principles behind this Chengdu establishment.
However, implementing the principles supporting this innovation sets a high bar for the support team in terms of upholding public service ideals and professionalism. Unfortunately, Xu cannot ensure that this bar will be met as he does not have full control over human resource processes unlike the NPI team who are able to voice opinions freely and have more control over how programs are executed.
There are also differences between the NPI and the Chengdu Service Park approach with regard to how they engage with the government system. While NPI expands the space for public welfare by collaborating with government institutions, Xu and other consultants operate from within the government system, relying more on the government’s recognition of the importance of public welfare work and on trust and understanding to support innovations to attract community resources and expert knowledge. As Xu believes, “The government is not an enemy of NGOs, but rather should be our partner.” But when asked if the Board of Directors of the officially registered Chengdu Social Organizations Development Foundation has been formed, he admits he does not have all the information. As Xu shares with a little embarrassment, “The Board Chairman was selected very early, but has not yet visited the Service Park.” It is hurdles like this that make Xu question his ability to work effectively at the Service Park.
Given his dual identity as a public welfare activist and a scholar, Xu has been looking for an opportunity to set up a research institute devoted to practical issues related to the public welfare organizations, an idea that has already received support from many renowned scholars. Xu imagines such an institute would serve as a “driving school” for NGOs and hopes it would attract academics, practitioners and professional social workers from mainland China, as well as Hong Kong and Taiwan. A plaque reading “Social Innovators’ Institute” (社会创业家学院) is already hanging in the Service Park building, but the idea has not yet materialized. Chengdu officials’ support for the idea of a research institute was one of the factors that attracted Xu to the Service Park. Of course he is aware that the research institute will not come into being overnight and that he needs to be patient. He knows that a large upfront investment is needed for such a long-term project and, despite initial support from local authorities, the project may be put on hold when those authorities are transferred elsewhere. Despite these challenges, Xu has already succeeded in starting a course for senior social work supervisors through a collaboration between the Service Park, the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics (西南财经大学), and the Taiwan Red Cross (台湾红十字 会). Funding for the course comes from Taiwan and an instructor with more than 20 years of experience in social work flies into Chengdu from Taiwan every week to teach it
The contract between Xu and the Service Park in Chengdu will expire soon and he is not yet sure what will happen after that. “I have already thought of the coming year, if they want to extend the contract I would prefer to stay in Chengdu. I cherish this work and opportunity.” At the same time, some other cities and provinces in China have expressed interest in inviting him to help set up NGO incubators. Thus it is very likely that he will keep supporting the development of NGO incubators on the mainland.
SpinaChina gets a new push
After the interview, I went down to the 3rd floor to the Promoting Public Welfare Development Center (hereafter SpinaChina, 推动力公益发展中心) which is one of the NGOs supported by the Service Park. There, Sun Hongwei, SpinaChina’s founder, is checking his organization’s Internet visibility through the Baidu search engine. Under the supportive policies of the Chengdu High Technology Zone, Spinachina formally registered in May 2012 . Its mission is to increase public awareness of spina bifida, provide rehabilitation treatment to the spina bifida patients and achieve a barrier-free public space. Currently it is relying on the Internet and a few core volunteers to establish a Chinese mutual support network on the web. After taking part in a competition organized by the Cloud NPO Platform (云公益), Sun discovered that a Baidu search returned a large number of spina bifida related sites in the first four pages of search results.
The sudden increase in their online visibility is a mixed blessing for Sun and has caused him some anxiety. On one hand, even though they do not yet have a media strategy, their visibility has already helped to increase the public awareness of spina bifida. On the other hand, the organization has not yet developed its off line support services and does not have much to offer to those interested in the cause and in the organization.
Even though Sun lives in the northern part of the city and commuting to the Service Park is time consuming in a city as crowded as Chengdu, he is still very satisfied with being able to benefit from the Service Park’s services. He hopes that through the incubation process SpinaChina can become a leading organization providing support to people affected by spina bifida in China, and build a team that is strong on both strategy and implementation. He also hopes that some time in the future his dream of a center providing rehabilitation services can also be realized. In the Service Park, in addition to taking part in capacity development activities, he also has a chance to interact with other participating organizations and to learn from more mature organizations. He took part in two coordination events for organizations focusing on disability organized in October at the Service Park in cooperation with the Shuangliu county Disabled Persons Federation (残联). However, due to the lack of areas for cooperation, he has yet to form a partnership with the Federation.
Like the increasingly numerous, emerging organizations in other fields, Sun has high hopes for gradual improvement in the policy environment for NGOs in Chengdu. According to a speech delivered at the Sichuan Provincial Civil Affairs Work Conference on July 30 by Ge Honglin, the Deputy Secretary of Chengdu Committee of the CPC and the Mayor of Chengdu, Chengdu is planning to broaden the scope for direct registration for NGOs. The new policy will enable specific types of organizations to obtain direct registration, including business and economic associations, public welfare and charitable organizations, social welfare organizations, and recreational and sports organizations as well as organizations providing basic services1. Community-based organizations (CBOs, known in Chinese as shequ zuzhi) that do not qualify for direct registration will be covered by a management procedure known as “depositing a file on record” (bei’an guanli, 备案管理).2. Moreover, starting from 2012, Chengdu city began purchasing services from NGOs. Based on incomplete reporting data, last year a total of 160 million RMB was outsourced to 59 projects carried out by “social organizations”. The outsourcing program included public employment training, teacher training, culture and health services, community legal services, and community-based elderly care, thereby helping to diversify public service providers3. A number of grassroots organizations have already benefited from this outsourcing program.
Editor’s Note: The policy of direct registration for these four categories of NGOs borrows from similar policies that are being enacted in other localities such as Guangdong and considered for adoption at the national level. ↩
Editor’s Note: This practice is also found in other localities which use the bei’an system to register small CBOs which are unable to meet the higher requirements needed for full, legal registration. ↩
Ge Honglin, “Adapt to the situation, deepen the reform, strengthen and innovate in the management of social organizations”, www.scmz.gov.cn/InfoDetail.asp?ID=11392 ↩
见到启智的时候，他看似心情不错，笑着用探寻的口气建议在服务园4楼的露天平台上进行访谈，顺便晒晒太阳。太阳大概是成都这座城市最稀缺的一样资源，但秋 末的这天，阳光却毫不吝啬地洒满平台上所有角落。自从今年2月正式到成都介入服务园的筹备，启智一直在各方力量的聚合中担负着“夹心饼干”的角色。他遇到 的最大挑战来自与政府相关部门以及服务园管理团队（运营方）磨合，心力交瘁和心情抑郁严重的时候，他甚至要去看心理医生。
服务园聘请了包括徐启智以及四川省社科院社会学所所长郭虹等6位专家组成委员会，为其提供顾问决策咨询，进行顶层设计和筹备，在服务园启动后，继续提供日 常咨询。一方面，以顾问身份介入内部管理架构、管理制度和人员聘请等各方面，启智的意见具有说服力和权威性，但在步入具体的运营后，也成为一种尴尬。由于 总是站在入驻机构的需求立场去要求服务园的支持团队予以回应，“越界干预”过多而“受到多次投诉”。他来自台湾，对工作的快节奏早已习以为常，而支持团队 成员是体制内的事业单位“支援而来”，沿袭着原来的慢节奏和工作习惯，常常踩不到一个点上。
早在2001年，启智在台湾有过一次公益孵化器实验的失败经历。当时，他和江明修教授，以及台湾当时的候任政府官员共同提出了一个公益组织孵化器方案，这 算得上大中华区的首次孵化试验，不过后来却未能成功。在他看来，其原因在于台湾的土壤太肥沃了，公益组织不需要像孵化器这样的中介组织就能完成资源整合。 而且，台湾学术界历来与社会组织联系紧密。120多所高校的各个系所依托行动研究进入社会组织内部，为其提供人力和顾问支持，早已成为传统。
5年以后的2006年，孵化器模式却由NPI在大陆首创，在上海生根发芽，又在北京、成都、深圳等地复制。NPI在此过程中积累和开发了大量适用于中国本 土NPO的课件和案例，并藉此成为国内重要的能力建设机构和案例中心。2009年又以NPI为主发起了上海公益事业发展基金会（“联劝”），从公益产业链 的角度探索新的资助模式。
从孵化模式的设计和操作流程，到专门成立成都社会组织发展基金会专事资金资助，与服务园的支持功能进行分工，都看得出NPI模式的影子。但服务园的不同之 处，在于背靠政府资源，衍生出为草根组织对接和落地社区的渠道功能。如果说孵化场地内的技术服务和能力建设更像一种实验室活动，帮助他们进入社区提供服 务，则有着更浓的实战意味。此外，除了扶持初创期组织，将省内外的成熟组织通过服务园引入成都，除了有助于帮助成都提升社会服务质素，还希望借鉴成熟组织 的示范，以混搭方式“以老带新”。不过，入驻机构发展阶段的多样性，需要服务园为他们“量身定制”差异化服务，称之为服务园而非孵化园，才能涵盖背后的园 区设计理念。
如果说NPI是与体制合作去拓展公益空间，启智和其他顾问，就是进入体制去运作协调。在既定的制度空间内，更多依托的是政府方面为吸纳民间资源和专家智慧 进行创新所给与的信任、理解、以及政府所具备的公益认知等更为抽象的资源。"政府不是公益组织的敌人，政府应该是我们的伙伴。"启智这么认为。当被问及6 月就已经正式注册成立的成都社会组织发展基金会理事会成员情况，启智摇头表示还不太清楚。“理事长早就选出来了，但到现在还没有到过服务园。”启智有点尴 尬地说。访谈中，他给自己的角色发挥给了个不及格分，也在情理之中。
身兼公益行动者和学者的双重身份，启智一直在寻找机会建立一个以公益组织实务为导向的研究院，他将这个研究院定位为公益机构的“驾校”，希望引入大陆和香 港，台湾地区的学术界，实务界的师资力量和专业社工培训资源。现在"社会创业家学院"的牌子是在服务园挂起来了，但还未能实际启动。启智说，这个想法得到 了两岸三地知名学者的支持。成都官方对建立学院的支持态度，也是服务园吸引他的地方。当然，他也深谙体制运行的规则，很清楚这个长效性的学术机构，前期投 入很大，非一朝一夕能实现，官员的换届、变动也足以使其陷于停顿，他需要足够的耐心。虽然如此，启智目前已经成功推动了服务园与西南财经大学，台湾红十字 会一起合作开办了高级社工督导班，该班的师资全部来自台湾，由有着超过20年社会工作经历的老师每周自台湾飞来成都授课。
启智在服务园的顾问期结束时间已经屈指可数。当被问及如果顾问期满离开，是否担心服务园的发展势头受到影响？启智顿了一下答道：“我自己设定未来一年内， 如果他们还愿意聘请我的话，我的重心还是要放到这里。这个机缘值得珍惜。”当然，已有其他一些省市对孵化器表达了兴趣，希望他去帮助推动。现在的徐启智单 身一人，能够天马行空，行走自由，在大陆延续公益孵化器试验。
采访完成后，笔者下到三楼，推开“推动力公益发展中心”（以下简称“推动力”）的格子间，创办人孙洪伟正在通过百度查 询机构在网上的曝光度。借助成都市高新区的开放政策，推动力2012年5月在这个区成功注册。推动力的目标是推动公众对脊柱裂群体的认知、脊柱裂病患者的 康复治疗干预，以及无障碍出行。目前已依托互联网和核心志愿者形成了全国性的自助互助网络，除偏重患者的心理支持，还涉足线下救助。在“卷入”云公益大赛 后，孙洪伟发现百度检索的前4页出现了大量脊柱中国的条目。
面对突如其来的曝光度，孙洪伟有些猝不及防，喜忧参半。机构前期规划还未形成媒体策略，也缺乏提升机构的公众形象的渠道，因此，曝光度的提高对加强脊柱裂 群体的社会认知很有好处。但由于机构尚在初创期，正在考虑如何向线下落地，“还比较空，缺乏可以接应的东西。” 提前到来的曝光度，也使孙洪伟生出一丝忧 虑。
尽管家住城北，上下班通勤距离有些远，而且成都正在向一线城市看齐，成为“成堵”，孙洪伟还是对入驻服务园感到欣慰，希望推动力能够经过孵化，形成一个有 较强策划力和行动力的团队，成为脊柱裂群体的全国性支持性组织，并使梦想中的康复治疗中心成为现实。除了参加服务园提供的能力建设活动，他还与其他入驻机 构有了横向交流，有意以成熟机构的项目和经验作为参考。他参加了服务园在10月为残障类组织与双流县残联举办的两次推广交流活动，因为缺乏结合点，暂未能 形成合作意向。
但和其他各领域生长出来的越来越多的新生组织一样，孙洪伟对成都的公益组织政策环境的逐步开放抱有希望。按照市委副书记、市长葛红林7月30日在四川省民 政工作会议上的讲话，成都市将继续拓宽社会组织的直接登记范围，对工商经济、公益慈善、社会福利、文体活动、生活服务类等社会组织实行直接登记，同时对暂 不具备登记条件的社区组织实行备案管理。此外，从2012年起，成都市还安排项目资金采购民间服务。据不完全统计，去年以来已向社会组织购买公益服务项目 59个，金额1.6亿元，覆盖公共就业培训和教师培训、文化卫生服务，以及社区法律、社区养老等领域，促使公共服务提供主体向多元化方向发展。 部分草根组织已从中受益。