Falling in Love with philanthropy

中文 English

The documentary on Jiang Yiyan’s eight-year volunteer teaching experience has recently become very popular in China. I watched it too and was deeply moved. Despite the controversies it has stirred up, I have a positive attitude towards her story, which I have perhaps cultivated during my own two years as a new NGO worker.

 An abrupt beginning in the NGO sector

“We want to start a foundation with 10 million RMB and help financially challenged students in Hunan Province. You are to press ahead with it”. These were the words I was told by the board director of the investment company I worked for. Together with his wife and several other entrepreneurs, he has been incessantly building up his philanthropic efforts, both personally delivering donations to far-flung areas and giving to relevant organizations and individuals through government agencies. After a while he discovered that the former method consumed too much time for a busy businessman, and the latter was undermined by negative news and a lack of transparency. Thus, after the National Day holidays of 2013, the two simple sentences at the beginning of this paragraph marked the establishment of the largest private foundation in Hunan province, the Hunan Sun Charitable Foundation (湖南太阳慈善助学基金会), and also sparked my unexpected journey through the NGO sector.

Up to the point when I went to university my life was simple, or even tedious, owing to my strict parents. Undergraduate life was kaleidoscopic. The student union, student societies, part-time jobs and internships quickly expanded my viewpoint. After graduation, I went to the Yangtze Delta region, which I liked, and worked in investment. Up to that point, I hadn’t had a single connection with the NGO sector or with charity, unless you count small gestures such as picking up banana peels on the street and throwing them into the bin. All the same, my NGO work unexpectedly began with the two short sentences mentioned above.

Packed, but not for traveling

When the foundation had just been established, I was the only employee. I had no previous experience and no guidelines. Field trips were my self-learning class 101. One person, one bag, and off to the mountains. This was the first time for me, a seasoned traveler, to pack for something that wasn’t a leisure trip.

The trips were, of course, quite demanding. During one particular day in the mountain, I took a car for one and half hour, then a motorbike for five hours, and after that I walked and then again took a car. I was only able to visit three students in their homes. Going on at this pace for a year, I visited 119 financially challenged households with students in the mid-west of Hunan Province, and came to understand the situation of these students.

Shabby houses, too many children, ragged clothes, and no food were my previous impressions of these poverty-stricken areas, which had been acquired through the media. I thought I knew everything. Yet I realized, after visiting these areas myself, that with the development of the economy and the coming of the information era, poverty is no longer about insufficient food and clothes, but rather about inequality of recourses expressed in nutritional shortages, labor deficiency, time lag of information and ideas, and weak educational soft power. These problems could not be solved by a few acres of farmland.

If the problem were just village primary schools with worn out facilities, what foundations could do would be obvious. In reality, however, the facilities have already been largely improved in the schools in towns, counties and some villages, thanks to the devoted efforts of the government and the society in rural education in recent years.

That is why we needed to carefully determine what to do when helping financially challenged students. Again, we confirmed that the foundation would focus on the students, and not just materially. We also wanted to accompany them in their personal growth. The foundation would not take full responsibility for these students’ education, since it only undertakes the social responsibilities of a charitable foundation. An excellent education is the result of joint efforts. Parents, schools, and the government are not exempt from their responsibilities. The foundation is more like a contributing force for a positive societal development.

Whenever I cast my eyes on the shabby houses, hopeless parents and inarticulate children, an urge to help them arises within me. There is so much to do, yet so little that I can do.

The place where we live, a philanthropic vacuum

Those who have some knowledge of philanthropy know that Hunan Province is basically a vacuum for the NGO sector. It lacks talents, resources, ideology, and unity.

When the foundation was established, many were curious about the nature of such an organization. Quite a few unexpected questions were asked. “Foundations are for money laundering, right?” “You are loaded. So is all you have to do to travel around and hand out money?” “The foundation is so wealthy. Your salary must be dead high.” “It must be easy for you to ask for a favor and get many discounts.” To be frank, I was very displeased. But I answered all the questions patiently with the limited knowledge about the work at foundations I had at that time, in the hope that they would pass on a better understanding of the NGO sector to more people.

Outsiders are ignorant. Insiders are mostly transferred from other sectors. They work alone and are scattered throughout their respective regions.

At first, I tried to contact similar private foundations registered in Changsha and see what I could learn from them. Unfortunately, I was repeatedly rejected with reasons like “it is inconvenient” or “there is nothing to share”. Then I found out that in Hunan most foundations’ sole purpose is to build up a philanthropic image for corporations instead of really working in philanthropic development. There were not many foundations established by individuals, let alone sectorial development.

On some rare occasions I went on field trips and visited students’ households with local volunteer teams. These teams were kind and warm hearted. However, on hearing our proposals for cooperation, they rejected us with vague reasons. At the time I didn’t understand why this should be. Later on, when I was more seasoned, I came to understand that they had already established a closed circle that brought about good social impacts within the region. They did not want to bring in new factors, which they feared would undo this stability. This was a large grassroots team. There were many volunteers in Hunan managed by governmental agencies. However grassroots NGOs or bottom up volunteer teams are quite rare. Hence, the people in this sector being scattered, unmotivated and close-minded is the norm here in Hunan.

This upsets me. How come, Hunan Province that used to be the old Chu kingdom and renowned for its talents, there is not a single space for the NGO sector to grow? Pondering this question, I believe that a relatively closed NGO environment, a lagging and inefficient system, insufficient expertise, superficial promotion of NGO knowledge, and a lack of talent, team spirit and methodology are all barriers for the development of Hunan’s NGO sector.

 Broadening my horizons, expecting a lowland effect

This year, I was very fortunate to participate in a “cooperative foundation camp” (协力营). To some degree, this was my first formal training regarding theoretical knowledge within the NGO sector. It was also the first time that I communicated and exchanged ideas freely with my peers in such a stimulating environment. I went over and over the foundations’ aims and current situation, wondering how we could deal with the current environment. Maybe all the foundations set up by individuals encounter the same difficulties as we do. We have to remind ourselves, now and then, of our principles including: to abide by our original aims; to conduct our service delivery by the needs of the current society and economy; whether employing bottom up or top down management, there should be unity between goals and methods; to avoid being controlled by moral judgment in daily operation; The foundation’s scope of operation, resources, and suitable projects should be clearly identified. It should also spearhead the sharing of information and the welcoming of new ideas.

Hunan is a place where foundations hardly survive. But the students we meet blossom and thrive with love, and this empowers us to carry on. If we view this challenge as an opportunity, and attract resources to flow into this vacuum, will this invoke the “lowland effect” in economic terms?

It is said that the truth is made clearer through debate. I’m not sure about that. But I believe my way is clearer as I march on.

 

Introduction to the author: Yao Rui, who was born in the 1980s and loves her life, has worked in the Hunan Sun Charitable Foundation (湖南太阳慈善助学基金会) for two years since its establishment. She hopes to continue interacting and growing alongside other NGO professionals.

 

【来自基金会的TA】公益行业的爱之初体验

 作者:姚睿

 

编者的话 一家企业家发起的助学基金会,一位唯一的全职工作人员;身处公益洼地,人们各自为战;在一种“外无支援、内无经验”的境地里,湖南姑娘姚睿以积极、正面的乐观态度开启了一段意想不到的公益旅程,展现了真实的中西部非公募基金会探索初体验。

 

近来,江一燕支教八周年的视频纪录短片大热,我也不例外地看了,还被触动了。虽然这个片子也有负面评论,但我已学会自然屏蔽,选择用自我的正面感受来看待,也许就是这两年作为公益新人,在公益的道路上得到的磨练所带来的态度。

 

公益之路的开端,没有过程

 

“我们现在要用一千万成立一个基金会,帮助湖南的贫困学生,你去负责做。”

说这句话的,是当时我所在湖南一家投资公司的董事长。他与妻子还有一些企业家朋友,投身公益慈善事业多年,包括亲自去偏远地区捐赠物资,或通过政府机构捐给相关组织和人群。前者需要投入很多的时间,他们却大多是工作繁忙的企业家;后者则有太多负面新闻以及不透明性,以致他们顾虑重重。正因如此,到了2013年国庆假期后,就有了前面那简明扼要的一句话,由此启动了湖南最大私募基金会——湖南太阳慈善助学基金会,也让我从按部就班的白领被动开启了一次意想不到的旅程。

虽然自小生活在城市,但家教甚严,进入大学之前,我的生活就像一条直线,相对简单甚至有点单调;大学生活的开始就像是给了我机器猫的竹蜻蜓一样,学生会、社团活动以及寒暑假的各类打工和实习应接不暇,生活面急速的得到拓展;从大四开始,我正式展开社会工作,毕业后还辗转到自己喜欢的江浙城市,从事投资工作,但即便这样,也没能将我的生活与公益这个话题扯得上关系。如果硬要沾点亲带点故,那我就只能找出随手将路边的香蕉皮扔到垃圾桶里这样的小事了。就是这样的我,却因为前面这句刚开了个头就已经说完了的话,开启了自己的公益之路。

 

背起行囊,不再只为旅行

 

基金会成立之初,我是唯一的工作人员,没有经验,也没有任何指导,实地调研走访便是我的“自学第一课”。于是,一个人,一个包,去山区。这也是热爱旅行的我,第一次收拾行李,却不是为了旅行。

走访过程当然是辛苦的。一天之内,先是坐汽车走一个半小时山路,再是五小时的摩托车,然后再步行再汽车,这样一天下来,也只跑了三个学生所在的家庭。如此节奏走访的第一年,我走进了湖南中西部几个贫困地区的119户学生家庭,这让我真正体会到了湖南的贫困学生情况。

曾经对湖南山区贫困状况的了解,是陋室、多子、少衣、无炊,大多数印象都来自于媒体,知其一二便以为了然于胸。当自己切身穿梭走访于湖南州县的山区,才发现随着经济的飞速发展与信息时代的到来,现代的贫困,已然不再是没得吃没得穿,更多的是营养的匮乏、劳动力的缺失、信息与观念的滞后、教育软实力等资源的不平衡等,这已不是多种几亩田就能解决的问题了。

对于设施破旧的村小而言,基金会能做的事情比较明晰;而现实中为数更多的是硬件设施已经得到非常大的改善的县城、乡镇学校以及一定比例的村小——这也是政府、社会近年来大力投入都集中在农村教育的结果。

正是如此,我们才更需要思考在帮助贫困学生的时候,能做的是哪些?我们也再一次确认基金会的方向是要落在学生身上,希望不只在物质上帮助他们,而且能一直陪伴他们长大。在这个过程里,基金会并不想“包干”贫困孩子的教育,因为我们承担的是公益基金会的社会责任,但教育是多方合力的结果,不应该也不能免除掉家长、学校和政府的责任,基金会更应该是促进社会良性发展的一股助力。

在不停的行走中,每每看到学生家里破旧的租屋、无可奈何的父母和不爱表达的孩子,内心就涌动着最原始的冲动,希望能帮助他们,哪怕只是一点点都好。越是如此,越发觉得我们需要做的好多好多,但能做的却太少太少。

 

公益洼地,我们的生存环境

 

稍微对公益现状有所关注的人,都知道湖南是中国公益事业发展的洼地,缺少人才和资源,更缺乏观念和联合。

基金会刚成立的时候,周边有很多人非常好奇这是个什么机构,于是我被问了许多让我笑容发僵的问题。包括:基金会是洗黑钱的吧?你们最不缺钱的,到处旅游发钱吧?你们这么有钱,你们的薪水随随便便就很高了吧?你们找人帮忙做事很容易,还能有优惠和折扣吧……诸如此类层出不穷的问题还有很多,说实话,当时的我,内心极度不悦,但却用有限的公益行业知识认真回答所有的疑惑和问题。多解答一个,口口相传,了解的人可能就会多几个吧。

行外人不理解,行内人也几乎都是从其他行业转战到公益这块土地,并且不抱团,而散落在各自狭小的地界内。

成立基金会之初,为了寻求更多的知识和经验,我从登记注册的非公募基金会中,选了一些性质稍微相符并且是长沙在地的机构进行学习,却在邀约时屡屡吃到闭门羹,原因无非都是“不方便”、“没什么好分享”之类的。后来遇到得多了,发现在湖南,大多数基金会的存在是为了给企业树立慈善的形象,几乎很少有实际重视关注慈善公益事业发展的,私人基金会就更少,更别谈正规发展。

在走访过程中,有时难得联系到了当地志愿者小团队,他们非常善良并且热情的陪着我们一同上山下乡,走访贫困学生家庭。然而,当我们提出希望通过合作,整合双方的资源优势,一同开展助学活动时,却得到了含糊的拒绝。当时我并不明白个中缘由,后来走的路见的人多了,才明白,他们在自己的地界内已经形成了一个闭环,并且产生了良好的社会影响,他们不希望联合,不希望新鲜元素的加入——未知的改变让他们担心原来的稳定会被打破。还是一个小有规模的民间团队,湖南更多的是政策下的机关单位志愿者团队,鲜有草根NGO组织或是自发的志愿者团队,所以零散、被动、不开放已经变成常态。

这不得不让我感觉闹心,到底为什么湖南这片“惟楚有才,于斯为盛”的土地却没有一块像样的土壤,让公益事业在上面大力生长起来。而仔细盘点,相对较闭塞的公益大环境、制度上的滞后和低效、缺乏基本的公益行业认知、公益领域知识推广和宣传流于表面、专业公益人才的稀缺、联合精神与方式的匮乏等等,无一不阻碍着湖南公益事业的发展。

 

拓展视野,期待洼地效应

 

这一年内非常幸运的事情,是参加了非公募基金会发展论坛主办的协力营学习。在某种程度上,这是我第一次接受正式的公益行业内的理论知识培训,也是第一次在这么开放的环境里与同业小伙伴们畅谈,毫无顾忌地接受各种信息的分享和思想的撞击。

我的脑海中翻来覆去地思考着我们基金会的初衷与现状,我们在大环境下该如何面对。也许像我们一样的私人设立的基金会在发展中都会遇到类似的困难,时不时需要拿几个原则来问问自己,是不是还能坚持自己的初心:比如基金会设立时的初衷和使命感的一以贯之,符合社会经济状况的服务方向引导,自上而下或自下而上都要统一方向路径、操作中不被道德所绑架、清楚机构的活动范围、认清机构自身的资源和助力、做适合自身机构的项目、主动开放的接纳与分享。

湖南是公益洼地,让基金会的生存困难重重;而基金会面对的贫困学生,在温暖和爱的陪伴下,是会绽放出钻石般光彩的鲜活个体。这又让我们有了挑战的勇气和动力,让我们不忘初心。如果将这个挑战也当做是机遇,让资源顺势而下,能不能产生经济学上所讨论的“洼地效应”呢?

都说真理越辩越明,对此我不得而知,但我相信,路是越走越明了。

 

作者介绍:姚睿,热爱生活的80后,从事基金会工作2年,伴随着湖南太阳慈善助学基金会从最初成长到现在。希望能与更多公益圈内的大侠一起交流、共同成长。

 

 

【栏目介绍】作为行业资源汇聚之地,基金会总是能吸引更多目光,然而过往基金会发出的声音大多来自深孚众望的公益大佬与意见领袖,中基层项目官员成为沉默的大多数。2015年,在第七届中国非公募基金会发展论坛的支持下,中国发展简报设计执行了“倾听一线的声音-—项目官员眼中的基金会与行业”项目,通过国内非公募基金会一线项目官员的公益观察或个人故事,展示他/她们的所思所想、所见所得,由此呈现项目官员如何成长、基金会如何运作、又如何对社会议题和行业发展产生影响。

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Translated by Li Yuanhui

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