Dr. Wang Chao (Save the Children): the Future of China’s Overseas NGOs

中文 English

The speech below was delivered by Wang Chao, Save the Children International’s Head Representative for China, during CDB’s workshop on the registration of Overseas NGOs in China, on the 28th of July. The speech is a measured reflection on the current situation of international NGOs in China, looking beyond the current issue of registration. Wang Chao suggests that international NGOs should turn their focus more on self-examination, arguing that only when they reassess what they can bring to the table will they find a way out for the future. What follows is our translation of the original record of Dr. Wang Chao’s speech. Some parts have been edited or cut out for brevity and clarity.

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From my point of view, the issuing and implementation of the Law on the Administration of Activities of Overseas Non-Governmental Organisations is of watershed significance. For those of you who are in the process of registering, those not registered, and particularly for those of us already registered, this will have an extremely great impact on our views, and especially on the whole system of discourse. I don’t know about those of you in the audience who work in my same sector, but at least in our organization, we all talked on many occasions before 2017 about how after registration we would be able to do this and that, what sort of things we could do, and what we could do if we could raise money. But as soon as the time arrived, the whole discourse system began to change, and it became “now you have already registered, then in that case you should do this or that”, therefore I think this is an extremely important watershed moment.

From January onwards, Save the Children began to promote a strategic plan. Throughout the past few months, we have hoped to carry out our reflections based upon strategic foundations. In our development we often need to undergo paradigm shifts, including our whole system of discourse, which also ought to change. Of course I want to share these reflections with everyone, but bare in mind that these are only based upon the challenges after registration faced by Save the Children or a similar kind of institution.

“With regards to Overseas NGOs, the development of China’s situation and of Chinese civil society is like a high-speed train rushing towards the future. Whether or not our organizations are on board, the high-speed train will continue to head to the future.

I would like to use an analogy: I’m sure you have all been on a high-speed train, these trains are a feature of China that really attracts attention nowadays, and they are very quick. With regards to Overseas NGOs, the development of China’s situation and of Chinese civil society is like a high-speed train rushing towards the future. Whether or not our organizations are on board, the high-speed train will continue to head to the future, and registration is a bit like buying a ticket to see if it is possible to catch this high-speed train travelling forward. More importantly for us, I think this is a very significant learning curve. From 2008, the entire Chinese public welfare and charity sector began to embark on a high-speed learning curve and a process that is continuously repeating itself and evolving. But this kind of process is not part of all overseas NGOs’ past experience, or part of the past experience in other countries.

I therefore think this is an extremely important process, and possibly after registration it will be even more necessary to engage in strategic reflections on how there can be integration during the process of these high-speed changes, how we can jointly share in and shape this process, and how we can grow and advance together over the course of the whole process. I think this is what we originally did not consider as much in all of our reflections.

“In reality a major change has already come across the whole sector. China has begun to shift from being a receiver of aid to being a provider

Secondly I think that when we talk about this paradigm shift, in reality we need to start from the context. For so many years, especially from the time when some international NGOs first arrived in China, more than half of them came from a foreign aid context; an international organization would bring some resources and some new concepts to help China, especially on issues such as the environment, poverty alleviation and education. This context has already existed for around 30 years, and the organizations have actually internalized this context in their way of looking at problems. But in reality, the whole of present-day China is already undergoing a fundamental change. Of course, there is still a lot of work to do in poverty alleviation and social development, and many might give help, but the truth is that a major change has already come across the whole sector. China has begun to shift from being a receiver of aid to being a provider.

The systems for providing aid to overseas countries include the “South-South Cooperation”, the “One Belt One Road”, and “China’s NGOs Going Out”. In reality this Chinese development process is not taking place in the context that international NGOs move in; at least this is the case for Save the Children. We very rarely discuss these kinds of issues, and if we do it is more from the position of an observer. It seems to be very difficult to enter this field, so I think this kind of situation represents a big challenge. With regards to China’s local NGOs on the other hand, the situation isn’t the same; their whole identity is undergoing rapid changes, they developed in the middle of this situation and they are more based in the local context, so perhaps they are more suited to the circumstances. So I think this kind of scenario and ecosystem is one that requires us to look at it from an even broader perspective, and consider whether or not we can integrate and whether or not we can get involved through more effective forms of partnership.

“Now it is different, even if you are still holding the hammer, you might not be able to find that many nails. With regard to overseas NGOs, I believe that in China they urgently need to become organisations based around learning, and they urgently need to undergo a transformation.

Another point also related to rhetoric and worldview is that international NGOs like to pay attention to problems, but China’s current changes are mostly driven by a vision of the future, rather than genuinely solving these problems.

There was a philosopher who once said, if the only tool you have is a hammer, then all of your problems will look like nails. This resembles the situation of many organisations. In particular, there are some historic international organisations which all have a full set of established processes for solving problems in development, disaster relief or similar areas, and they have already become an extremely successful force in the global sphere. It seems as if they have extremely effective and powerful ‘hammers’. Previously, particularly from the beginning of the ‘Reform and Opening Up’ era up until 2008, having this kind of hammer was relatively effective. At that time we could find many nails, we made many contributions and the resources we brought were even impressive. But now it is different, even if you are still holding the hammer, you might not be able to find that many nails. With regard to overseas NGOs, I believe that in China they urgently need to become organisations based around learning, and they urgently need to undergo a transformation. Because of this environment of high-speed changes, our original plans for solving problems may not be effective.

Now it is more about whether or not you can bring increased value, and whether or not you can bring more creative ideas and innovative concepts to this rapidly changing society. And with regards to international NGOs we have more of a burden, because we believe that this hammer of ours is very effective, it is very useful, and would you really have us throw it aside? It seems very hard, but if we do not abandon it then perhaps there are not too many places where we can contribute. Of course this is just our reflection, we are just bringing it up for everyone to discuss.

Becoming a learning organisation, one that can keep up with this environment of constant rapid changes, is therefore extremely urgent. For us, if we cannot learn quickly or integrate with these kinds of changes, then perhaps we will not add much value. Truly, the ones doing this better are the local organisations, they have more creativity and they pay more attention to how to learn through their actions or advance their research.

“We should change the focus of our lens and carry out some introspection. We should take a genuine look at what sort of value our organisations can add in the end

When carrying out an analysis of the situation, I also had a sense that it sounded like China has an abundance of this kind or that kind of opportunity or challenge. From my point of view most of the challenges really come from the internal departments of organisations, especially within some international organisations. In the past we have mostly been focusing our lens on our surroundings, to see if we can solve any of the problems there, but now we should change the focus of our lens and carry out some introspection. We should take a genuine look at what sort of value our organisations can add in the end.

Re-focusing our lens to look at ourselves is I believe an extremely important process within the scope of strategic reflection, and it is also something all of our practitioners need to do. When your funds and resources are no longer an advantage, what are your other resources? Do you have more advanced technology, or newer concepts, or more creative capabilities, or do you have something else, or is there an even more important catalyst? I believe we need to re-examine the relative advantages of our own organisations.

The last point is about our strategic plan, and of course this is a question of strategic reflection. For example, we must think about what short-term contributions our institutions can make, and what the long-term ones might be. There are also technical questions, for example registration, which all along has been a technical question, and is very crucial and very important, but it is still only a technical question. More important is how to make the organisations have a suitable vision and mission for China’s local circumstances. In developed countries such as in Europe or the US, the aura of superiority and the halo surrounding organisations like international NGOs has already lost its significance, and in China it is the same, in China the society is increasingly rapidly internationalised, and therefore international organisations increasingly need to have international angles and perspectives. We must achieve a localised form of development, and this is perhaps the future for international NGOs in China.

“境外NGO法”实施后,救助儿童会面临的机遇和挑战

2017-08-08 11:09:28  来源:中国发展简报  作者:中国发展简报    点击数量:212

      7 月 28 日,由北京益行公益信息交流服务中心“中国发展简报 (China Development Brief)”在京举办的“境外 NGO 在华注册工作坊”上,国际救助儿童会中国首席代表王超博士作了题为《“境外NGO法”实施后,救助儿童会面临的机遇和挑战》的主题发言。发言中冷静思考了国际NGO目前的中国处境,并一语中的地戳中了国际NGO发展中的软肋,提议国际NGO应该调转镜头更多地自省,走本土化发展道路才是未来的出路。以下内容为王超博士演讲实录,略有删节。

 

在我看来,《境外非政府组织境内活动管理法》的颁布和实施,是一个具有分水岭意义的事件。正在注册的也好,没有注册的也好,特别是已经注册的,实际上在很大的层面上,对我们的一些观念会产生一些影响,特别是整个话语体系,我不知道我们在座的同行是什么样子的,至少在我们的机构里面,很多时候我们在2017年之前,我们都会讲注册了以后我们会怎么怎么样,我们可以做什么什么,如果可以让你筹款的时候你可以怎么怎么样。但是一旦那个时间到来,整个话语体系就开始转了,你已经注册了,那该怎么样便怎么样,所以我觉得这个时间是很重要的一个分水岭。

从1月份注册以后,救助儿童会就开始进入战略规划的过程。在过去的几个月里,我们一直希望从一个战略层面上面进行一些思考。我们发现很多的时候需要有一些范式的转变,包括话语体系,也都会应该改变。当然我想跟大家分享一下这些思考,但是这个仅仅基于救助儿童会或者这一类的机构在注册以后对挑战的思考。

中国当今的情形或者中国公民社会的发展,对境外NGO来讲就像是一列高铁,它高速地指向未来,不论我们这些机构在不在车上,高铁本都会走向未来。

我想用一个比喻,大家坐过高铁,高铁是当今中国最具关注力的一个重要景观,高铁很快。其实中国当今的情形或者中国公民社会的发展,对境外NGO来讲就像是一列高铁,它高速地指向未来,不论我们这些机构在不在车上,高铁本都会走向未来,所以注册于我们来说更像是买到了一张票是不是能够搭上这辆高速前行的列车,对于我们来讲更为重要,我觉得这是一个很重要的学习过程。从2008年以后,整个中国的公益慈善事业开始进入一个高速学习、不断地迭代和进化的过程,而这样的过程不是所有境外NGO过去的经验里面或者在其它的国家经验里面都有的。

所以我觉得这是一个非常重要的过程,可能注册以后更多地要考虑的是这样战略性的思考,怎样可以在这样的一个高速改变过程中,能够有一种融入,能够去共享和共创这个过程,能够在整个过程中一起来成长和进化,我觉得这个是我们原来整个的思考里面比较少的。

实际上,整个场域已经发生了变化,中国开始更多地从一个接收国变成一个援外国。

第二个我觉得当我们谈这种范式的改变,实际上可能要从语境开始。这么多年以来,特别是一些国际的NGO,到中国来的时候,多半是带着一种外援的语境,一个国际的机构带着一些资源,带着一些观念来帮助中国,特别是环保、’扶贫以及教育领域。这个语境已经差不多存在了30多年,在谈问题的时候,实际上这个已经内化到机构本身了。但实际上,整个中国当今已经产生了根本性的变化。当然还有很多扶贫的工作,很多社区发展的工作,很多可以去帮助的,但是实际上整个场域已经发生了变化。中国开始更多地从一个接收国变成一个援外国。对外援助的体系包括有 “南南合作”、“一带一路”,“中国的NGO走出去”。实际上,中国这个发展的过程都不在国际NGO的语境里,至少对救助儿童会是这样的。我们很少去谈论这种情况,即使谈论这些也更像是一个旁观者在谈,似乎很难走进这样的一个场域里面,所以我觉得这种情形是一个非常大的挑战。而对于中国本土NGO来说,情形是不一样的,他们本身是在整个的高速改变的过程中,他们在这个中间生长出来,他们在这个中间去净化,他们更具本土性,他们可能更适应这样的一个情形。所以,我觉得这样的一种场景和和生态系统是需要我们去从一个更广的领域里面去看,我们是不是能够融入,是不是可以以一个更有效的伙伴关系来介入。

现在不一样了,如果你还是拿着那把锤子可能找不到那么多钉子了。我觉得对于境外NGO来讲,在中国它更迫切地需要成为一个学习型的组织,更迫切地需要去做一种转型。

另外一点也是关于话语和观念,国际NGO更多喜欢去关注问题,而目前中国现在的改变更多地是一种愿景驱使,而不是真正地去解决问题。

有一位哲学家曾经讲过,如果你所拥有的工具是一把锤子的时候,你就倾向于把所有的问题都看成是钉子,就像很多机构也是一样的。特别是有一些比较有历史的老牌的国际机构,他们都有一整套对发展、救灾或者相关问题的解决流程,而且已经在全球范围内形成了非常完善的体系,好像是有一把非常有效,有力的“锤子”。在之前的一段时间里面,特别是改革开放的初期到2008年以前,有这样一把锤子是比较有效的。那时候我们能找到很多钉子,我们有很多的贡献,甚至我们带来的资源也是一个可观的资源。可是现在不一样了,如果你还是拿着那把锤子可能找不到那么多钉子了。我觉得对于境外NGO来讲,在中国它更迫切地需要成为一个学习型的组织,更迫切地需要去做一种转型。因为在这样一个高速改变的环境里面我们原来的那些解决方案,可能不是那么有效了。

现在更多地是看你可不可以带来增加的价值,可不可以对这个快速改变的社会和机构带来更多创新的想法和理念。而对国际NGO来讲,我们有更多的包袱,因为我们觉得我们这把锤子很有效的,很管用的,你让我们丢掉它吗?好像很难,但如果不放弃它好像又没有太多有贡献的地方,当然这是我们的思考,仅仅拿出来给大家讨论。

所以成为一个学习型的组织,一个可以跟上不断地高速改变这样一个环境的机构,是非常迫切的,。对我们来说,如果不可以快速地学习,不可以去融入这样的改变,可能就没有太多的增加价值。其实这些做得更好的是一些本土的机构,他们更具有创新性,他们更注重怎么样透过行动学习或者进行一些行动研究。

我们应该调转镜头,来进行自身的内省。真正去看我们的机构到底有什么能增加的价值。

当我们去做形势分析的时候,还有一种感受,听起来好像中国有很多这样那样的机会和挑战,其实在我们看来更多挑战是来自于机构的内部,特别是一些国际的机构。所以我们过去更多地是拿着镜头去看周遭,看我们能解决什么样问题,此时我们应该调转镜头,来进行自身的一个内省。真正去看我们的机构到底有什么能增加的价值。

调转镜头来看自己,我觉得是整个战略思考空间一个非常重要的过程,也是我们所有的实践者需要去做的。当你的资金资源不再是一个优势的时候,你其它的资源是什么,你有更新地技术吗,还是有更新的理念,还是有更多的创新的能力,或者是还有其它的,或者是一个更重要的催化者在整个过程中间,我觉得我们需要重新审视自身的比较优势。

最后一点,关于战略规划,当然这是一个战略思考的问题。比如要去想机构可能有哪些短期的贡献,哪些长期的贡献。还有哪些是技术性的问题,比如说注册,一直是一个技术性的问题,它很关键,很重要,但是它只是一个技术性的问题,而更重要的是怎么样让机构在中国有一个更适宜当地的愿景和使命。在欧美等发达国家,国际NGO机构的这样一种带有优势的帽子和光环已经没有意义了,中国也是一样,中国是一个越来越高度国际化的社会,所以国际机构更多地得具有国际的视角和触角,要实现本土化发展,这可能是国际NGO在中国的一个未来。

Translated by Serena Chang

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