Roundtable on the Impact of Recent Policy Changes on China’s NGOs

China Development Brief, No. 54 (Summer 2012)

中文 English

In May of this year, CDB invited a diverse group of NGOs to share their views regarding recent policy reforms in the NGO sector at both the national and local levels. What they had to say should be read by everyone who is concerned about the impact these reforms will have on China’s nascent civil society.

A number of the speakers provided insights into the fragmented, decentralized nature of the policy process in China and raised questions about how these reforms will be implemented.  One major concern heard among many speakers was that the recent reforms lowering barriers to registration and promoting government contracting to NGOs will have the effect of coopting social service NGOs into the system, while excluding NGOs that focus on advocacy and areas deemed more sensitive.  A minority view argued that the reforms do provide some space for maneuvering and NGOs need to be creative about exploiting that space.  Tang Hao’s forceful closing remarks at the very end is a case in point.  In those remarks, he called on NGOs to form strategic alliances to create concepts, strategies and blueprints for future action.

Editor’s Note

Since 2011, the Chinese government has continued to issue new management policies for social organizations, lowered the threshold for their registration, promoted the government’s purchasing of social services and financial subsidies, and encouraged social forces to provide social services. Of these policies, Guangdong’s stands out for having made several critical breakthroughs, such as easing restrictions on the registration of social organizations, supporting government outsourcing of services, as well as relaxing restrictions on public fundraising by social organizations. Regarding the effective implementation of these policies and their impact on social organizations, commentators in the sector have had mixed reactions. On May 8th,  China Development Brief (CDB) hosted a small-scale symposium concerning “The Impact and Effectiveness of Policy Reform of Social Organizations.” The discussions revolved around the background and strengths of the new policies, their outcomes and effectiveness, as well as their long-term impact on the development of Chinese social organizations. Throughout this transcript, the terms “social organizations” and “NGOs” are used interchangeably.

PARTICIPANTS (listed in alphabetical order):

Chen Xuqing, Professor, School of Management, Minzu University of China

Li Wenhen, Director of Brand Activities, Division of Brand Communication, China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation

Lv Pin, Director, Women’s Media Monitoring Network

Lv Quanbin, Beijing Representative, Sun Yat-sen University Philanthropy Research Center

Kang Taihe, Project officer, Misereor Foundation (Germany)

Tang Hao, Associate Professor, South China Normal University, and Vice Secretary-General, Sun Yat-sen University Philanthropy Research Center

Wang Yanyan, Director, Communications Department, YouChange China Social Entrepreneur Foundation

Yu Fangqiang, Executive Director, Nanjing Justice for All, and Board Member, Beijing Yirenping Center

Moderator: Guo Ting, China Development Brief

CDB: Recently, Guangdong Province’s “Guangzhou Fundraising Regulations,” social organization registration reforms, and related policies have been, or are about to be, implemented and have attracted attention from the media and industry insiders about the background behind these policies, predictions about their implementation and effectiveness, and the strength of these policies related to the development and reform of social organizations.

Tang Hao: Of the new laws and regulations proposed by Guangdong, two are of great importance. The first is the “Guangzhou Fundraising Regulations,” which will come into effect on May 1st. The other is Guangdong Province’s reform concerning the registration of social organizations, which will go into effect on July 1st. The Fundraising Regulation’s most prominent trait is that it allows social organizations to engage in public fundraising, which is equivalent to granting social organizations the right to pool resources. The revision of the “Regulations on Registration and Management of Social Organization”, which has undergone revisions since being issued in 1988, underwent major changes. First, it permitted multiple associations in a single sector with the intent of reducing monopolies. Besides this, the reforms also greatly simplified the registration procedures for social organizations. In short, on one hand, these reforms give social organizations the power to pool their resources. On the other hand, in the organizing of resources, it allows for the reorganization of people and organizations from the grassroots. These two regulations are most important to the future of social development and represent a legal and regulatory breakthrough for Guangdong. After these two impediments are removed, I believe that the city of Guangzhou, if not Guangdong Province itself, will come to represent a critical point in the development of social organizations in China.

In addition, at the policy level, from the Provincial Party Secretary to the Director of the Social Affairs Committee to the officials in the provincial Department of Civil Affairs, many statements were issued in the last year urging officials at all levels to take responsibility for implementing these policy reforms1.

Of course, this is a positive situation. But the fact of the matter remains that these new policies and legislation still are bounded by invisible constraints. These constraints could include ideology, and the bottom line of stability maintenance. They could also include previously held ideas about social organizations. In short, the proposal and implementation of new policies is faced with a glass ceiling. When you are faced with this moment, you know that you have reached a line. And although there is no formal statute concerning the issue, policies are unable to breakthrough these limits2.

For example, in 2010, Guangdong Province wanted to propose charity regulations. At this time, Jiangsu Province had already proposed such legislation and afterwards Hunan Province also followed suit. Yet because the two provinces lack the relevant social foundations, after implementing such legislation, the development of social organizations was not as good as expected3. Guangdong Province’s social organizations situation is relatively good and its strong desire to move forward and grow is without question. In early 2010, Guangdong Province’s Department of Civil Affairs Regulations Office commissioned Sun Yatsen University’s Institute for Civil Society (Sun Yatsen Department of Anthropology’s “Citizen and Society Development Research Center) to create a plan. The direct participation of researchers in the process of creating legislation could be seen as progress. However, after completing drafts of the regulations, it has been almost two and a half years and nothing has come of the project. One sticking point has been that, after handing over the drafts of the legislation to other departments for consideration, some departments have opposed the wording of certain sections. They believe that, if social organizations are given too large a space in which to work, they will become unmanageable and negatively impact their own work.

Additionally, from the perspective of making legislation, the majority of public interest and philanthropy legislation is produced in a closed environment. It is not unlike underground gas that, unbidden, comes suddenly and unpredictably to the surface. Examples include policies concerning public services or legislation regulating the terms of public goods, such as running water and electricity, environmental pollution standards, etc. The closed environment in which legislation is produced leaves citizens without recourse to participate, give suggestions, or ensure the quality of the legislation itself.

The third and most important obstacle is that the differentiation of interests in society is quite serious and makes many policies not only difficult to propose, but also to implement. There are some regulations that are intended to promote public services, but in reality harm the interests of many organizations. For instance, the example just raised about the “Guangzhou Fundraising Regulation” will most certainly touch upon the interests of the Red Cross and similar organizations that previously enjoyed the right to raise funds publicly4. As a result, when we were asked to draft Guangdong Province’s charity regulation, we originally planned to write in the right to public fundraising. This point is one of the reasons the legislation has been slow in coming. I remember, at that time, representatives from certain large-scale philanthropic organizations in Guangdong coming almost daily to look for us, especially to speak to the head of the provincial Department of Civil Affairs Regulations Office, to tell us what we could and could not do. This perhaps is one kind of vested interest, unrelated to ideological or political considerations, that emerges from the recognition of one’s self-interests and represents another hindrance to the legislative process.

On the whole, I believe that Guangdong Province’s political and legal reforms have made some breakthroughs. However, the three obstacles I have just raised are difficult to overcome. I still have hope though because once these policies begin to take effect, they will mobilize the strength of various social groups, including the power of fundraising. The regulations lowering barriers to registration will also encourage the joining of organizational resources and, when this happens, it will become a dynamic social force. Only then will government policies will be able to move forward and break through the above obstacles.

Chen Xuqing: Last year, I learned from various places that the appearance of new policies related to the development of Chinese social organizations is not single-handedly guided by the Ministry of Civil Affairs, and is in reality spurred by reform of the social organization structure on a much larger scale. This reform of social organizations represents a kind of holistic, top-down, experimental type of policy. The reason for these types of policies is that new regulations rely on material support and financial assistance from above. The result is that when many places are looking to propose reforms, they will not necessarily indicate that they recognize the severity of the problem need to improve it, and instead work to adjust such policies in order to gain access to resources from above.

A second issue is that various localities have proposed their own policies for advancing the development of social organizations, but there are differences in their implementation. For example, we often speak of groups in the public benefit, charitable, and social service categories that the government quite clearly supports. The Ministry of Civil Affairs is quite clearly willing to allow these kinds of social organizations to register without a professional supervising unit. But, there are other types of groups that will not enjoy such privileges, and the government’s restriction of such groups is extremely strict5.

The third issue is that some of China’s policies are driven by values and interests and do not necessarily have any realistic or operational significance. One source of those values/interests derives from the sensibilities of government departments and their staff which hold up the policy’s actual implementation. Another source derives from the fact that the Ministry of Civil Affairs is not a very powerful department. To advance its agenda, it requires the support of other departments and so, although it will introduce new policies, it is overly cautious in implementing them.

As for the reform of the registration and management of social organizations in Guangdong, the reality of the matter is that several other places have already implemented similar policies, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Hunan, Jiangsu, and Guangxi. The policy put forth by Guangdong has been made into a hot topic by the media. What it actually reflects is a problematic method of how the media and the public understand and transmit information about public interest issues. For example, official provincial newspapers and relevant media organs will emphasize what official made an appearance and what that official said, but the organization’s name, where their resources come from, and what their main purpose is, often remain unclear. There is also media that focus on the more sensational points and end up overlooking the substance of an issue. Take for example last year’s “Guo Meimei” and “Lu Meimei” incidents. In reality, these two events are quite different but, because academic circles and media took interest in certain aspects of both, they stole the scene6. We must calm down and think about the substance of a problem and how to work it out. Only then will our actions have meaning and value.

The development of social organizations in China certainly has its peculiarities. It is impossible to forge ahead solely on one’s own or without any social basis, and when the momentum runs out, the development is hard to sustain. China currently has a large number of policies, but when it comes to actually implementing them it is often unprepared. So, its possible that some policies emerge from a need to propagate certain values, and a portion of practical policies make it down to reality, but the current conditions in China are not fully matured. Not only are the government’s management mechanisms not fully developed, but Chinese civil law is also underdeveloped, as is the NGO sector.

Li Wenhen: Reform policies should make gradual advancements. We cannot expect all things to unfold in one motion and to do so in an equal manner. All things in China, once changed, have a series of reactions and require a series of policies. Concerning a single Ministry, it is unable to implement a series of policies on its own and therefore requires assessing a situation, using the most stable methods, and implementing reforms whose pros outweigh their cons. For example, to suddenly completely deregulate the registration process would mean large numbers of new groups would register. The office that manages social organizations, currently managing 100 organizations, would suddenly need to manage 2000 organizations. They would be completely unprepared and fall into disorder. Once in disorder, it could only fall back on old habits and become what is was before, and to make changes again in the future would become even more difficult. So, it is still better to slowly explore the options, try them out, and find practical solutions.

As for the fundraising regulations in Guangzhou, newly established organizations that previously lacked the right to fundraise publicly now have hope for acquiring approval. But, to realistically approach the issue from another perspective, even if they are approved, how will they use their new privileges, and will they use them effectively? This is a problem. There are many reputable organizations that are qualified to fundraise publicly, but they do not necessarily use their privileges effectively.

CDB: After the introduction of relevant policies, some believe that government policies favor formally registered social organizations and civil non-enterprise units (CNIs). They argue that the policies facilitate these organizations’ ability to obtain government resources while having little effect on organizations that are registered as businesses. In fact, to a certain extent, the policies may squeeze the latter groups’ resource space. In practice, what are the effects of policy changes on the ability of formally registered organizations and commercially registered organizations to acquire resources?

Yu Fangqiang: The government’s management of social organizations has been changing since 2008. However, in my opinion, there has been no effect on commercially-registered organizations like ours, because the two most important areas of policy impact for NGOs are fundraising and taxation. If the organization is not affected in these areas, then changes by the government do not concern us.

In terms of fundraising, most of the numerous newly-promulgated policies are concentrated in the areas of government purchasing and registration. At least until now the government will not purchase from organizations like ours7. Therefore, those policies have no effect on us in terms of fundraising. As for taxation, the current reform measures have made no major changes for organizations registered either as social organizations or businesses. As a result, they have no effect on us.

If one were to consider the issue more extensively, and consider the overall impact of these policy changes on social organizations, then I think the policy changes may create more divisions among social organizations. On the one hand, these policy changes will increase the likelihood of social organizations that are engaged in public interest and charitable work and meet the standards for government purchasing to be coopted by the existing system. On the other hand, more independent social organizations will move farther away from this system. It is also possible that the latter organizations have made many contributions and have their own fundraising channels; therefore, they are not worried about their future direction. As a result, they will not even consider joining the system8.

Kang Taihe: Some of our partners harbor tremendous hope for the government to purchase their services. They believe that government contracts can account for 30 percent of their annual budget. However, I think they still face a problem: Do the social organizations select the services to be purchased or does the government designate which services to purchase? For example, if you design a small but focused project, yet the government’s purchase standard indicates that the project must serve a designated number of persons, which conflicts with your design, what do you do then?

In addition, on many occasions, the government only provides funds to implement the project when it purchases services. This is a feasible collaborative method if the salaries of the NGO staff are provided by the state (as might happen in some GONGOs). However, because the staff of grassroots NGOs do not receive a salary from the state, they will need to charge management fees from the projects to pay their staff.

Chen Xuqing: The government is more cautious when it comes to fee management. In some places, wages have already been itemized, meaning that they are allowed. However, there are still limitations in some places. Nonetheless, there should be adjustments in the future.

With respect to taxation, my understanding is that Civil Affairs-registered NGOs in many places, including Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, and Ningxia, are able to get tax exemptions. However, here I feel that there are some issues that should be addressed properly so as to be even more beneficial to the development of NGOs. For example, most of the NGO training sessions center on advocacy, which lacks substance and is impractical. It may be that more training with respect to behavioral norms and project planning should be conducted. As an example, during a visit I discovered that civil non-enterprise units, such as schools and hospitals, were exempted from paying taxes. However, they were still paying utilities according to the rates for small and medium enterprises. One unit of electricity is 1.20 yuan for industrial use, but one unit of electricity for use by social organizations is less than 0.50 yuan. Yet, the leaders of the schools and hospitals were not aware of this fact.

Lv Pin: According to information received from some Guangdong-based women’s organizations with which I am familiar, after the change in the registration policy, the Guangdong provincial Women’s Federation invited some unregistered organizations to register because it believed that it needed to take the lead in this area. However, some organizations will consider whether to accept this offer and whether more supervision will be involved with the addition of a “mother-in-law.” They believe there are still differences, in views and approaches, between some women’s rights organizations and the Women’s Federation9.

Moreover, there is a relationship between these policy changes and the NGO’s ability to obtain international financial support. Obtaining international financial support is a competitive process. Both registered and unregistered organizations, including those with sound government support, are competing for those resources. Some international donors also consider the legality of its funding partners in China, so they will carry out an informal investigation of the NGO. If as a result of the investigation the NGO is unable to get the funding, then it might be compelled to turn to funding from less legitimate sources, which can bring greater risks to the NGO.

CDB: Within the sector, there seems to be a consensus that NGOs can be divided into two categories in terms of their mission, ideals and work: social service groups and action and advocacy groups. Many policy changes are more likely to benefit social service NGOs, which leads us to ask if action and advocacy groups still have space to develop further? If so, how can they find space to develop?

Lv Pin: Recently, Wang Zhenyao has stressed that NGOs need to be more professional, and move away from the grassroots approach. This professionalization is a way to bring you over to one side, similar to an NGO becoming more like a social work program. Currently, it seems no one really distinguishes between NGOs and social work programs, and both seem to be doing the same work10. But social work is simply an extension of the state, and is quite different from the work NGOs do.

I feel that, in the case of NGOs registered as businesses, these social policy reforms are more relevant for social service groups than for advocacy groups. Over the past few years, had our group not adopted several methods from other civil society groups to allow us to continue to exist, our organization would not have the prospects that we have today.

Sometimes our discussion is not so much about survival but more about who is the problem. There are no mechanisms in China to assess government policy. If we want to evaluate policy that is meant to affect NGOs, I believe we should start by looking at grassroots organizations. But, after looking at these optimistic policies, how many grassroots organizations can we truly talk about that have truly benefited? Support for these policies is really nothing more than embracing overly optimistic hopes. The original concept of NGOs embraced different types but those differences are lost when we talk about NGOs now. In the past, some NGOs did do advocacy work, however, when we talk about NGOs now, it is frequently in reference to social service groups which play a supporting role in the system.

Lv Quanbin: I very much agree with what Lv Pin said, that social work and NGO public interest work are not the same thing. But what are the differences and where are the boundaries between the two? I feel that social service groups are creating many GONGOs, and establishing many social work agencies, a development that is a form of stability maintenance. It offers social work college students the chance to obtain residence permits, and thus better treatment, and then sends them to work in communities to play a stability maintenance role similar to the role of those elderly women who keep a daily watch in the community11.

In addition, several disaster relief NGOs in Sichuan have been leaving, specifically nongovernmental public interest organizations, because they cannot find a way to survive. The space provided by the government is shrinking. This trend, along with the difficulties of reconstructing after a disaster, is causing groups to withdraw. On the other hand, after the withdrawal of many NGOs, the government began contracting services on a large-scale, supporting the transformation of some NGOs into social work organizations. In short, it is only social service organizations that are better able to survive.

Chen Xuqing: In fact the government is not only outsourcing services to social organizations, but also enterprises. Restrictions on government procurement are inevitable, and lead us to wonder if advocacy groups are actually needed. If not, their services will naturally not be purchased. But this is dependent not only on government procurement, but also on the larger social environment. In this respect, I believe advocacy groups have no room for development.

Li Wenhen: Now there are a variety of needs, but the most pressing need, especially at this stage, is service providers that solve real problems. Advocacy can then be carried out on this base. In fact, including the advocacy work done by the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation (中国扶贫基金会), it should be said that various groups each do some grassroots advocacy in their own field, although there may be a question of scale. For example, poverty alleviation first helps some impoverished people and then uses resources and energy to do advocacy work. This advocacy work includes holding events with similar organizations, offering forums, produce various publications, and other programs. This is also advocacy. This approach can also minimize the risk of appearing confrontational, and make advocacy more acceptable to the government and recipients.

Wang Yanyan: During the Chinese economic reform, there was a very famous saying, the central government enacted a policy, each local government would also enact the same policy. Those localities on the southeast coast said: “Ah, this policy is good! It allows us to do anything,” because the policy did not say what you cannot do. However, some inland, more conservative, localities said: “My God, this policy is not very good, it does not let us do anything!” because they only saw what the policy said they can do12. I feel social organizations are in this position now.  Whether you think there are opportunities depends on how you interpret the policy.

On April 28, YouChange Foundation organized a seminar entitled “Social Management Innovation – How Can Social Service Organizations Better Participate in the Public Service Sector?” They invited various experts to discuss key points, and the seminar summarized various points discussing recommendations for social service groups and our expectations for these groups. One was that social organizations should preserve their own values. When certain government policies come out, they offer an opportunity but also a temptation. Organizations should stick to their own beliefs and values, that is very important.  Of course, we also need to continually improve our beliefs and public interest nature. Second, we want to actively act and not passively wait. Third, we want to strengthen our own ability, focus energy on development; but we cannot be too eager for instant success, since anxiety and speed will not bring results.

There are also those who argue that the biggest part of government outsourcing of public services is service-oriented. We cannot expect the government to outsource advocacy-type or innovative projects because the government has its own functions and position.  Public service groups need to diversify their resource channels. Apart from the government, these groups need to consider getting funding from private businesses and foundations.

CDB: What impact will the reforms of social organization policy have on the development of the civil society, and even society in general? How can different types of NGOs participate in this process to push, design or even change the policy?

Yu Fangqiang: I think this series of policy changes only constitutes a technical change in the management style of NGOs, rather than a reform of the larger environment for civil society. For organizations registered with the Civil Affairs office or the Industry and Commerce office, or for unregistered organizations, the government now only provides a kind of technical solution for them, but it doesn’t create a free and diversified environment13. For example, the only way for NGOs to obtain legal status is to register with the Civil Affairs office; they are not allowed to register with the Administration of Industry and Commerce, as foundations, or find another way to survive.

Why are these changes not known to society? Because the general public doesn’t know much about NGOs. The new regulations focusing on management and registration are too specialized for the public to understand. The events that received more public attention are not addressed at all in these reforms14. I believe these policy reforms will give rise to a government-guided, commercialized model rather than a model in which commercial society, civil society and the government play equal roles.

Wang Yanyan: we talked about some suggestions to the government in our seminar, and someone mentioned the importance of a top-level design. As the division of labor among government departments becomes pronounced, there has to be a high-level design so that the government can carry out a systematic course of action. Ideally, social organizations should participate in the design15.

Take disaster relief as an example. Social organizations are not yet part of the national rescue system. The only social organization present at the Emergency Management Leading Group of the State Council is the Red Cross, which is not a non-governmental organization in real terms16. During the Yingjiang earthquake, we received a phone call from the National Disaster Relief Center. They wanted to talk to a local organization to find out how serious the situation was, and about the casualties and the damage to schools. So we put them in touch with the disaster relief network of YouChange. The government is aware that there are things beyond its capacity, and it needs the participation of social organizations. This is an opportunity for social organizations. As long as we have the right mentality and channel, there is an opportunity for NGOs to participate in this top-level design, and in government decision-making.

Tang Hao: In the long run, these reforms may pose some serious problems. I believe those problems are not intended by the government, but they may have a negative impact.

First, the reforms reflect the idea of ​​a government-run social sector. What will happen if the government absorbs social organizations or pushes public institutions into the public interest sector, and transforms them into powerful GONGOs17. Perhaps we can take a look at what happened to the state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in the past decade: as SOEs monopolized more of the resources, the private sector faced an environment of cutthroat competition. As we all know, excessive competition in the food industry has caused many social problems. The same could happen with NGOs. If GONGOs dominate the most profitable and promising areas in the social sector, the remaining NGOs could be facing vicious competition in a crowded field. NGOs will start to attack each other. All kinds of issues may come up.

There is another potential problem. When the government interferes with the market, we see the marriage of power and capital. The same story will happen to the social sector. We invest huge amount of money in buying services. Where does the money go? Our supervision mechanisms are still immature. Will there be a new round of corruption? I think it’s possible.

Now what should NGOs do?

They need to develop in the following areas. First, as I have said, they must reach out to the local community. Second, they should establish themselves in the areas where the government is unwilling or unable to enter. In the process, they will find spaces to develop. This is completely possible.

In addition, I feel it is necessary to form a strategic alliance among NGOs. I am not suggesting a merger since that is not the nature of NGOs. A strategic alliance means they can design something together, using a division of labor to support each other in terms of resources, and achieve a win-win situation.

Many of the problems that NGOs face are because they are not strong enough, not only in resources, but also in research. Concepts proposed by research institutions (One Foundation Research Institute18, Beijing Normal University and Tsinghua University) are very limited, and their theoretical studies haven’t been transformed into strategic resources. NGOs should produce concepts, strategies and blueprints for the future. Now the public interest sector’s development is at the same stage as the market economy in its initial stages. The government has no experience and does not know what to do. Our practical and theoretical contributions will decide the path of civil society in the next 10 years, so there are many things we can do.

Lv Pin: I think what Tang said about NGOs and the future of China’s society is very interesting. NGOs are weak. Do you hear any voice from NGOs in the public debate today? They are too weak to participate. However, I believe that if you have ideals and ideas, and the values of an independent NGO, and if you want to do something meaningful, you still have to adhere to the special characteristics of NGOs, otherwise there’s no way to be productive. Some organizations abandon these special characteristics in their discussions. One example is the argument that NGOs are only a supplement to the government. Of course, everyone has their own view, but I have to disagree with this argument. If you think of NGOs as occupying this subordinate position, then we will never be able to change society.

(Transcript Recording: Wang Chunmei; Editor: Guo Ting; The transcript was reviewed by some of the speakers.)


  1. Editor’s Note: The Provincial Party Secretary is the highest ranking leader in the province. The Social Affairs Committee is a recently established committee set up within the CCP hierarchy to take charge of “social construction” and “social management”. In Guangdong, this Committee was established in 2011, while in Beijing, it was established a few years ago. Its functions appear to overlap with those of Civil Affairs. 

  2. Editor’s Note: The speaker here is referring to restrictions on any new reforms that are imposed by the Communist Party’s limits on ideological discourse, its concern for social stability, and its discourse about social organizations which tends to privilege GONGOs that operate within the system over grassroots NGOs that operate outside the system. 

  3. Editor’s Note: At the time, neither Jiangsu nor Hunan were seen as centers of NGO activity 

  4. Editor’s Note: Under the current regulatory system, only public fundraising foundations have the right to engage in public fundraising. The Red Cross, which is governed by a separate law, enjoys a similar right. The new Fundraising Regulation in Guangzhou will expand that right to other social organizations and therefore, as the speaker notes below, threatens the previous monopoly that public foundations held over fundraising. 

  5. Editor’s Note: Here, the speaker is referring to social organizations that fall outside the public interest, charitable and social service categories, such as groups that are more explicitly political, human rights, or religious in nature. 

  6. Editor’s Note: Guo Meimei and Lu Meimei are two scandals in the philanthropy sector that were widely publicized in the media and social media in 2011. 

  7. Editor’s Note: The speaker’s NGO is registered as a business. Because it is not registered as a social organization with Civil Affairs, it does not have the qualifications to accept government contracts. 

  8. Editor’s Note: This speaker voices the fear of more independent social organizations that see the reforms as a way for the government to coopt and pacify them. The concern is that by lowering the barriers to registration and inviting grassroots NGOs to register so they can become legitimate and apply for government contracts, the reforms will make these NGOs more dependent on the government and more willing to do its bidding. 

  9. Editor’s Note: The Women’s Federation are “mass organizations” under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), but sometimes self-identify as NGOs.  Here, Lv Ping, notes that some local Women’s Federations have offered to sponsor organizations to register with Civil Affairs, but points out that some women’s organizations might be wary of working under the supervision of the Women’s Federation because of its close ties with the CCP. 

  10. Editor’s Note: Here, Lv Pin is making a backhanded criticism of the tendency in China to equate NGO work with social work or charity, rather than with rights-based activism that seeks to change policy and power relationships. 

  11. Editor’s Note: The speaker here is referring to a push by local governments to promote social work in communities by contracting services to social work agencies.  The emphasis in these efforts is using service provision to maintain harmony and stability in communities. In other words, it is more about pacifying communities than empowering them. 

  12. Editor’s Note: The speaker is referring here to the southeastern provinces of Guangdong and Fujian which took advantage of Deng Xiaoping’s “reform and opening” policies to move ahead of the rest of the nation by interpreting the policy more flexibly. In contrast, other provinces played it safe by reading the policy more literally. 

  13. Editor’s Note: The speaker here is referring to recent reforms lowering barriers to registration which are intended to allow more NGOs to register with Civil Affairs. But the reforms do not provide other ways to register for those NGOs that might still be unable to register or unwilling to register because they address more sensitive topics. Nor do the reforms lessen other restrictions that make NGO work difficult, such as restrictions on NGO fundraising and on freedom of speech and media 

  14. Editor’s Note: The speaker here is referring to events like the Guo Meimei scandals of 2011 that raised issues about the government’s monopoly on fundraising and the lack of transparency in the sector. 

  15. Editor’s Note: The term “high-level design” refers to designing a policy with backing from top leaders and agencies that have the authority to coordinate the work of different government departments in carrying out the policy. The need for “high-level design” is seen as critical to effective policymaking given the growing strength of different interests within the government and society. 

  16. Editor’s Note: The Red Cross is a GONGO.  Governed by its own law, it does not need to register with Civil Affairs like other social organizations and has close ties to the government, particularly at the local levels. 

  17. Editor’s Note: The speaker here is referring to recent plans to carry out a reform of public institutions (also called public service units) such as universities, research institutions and hospitals by changing them into social organizations, essentially privatizing them. These social organizations, because they came from the public sector and have close ties with the government, would however act more like GONGOs than independent NGOs. 

  18. Editor’s Note: One Foundation Research Center is now called the China Philanthropy Research Institute. 

圆桌:政策变革对社会组织发展影响

郭婷
中国发展简报2012年夏季刊
编者按
2011年以来,国家不断出台新的社会组织管理政策,降低社会组织注册门槛,推进政府购买社会服务、资金补助等制度,鼓励社会力量提供 社会服务。其中广东地区更是出现了放开社会组织注册限制,推进政府职能转移和购买服务制度,放开民间组织公募等关键性突破。针对这一系列政策实施效果和对 社会组织的影响,业内也出现了不同的观点和看法。5月8日,中国发展简报组织“社会组织政策改革影响与实施效果”小型讨论会,深入探讨了政策的出台背景与 力度、对社会组织的影响和实施效果如何、对中国社会组织整体发展有何长远影响等问题。
参与者(以姓氏拼音为序):
陈旭清    中央民族大学管理学院教授
李文很    中国扶贫基金会品牌传播部品牌活动处处长
吕    频    妇女传媒监测网络负责人
吕全斌    中山大学公益慈善研究中心驻京代表
康泰鹤    德国米索尔基金会项目官员
唐    昊    华南师范大学副教授、中山大学公益慈善研究中心副秘书长
王艳艳    友成企业家扶贫基金会传播部主任
于方强    南京天下公执行主任、北京益仁平中心理事
主持:   中国发展简报    郭    婷
话题:近来,广东省《广州市募捐条例》、社会组织登记改革等政策已经或即将实施,引起媒体和业内广泛关注,这些政策出台的背景如何、预计会有什么样的实施效果、有关社会组织发展与改革的政策会有多大力度?
唐昊:广东出台的法律法规最重要的有两个。一是5月1日起开始实施的《广州市募捐条例》,还有就是7月1日起实施的广东省社会组织登记改革规定。募捐条例 最大的一个特点就是把公募权放手给民间组织,等于把民间资源的聚合权利还给了民间组织。1988年起修订实行的《社会团体登记管理条例》出现很大改革,一 是允许一业多会,减少垄断;此外将社团登记注册手续大大简化。总之,一方面给民间组织聚合资源的能力;另一方面在组织资源上使得民间的人和机构能够进行重组,这两条对未来的社会建设和社会发展是最重要的。这是广东省法律法规上面的突破,这两方面的限制取消后,我估计在广州市乃至广东省,会是一个非常大的民间组织发展契机。
此外,在政策层面上,从省委书记一直到社工委主任,再到民政厅的官员这一年多来都频繁发表讲话,应该说会在政策层面上推动各级官员去承担这样一个责任。
当然这都是积极的情况,实际上政策创新和立法还是有一个无形的边界,说它是意识形态也好,说不能触碰维稳的底线也行,或者说不能触及原来对于社会组织的一 些成见和固有看法。总之,政策的出台和执行会面临一个玻璃天花板,走到那个地方你就知道那里有一条线,虽然没有法律规定,但是政策到了那里就是突破不了。
举个例子,2010年,广东省想出台慈善立法也就是慈善条例,当时江苏省已经出台,后来湖南也做了,但是这两个省没有相应的社会基础,出台以后民间组织的发展也没有想象的那么繁荣。广东省民间组织基础较好,向上生长的愿望非常强烈。2010年初,广东省民政厅法规处委托中山大学ICS(指“中山大学人类学系公民与社会发展研究中心”,编者注)进行规划,应该说这是立法进步的体现,直接让一线研究者参与立法进程。但是条例草拟完成,到现在已经快两年半了,还 出不来,节点就是交给其他部门审议的时候,一些部门反对其中的一些提法,认为给民间组织更大空间他们无法管理,对他们的工作形成影响。
此外,事实上从政策制定过程来看,大多数公益慈善领域的立法都是封闭环境之下产生的,不接地气,往往突然之间就出来了,比如说公共事业、公共用品的立法,如自来水、电的政策、环境污染标准等。立法过程的封闭性让公民力量没有办法参与、提意见,也就无法保证立法的质量。
第三个障碍,也是最重要的,是整个社会的利益分化非常严重,使许多政策、法规既难以出台,又难以执行。有些法规的确是为了发展公益事业,但实际上会伤害到 很多组织的利益。比如刚才举的广州市公募条例的例子,它一定会触及红十字会等原来享有公募权的组织的利益。所以,我们草拟的广东省慈善条例原来打算把公募 权写进去,这也是它至今难产的一个重要原因。记得当时,广东某大型慈善组织的代表三天两头来找我们,特别是找民政厅法规处的处长,说你不能这么干,如何如 何。这可能是一种既得的利益,无关意识形态、也无关政治上的考量,完全出于一种自我利益的认知,也会使得立法的进程受到某种程度上的阻碍。
综合来讲,我认为广东省的改革在政治、法律上都有所突破。但是,我刚刚举的这三个障碍现在看很难突破,之所以还抱有很大的期望,是因为许多政策一旦开头就 会动员社会层面的一些力量,包括公募权,那么就会将社会的物质资源集合起来,登记条例的放宽会使组织资源聚合起来,到时候会形成一种社会层面的动力。那个 时候政府的政策才会继续往前走,才有可能突破刚才所说的这些障碍。
陈旭清:我去年从各地了解到,中国社会组织发展相关政策的出台不是民政部门一手主导的,实际上是大环境在促使现在社会组织格局的改变。社会组织改革是一种 从上到下试验性的整体政策,背后还有一个重要原因是中国政策的出台背后要有物质资助,所以很多地方提出改革,不一定表示他们认识到这个问题非常重要,需要 改进,而是想适应上面的政策变化,获取上面的财政资助。
 第二个方面,各地都提出促进社会组织发展的政策,但在实施过程中是有差别的。比如,我们现在常说的公益慈善类、社会服务类组织,国家明确支持,民政部门明确愿意把业务主管和注册登记合二为一;但有些类别的组织,不见得是这样。所以在实施过程中,政府把握的政策界限实际非常严格。
第三个方面就是中国有些政策出台可能是一种价值理念,而不一定有实际操作意义。说它是价值理念,一是部分由于政府部门和工作人员的观念,实际操作过程中不见得真正放开;二是民政部门在政府序列中不是强势部门,开展工作需要其他部门的一些支持,他们尽管出台政策,但在执行过程中是非常谨慎。
至于广东省的社会组织登记管理改革,实际上好几个地方如北京、上海、湖南、江苏、广西等地都有类似改革。而广东出台政策被媒体讨论得很热,实际上反映出目前的媒体舆论对公益方面的认识和传播方式有问题,一些省级机关报纸上,对于成立省一级的基金会、行业协会等,报道重点是哪个领导出现、领导进行什么讲话, 而组织的名称、资金来源、主要业务都不说清楚。还有媒体抓住一些眼球事件来讨论问题,把应当关注的本质问题忽略了,比如去年的“郭美美事件”和“卢美美事 件”,实际上,这两个事件的差别太大了,但学术界和媒体凭自己感兴趣的一些东西去抢这个镜头。我们更应该沉静下来考虑问题的实质和如何去操作,才更有意义、有价值。
民间组织在中国社会的发展有它的特殊性,不可能在中国社会独领风骚,组织没有社会基础,没有地气的时候,发展起来很难。中国现在有非常多的政策,当真正实 施起来社会条件还不是很具备。所以,可能有一些政策是出于价值理念的宣传,真正把这一部分落实到现实社会中,目前条件还不是很成熟,不光是政府机构的管理 不成熟,也有中国社会法律的不成熟,也包括咱们真正运作的NGO不是很成熟。
李文很:改革政策应该是渐进式的,我们不能指望一朝下去,事情就全摆平。中国任何事情都是一旦改的话,就是一连串的反应,那么就需要一连串的政策。对一个 部门来说是没有办法出台一连串的政策的,因此我们得权衡,用什么更稳定的方式,进行利大于弊的改革。比如说登记注册一下子全放开,有很多家注册的话,作为管理部门——民间组织管理局,现在管100家,一下子涨到2 000家,肯定是没法管,容易乱。一旦乱了,那只能依照以前,又回到原来,以后要改的话,就 更难了。所以还是应当慢慢探索、尝试,找一些实际的方。
至于广州的募捐条例,对刚刚成立的、原来没有募捐资格的机构,可能会很希望有公募资格,但其实站在另外一个方向思考,如果有这个资格,如何用、怎么能用好?这是一个问题。很多有公募资格、名声也挺大的机构不一定能用。
话题:相关政策出台以后,有论者认为政府的政策偏向正式注册的社团、民办非企业等,为其获取政府资源打开便利之门, 而对工商注册的组织影响甚微,甚至可能会在一定程度上挤压后者的资源获取空间。在实践中,近年来的社会组织政策变革对正式注册的组织和工商注册组织在资源获取方面各自有什么样的影响?
 于方强:从2008年开始,民间组织的管理就在变革,但是对我们这种工商注册的机构,我个人认为是没有任何影响的。因为,政策变动对NGO的影响来说,最重要的一是筹款,二是税收,如果这两个方面对机构没有影响的话,那么政府做的这些变革跟我们没有关系。
筹款方面,现在这么多新政策发布,但集中在政府购买、登记等方面。至少目前为止,政府不会对我们这样的机构实施购买,所以对我们筹款方面没有影响。税收方面,目前这种改革措施对涉及的无论是民政注册还是工商注册的,都没有太大的变化,对我们也是没有任何影响的。
如果想得更多一些,比如说这些政策变化对社会组织的整体影响,我想可能会影响民间组织进一步分化,一方面使得更多做公益慈善的、符合政府购买服务标准的机 构更倾向于纳入到现有体制内;另外一方面,更多有独立性的机构,反而会偏离这个体制更远,也有可能这些组织自己作出了很多贡献,有自己的筹款渠道,也不愁 未来的发展方向,所以根本不会考虑纳入到这个体制。
康泰鹤:我们的合作伙伴有一部分对政府购买服务抱很大的希望,认为可以获得一年预算的30%。但我觉得他们还存在一个问题:购买的服务是自己的选择还是被 政府指定的?比如你做一个小而精的项目,但政府出台的购买标准说必须服务多少个人,这就和你的设计发生冲突了,怎么办?
此外很多政府购买服务,只给执行项目的费用。那么如果由国家负责员工工资的NGO,这是一个可行的合作方法,但真正的NGO工作人员没有工资,就必须有管理费。
陈旭清:政府在费用管理这一块比较谨慎,人员的工资有的地方已经细分,是允许发的;有的地方还是有限制的,但未来也应该会调整。
关于税收待遇,据我了解,在山西、内蒙、宁夏很多地方民政登记的都能享受免税。不过这里我感觉有些问题,比如对NGO的培训,多是理念倡导,太空了,不够务实,也许应该有更多的行为规范、项目策划培训,可能对于NGO的发展更为有利。比如有次考察,发现学校、医院等民办非企业的税全免了,但是水电费还按中 小企业来交,一度电按工业用电是一块两毛多,而如果按非营利用电一度才四毛多钱,而学校、医院的负责人对此都不知情。
 吕频:根据来自比较熟悉的一些广东妇女组织的信息,广东妇联在登记政策改革之后,认为妇女这个领域得由妇联领头,就邀请一些没有身份的组织来注册。但是有 些组织会考虑,我们要不要这个钱,新增加一位“婆婆”会给机构带来多少检查;因为有些主张妇女权利的机构和妇联的工作还是有差别的。
此外,政策变动和NGO获取国际资助有关系。国际资助本身是竞争的,不管是注册的还是未注册的都在这里面竞争,包括一些本身有很好政府资源的也在里面竞 争。有的国际援助机构会考虑它的资助在中国的合法性问题,也就会对NGO有一种潜在的审查。如果一个NGO接受了这样的审查,无法在中国得到相对有合法性的资助的话,它有可能不得不去寻求那些在中国不太有合法性的资助,这会构成更大的风险。
话题:NGO从宗旨理念、工作内容来看分为社会服务和行动倡导两大类是业内的共识,社会政策变革的受惠方普遍指向社会服务类组织,行动倡导类组织是否也有发展空间?如何获得发展空间?
吕频:前段时间王振耀强调NGO要专业性,不要草根性,这个专业性实际上也是一个收拢,类似于将相应的NGO变成一种社会工作。现在NGO和社会工作之间是一个什么样的关系,好像现在大家都不分,甚至都等着往一块放。但社会工作其实是国家决策的一个延伸,跟NGO不太是一回事。
我觉得社会政策改革对我们这类工商注册的,不是从事社会服务而是从事倡导的这类组织来说不是个要考虑的问题。我们不在这些变化之中,不会抱什么希望。过去几年里,如果不是我们的组织采用了公民社会的一些工作方法让我们可以维持生存的话,我们机构不会有什么大的发展前景。
有的时候我们谈的不是一个是否存在的问题,而是对谁而言才是个问题。中国的政策是缺乏评估机制的。如果我们要对针对NGO的政策进行评估,我想应该从草根NGO真实的感受出发去看,但是在经历这些乐观的政策之后,有多少草根NGO的真实遭遇能被说出来?对政策的欢呼其实是对一个看起来乐观的信号的过度拥抱。NGO原本有不同的类型,但我们谈NGO的时候却不是,本来有一部分NGO是做社会倡导工作的,但我们谈的NGO却往往是体制中扮演配角的社会服务类 NGO。
吕全斌:我特别赞同吕频说的社工和民间公益组织是不是一回事。区别在哪里?边界在哪里?感觉社会工作在建很多GONGO、很多事务所,而且这种定位是维护稳定,给大学生社工户口和待遇,然后送到社区里扮演维稳老太太的角。
再说一点感受,四川的一些救灾NGO这几年大部分都撤出了,尤其是民间公益组织,因为找不到生存的办法,政府给的空间越来越小,也不愿提灾后重建这个事。另一方面,很多民间组织撤出之后,政府开始大规模地采购,扶持原有的民间组织转型或重新组建一些社工组织,只有社工机构才能更好地生存下。
陈旭清: 实际上政府采购的对象不仅仅是民间组织,也包括企业,政府采购有限制是必然的,倡导类的组织政府需要不需要?如果不需要,自然不会采购。也不光是政府采购,实际上现在整个社会环境,在这一块上我想都没有发展的空间。
李文很:现在的需求是很多方面的,但是最大的需求尤其是现阶段还是需要一些直接的服务去解决实实在在的问题,然后在这个基础上做一些倡导。其实现在包括扶贫基金会都在做倡导,应该说各个机构都在自己的领域、自己的方向上做一些基层的倡导,只不过可能是一个比例的问题。比如说做扶贫的,先实实在在帮助一些贫困的人,然后再抽些精力出来做一些倡导,比如和相关的机构搞一些活动、做一些论坛、出一些出版物等,这也是倡导,工作方法也可以尽量减少火药味,让政府和受助方更能接受。
王艳艳:改革开放的时候,曾有一个很著名的段子,说中央出了一个政策,各个地方政府拿到这个政策的时候,东南沿海就说:“啊,这个政策好!什么事情都可以做。”因为这里面没说你不能做什么事情;然后内地有一些保守的地方拿到就:“哎呀,这个政策不怎么样,什么都不让做呀!”因为它只看到了你能做什么事情。我觉得社会组织现在的机遇也是一样,看你怎么看待。
4月28日,友成就“社会管理创新——社会组织如何更好地参与公共服务”组织了一个研讨会,请了一些专家进行交流,会上总结了几条对社会组织的建议或者说我们的期待。一是社会组织要保持自己的价值观,政府相关政策出台,是个机遇,也是个诱惑,坚持自己的本性,坚持自己的理念是挺重要的一点,当然我们自己的理念和公益本身也是需要不断进步的;第二是我们要主动的融入而不是被动的等待;第三是我们要增强自己的能力,集中精力发展自己,不能太急功近利,急不得快 不得。
还有一个观点指出,现在政府购买公共服务最大的一块还是在服务性的,像倡导型和创新型的项目很多不适合政府购买,政府有自己的职能、立场,公益组织要寻找资源的多元性,除了政府之外,还要考虑来自企业、基金会等其他渠道。
话题:政府推进的社会组织政策改革对公民社会乃至整个社会的发展将产生什么样的影响? 不同类型的NGO在此过程中如何参与到政策的推动、设计乃至改变中去?
于方强:我有一个印象,目前的这一系列政策变革仍然只是NGO内部一种技术性的管理方式的变革,而不是说对整个公民社会大环境的变革。不管是你是民政注册还是工商注册还是没有注册的机构,它只是提供一种技术化的手段指明这条路让你走,而不是放手给NGO一个多元的生存状态。比如说,把NGO限定为在民政注册,是唯一一条合法化的路;而不是说允许以工商注册、基金会或者各种各样的方式来生存。
为什么变革不是对外的? 因为对于社会公众来讲,对NGO了解不太多,政策仅仅规范管理和登记注册,对公众来说太专业,那些引起公众关注的透明化事件在这些改革中没有看到。我觉得政策改革之后也仍然还是政府主导、商业化的模式而不是商业社会、公民社会和政府形成三足鼎立的模式。
王艳艳:在我们的研讨会上,谈了一些对政府的建议,其中一个认为政策的顶层设计很重要。 现在政府各个职能部门分工非常明确,需要有更顶层的设计让政府有一个系统性的行为、系统性的思路,而这个设计最好是有社会组织的参与。
比如救灾领域,国家的救援体系中尚没有民间机构的真正参与,国务院应急管理领导小组联合办公会上只有红会,没有真正意义上的民间机构。 盈江地震的时候,我们接到国家紧急救援中心的电话,说你们能不能找到当地的一个组织,我们要知道伤亡到底到什么程度,比如说学校坍塌到什么程度。我们就通过友成的救灾网络报给它。 这说明政府意识到很多事情它力所不及,需要民间组织的参与,这就是社会组织参与的一个机会。 其实是我们摆正什么样的心态,用怎样的途径切入的问题,就是在顶层设计这里面,我们也是有机会的,可以更多地参与政府的决策。
唐昊:从长远来看,政策可能还有些潜在的严重问题,相信这些问题不是政府主观想达到的,但可能在客观上带来负面影响。
首先,它体现了政府办社会的思路,把社会组织收编过来,或者进行事业单位改革进入公益领域,形成更强大的GONGO,之后会出现什么效应呢?也许国有企业十多年来的发展路径可以做个参考:国有企业垄断所有的资源,私营企业只能面临惨淡境地,进行过度竞争。 比如说在食品这个行业过度竞争,进而产生很多社会问题。 NGO来讲也是一样,如果说你把赚钱或者很有发展前途的一些社会服务的领域占住,让GONGO来做,那么剩下的NGO会在一个很小的范围内恶性竞争,到时候可能不是网民来披露公开事件,而是NGO相互之间披露,可能什么问题都冒出来。
还有一个可能产生的问题是,政府追求办市场意味着会出现权力和资本的结合,如果办社会,面临的效应也一样——购买服务的过程中,钱巨量地花下去,我们的监督机制不成熟,那么这个钱究竟会花到哪里去?这个中间会不会产生新一轮腐败高峰,也都是有可能的。
那么在这个时候,NGO要怎么办?
一是本身需要发展几个方面的能力。 首先前面讲到的要接地气;其次要把政府替代不了、不愿意去做、也没动力和专业水平去做的服务领域做大、做强;然后在这个过程中寻找一个生长点,这是完全有可能的。
此外我觉得NGO之间需要形成一种策略联盟,不是说大家合在一起,这不是NGO的性格,不是一种联盟而是一种策略联盟,可以一起设计一些东西,去做一些分工以及在资源上进行一种相互的支持,形成共赢的局面。
NGO有很多问题是因为我们自己不够强大,不仅仅是物质资源不够强大,而是我们提不出有效的概念。可能壹基金研究院、北师大、清华等研究机构能提出一些概念,但非常少,而且他们的理论研究并没有形成一种策略上的资源。 NGO应当生产概念、生产策略,生产未来的一种布局。现在公益慈善领域的发展和市场经济刚刚开始的阶段一样,政府也没有经验,不知道怎么办,我们现在可以做的不只是物质上的生产,也包括精神上的生产,能够决定公民社会未来十年的发展方向,所以我说还是大有可为的。
吕频:我觉得唐昊老师的发言特别有意思,不仅仅关于NGO本身,也包括更远的中国社会未来的走向。 NGO的确很弱小,如今公共辩论里那么多人在说话,哪有NGO的声音? 没法参与,太弱了。但是我觉得,就算你有思想、有观念、有独立NGO的价值,如果你想生产精神,还是得坚持NGO的特性,否则也无法生产。 但是恰恰在一些NGO的讨论中,还有很多迷思,没有以NGO的特性来进行充分地辩论和澄清,比如说最常听到的说法是NGO是替政府拾遗补缺的。当然每个人都有自己的看法,但我认为将之作为整个NGO的属性,肯定是不符合的,把NGO置于这样的一个位置上,你的思想是没法参与整个变革的。
(录音整理:王春梅,文字编辑:郭婷,经过部分发言人审校)

CDB Senior Staff Writer

Translated by Kyle Shernuk, John W. Tai, Glen Meyerowitz and Mo Zhu

Reviewed by Shawn Shieh

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