Since 2001, when the Chinese government kicked off its “Going Out” strategy, China’s overseas investment has seen an exponential increase, reaching 1456.7 billion USD by 2015 – an impressive 35.9% annual growth rate and a 54 times increase compared to the figure back in 2002. The new “One Belt and One Road” initiative signifies the government’s staunch determination to promote extensive overseas economic and social engagement among Chinese enterprises and institutions. Against this backdrop, there are growing calls for Chinese NGOs to go out and play a critical role in bridging information gaps and cultivating mutual understanding between various stakeholders. In addition, as a member of global civil society, Chinese NGOs are looked upon to assume bigger roles in solving the many transnational social and environmental challenges facing the global community.
The Global Environmental Institute (GEI) organized a timely discussion on this very topic, entitled “Chinese NGO Going Abroad—Identifying Challenges and Opportunities”, on February the 27th. Moderated by Ms. Zhang Jingwei of GEI, the event was hosted by Beijing’s famous English language library and cafe’, the Bookworm. The featured speakers included Ms. Elizabeth Knup, the Country Director of the Ford Foundation, Ms. Huang Siran, a researcher from SynTao, a consulting firm dedicated to promoting CSR among Chinese enterprises, and Ms. Huang Yiyi, the assistant researcher for the Institute of International Development Cooperation of the Ministry of Commerce. The speakers shared their observations and perspectives on the opportunities, challenges and preparation needed for Chinese NGOs go abroad.
As one speaker stated, many Chinese companies are il-prepared in managing community relations in the host countries and often find themselves in an adverse relationship with the local communities. This is a space where Chinese NGOs can come in and provide much needed services to improve mutual trust and cooperation between Chinese enterprises and the local communities in a joint effort to promote ethical and sustainable Chinese overseas investment. Speaking from a grant-maker’s perspective, Ms. Knup of the Ford Foundation encouraged Chinese NGOs to look inward before they embark on a mission of going outward. Specifically, Chinese NGOs need to carefully examine how the organization’s core strengths are aligned with the needs in the field, and engage in targeted capacity-building in preparation for the mission abroad.
While the role of Chinese NGOs and how they position themselves in relation to both official foreign aid and private investment is still a lingering question that warrants continued discussion and questioning, there is a general consensus on the impetus of Chinese NGOs’s going out and assuming an increasingly critical role in global affairs.