From the editor:
In the last few years, the rapidly changing Chinese philanthropic sector has attracted an increasing number of companies to establish charitable foundations and business professionals to join this “up and coming industry” with its open environment. Program officer Z, of the S foundation, comes from the IT industry. S foundation is a private foundation from Shanxi province with a business background, whose aim is to help the elderly and poor and carry out cultural work with a special focus on the youth’s education and development. From CDB’s interview with her, it is clear that business and the market are having a profound impact on the “traditional” Chinese philanthropic sector.
“Young people may have splendid ideas and capabilities, but they need enough money to feed their families”
CDB: Please introduce the academic background and job experience you had before joining S foundation.
Z: I had been working in the IT sector for about ten years when I moved to S foundation.
CDB: Why did you join S foundation? What was the process? What kind of influence did your former learning and work experiences have upon you?
Z: I joined S foundation by accident, because I thought it is active in a fabulous sector that can help many people. I used to work in business so I thought we should sell the foundation’s products by conducting marketing promotion, so as to allow more buyers to find out about our products, although this sounds a bit commercial. Our main goal was to get donors and volunteers involved in the activities so that both sides could establish an emotional connection with the foundation.
CDB: So what did you think of your salary in the foundation? And what did you think of its prospects?
Z: To tell you the truth, the salaries in this sector cannot be compared with other sectors. It is strictly regulated by the government, so plenty of talented people leave the sector because of the low salaries. It is a matter of practical consideration. Young people may have splendid ideas and capabilities, but they need enough money to feed their families. The work of foundations is very professional and requires us to learn constantly and overcome challenges. We put in as much time and energy as other professionals but get a lower pay. That is what needs to be improved in the future.
CDB: Do you have any problems or confusion regarding your personal career development? If so, what are they?
Z: I didn’t join the sector very long ago. But sometimes I feel that the policies cannot keep up with the industry’s development, so work may be restricted as a result. The charity sector has experienced much development these years but if people cannot see a future in it, it is natural that they will leave.
“I share a deep relationship with the children we have aided”
CDB: What’s your main work in S foundation? How is the project that you are in charge of going?
Z: My work is project implementation. The main project of our foundation is giving excellent but impoverished undergraduates not only financial aid but also some good company while they grow up. They may be the next generation to spread the love a few years down the line.
CDB: Have there been any impressive experiences or interesting stories after you joined the project department? Do you have any particular thoughts or feelings when interacting with different interest groups?
Z: You can make many related “products” if you really put an effort into the project. The products can make it convenient for people to participate at any time and guarantee that children have real respect for the activities. Good products sometimes come up during the work process. When a project works well, with many spin-off products and people interested in it, it is the right time to sell the products through market promotion. Though we respect the ideas of any related groups, we are not going to agree with the requirements brought up by groups with different interests when they contradict our notion.
CDB: What is the most successful thing you’ve done during your work in S foundation? What do you get out of the job except for your salary?
Z: After joining the foundation, I reconstructed the foundation’s management system and operational basis, which helped me to locate any information I needed instantly, just like the multi-function charts in EXCEL. Besides, I share a deep relationship with the children we have aided for many years with the foundation, which gives them a sense of belonging to it. The improvement in my coordination and management abilities brought about by cooperating with so many people has been my biggest gain from the foundation.
CDB: What difficulties did you encounter in your work? Did you overcome them successfully? If yes, how did you do so? If not, what do you think the solution would be?
Z: Team building is of vital importance. Sometimes we cannot coordinate the pace of our team members in project implementation. Some people work faster while others work slower. This is the problem we need to work on at the present stage.
CDB: Do you think that the project staff working on the frontline should have the right to get involved in making decisions about the projects of a foundation? If yes, how should this be done?
Z: Yes. Project staff is often familiar with the problems occurring in a project’s operation,and thus some mistakes can be avoided with their participation in decision-making.
CDB: What is the main obstacle that gets in the way of communication between project officers and decision makers? What kind of support needs to be provided?
Z: If when we are carrying out a project the person who offers the money doesn’t express his expectations clearly,then the ones who do the actual work cannot achieve the expected goal. The occurrence of new policies and other factors will affect the final result as well. So we need to enhance communication to reduce misunderstandings in this.
“Private foundations have developed very fast these years”
CDB: As a person specialised in the charity sector, have you had any communication with the project officers in other foundations regarding your profession? In your opinion, what efficient methods have been used to promote the ability of project officers in foundations in China? What needs to be improved? What’s your advice to the project officer in a foundation who has just set foot in the field?
Z: You need to learn the laws, regulations and policies regarding foundations. The sector doesn’t have a mature mode as a commercial sector,or a long development behind it, so I hope the government can offer more favorable policies. The related training provided by the government will be very helpful for the promotion of project officers’ ability in foundations.
CDB: What is your perspective for private foundations and the charity sector in China? What role is S foundation going to play in the development of charity?
Z: With more business people willing to assume their social responsibilities, private foundations have developed very fast these years. In the present stage, we hope that our work in foundations can continue to benefit more people in the long term.
CDB: What kind of capacity building and support do you think should be provided for the project officers by foundations?
Z: Though the charity sector differs from other industries, its project officers have the same demands as people in other sectors. It is required that project officers be specialized, professionalized and standardized in their work. So I hope the charity industry can provide project officers with capacity building focusing on these three aspects.
CDB: What vocational skill training did you receive in and outside of S foundation?Generally, are you satisfied with the effects of the trainings you received? Can you talk specifically about an impressive training session that proved to be very useful in your following work?
Z: As a freshman in the sector, I benefited a lot from the training courses offered by the Shanxi Provincial Civil Affairs Department. I got to know more about the origin, development, current policies and financial systems of foundations. We also learned through the case of a particular foundation’s project.
CDB: What form of study do you prefer to improve your abilities?
Z: I prefer courses on foundations’ policies and systems, as well as training on practical cases of project implementation.