The Badi Foundation Beijing Representative Office and the Tsinghua University NGO Research Institute hosted the second in a series of four roundtable meetings associated with the “Social Action and Development” discourse project on July 4th at the NGO Research Institute’s offices at Tsinghua University. The theme of the roundtable focused primarily on issues related to capacity-building projects of NGOs in mainland China, and included discussion of questions such as how to build capacity in local NGOs and how to assign meaning to the terms “capacity-building” and “capacity”?
Participants in the roundtable meeting included representatives from 25 different organizations, including the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation, the International Cooperation Department of the National Development and Reform Commission, the China Association for NGO Cooperation, the Landesa Rural Development Institute, the British Embassy in Beijing, China Development Brief, Inspiring NPO, the Conference Board, the Beijing Daxing Social Work Affairs Office, the Shanxi Jincheng “New Garden” Youth Service Center, the Tsinghua NGO Research Institute, the Social Studies Department of the Beijing University of Technology, the Center for the Study of Contemporary China at the University of Pennsylvania and Fordham Law School.
Mr. Lv Shenshen from the International Collaboration Department of the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation presented the government’s perspective on capacity-building in poverty alleviation programs by sharing experience from a pilot project in “community-driven development” initiated by the government in 2003. The project aims to contribute to national poverty alleviation efforts through establishment of local community funds in villages, for which decision-making at the level of operation, policy and use is handed over to the villagers, rather than remaining with the government. The government gained a great deal of learning from this experiment, especially with respect to nurturing participation and a sense of ownership in local populations about the development of the community. Following Mr. Lv’s presentation, Ms. Du Sufen, the founder of the Shanxi Jincheng “New Garden” Youth Service Center presented from the perspective of a community-based NGO carrying out capacity-building projects in rural communities. Ms. Du shared the results of her project to strengthen capacity in junior youth from rural communities, including the support she had received from local schools. Ms. Du shared how her capacity-building project focused not only on educating youth in specific skills, but emphasized building moral capabilities such as unity, consultation, collaboration and service and strengthening participation of youth in advancing the balanced material and spiritual development of the community. The project is centered around a series of texts that seek to strengthen moral capabilities in youth while also enhancing their English language skills, that emphasize the importance of both personal development and service to society, and that assist youth to develop the capacity to independently make moral choices. Although the project has only been carried out in the locality for two years, results are still apparent both in the development of capacity in junior youth to advance community development as well as in the development of the local community itself.
During the discussion, participants shared insights they had gained from their own experience with respect to the theme of capacity-building. Everyone agreed as to the importance of capacity-building in development endeavors, as well as with the idea that the concept of a capacity should not be limited to development of mere skills, but is a more complex concept involving a moral dimension. Another area of agreement was that capacity-building is a long-term process requiring sustained, not short-term effort. Concerning interaction of NGOs and government agencies, the group agreed that it was important for NGOs to develop the capacity to summarize and analyze their experience and share it with government, while at the same time government should open more avenues to learn from the grassroots experience of NGOs, and that NGO programs will work best if in the context of larger programs and policies created from government at the broader levels. Finally, with respect to the issue of how business and NGOs can improve communication, the importance of NGOs developing capacity to share information with potential donors from the business community was seen as significant.
The Badi Foundation and the Tsinghua NGO Research Institute hope that the “Social Action and Development” discourse project can create a platform for a diverse group of individuals and agencies within the broader civil society community to engage in mutual sharing and exchange of common themes at a deeper and broader level. This roundtable meeting was the second of a series of four that began in March of 2014 and will continue through the end of the year.