Friday, December 30, 2011

An ICFO Journey Through Asia

With ICFO's essentially Eurocentric history, and monitoring models for and by civil society based largely on Western history and context, my recent trip to China and Cambodia provided a learning experience unequal to anything I had previously experienced.  With a world and culture so far away, we in the West tend to ignore what is happening in the Southern hemisphere and in the East.  The dam that separated the East from the West was broken in ICFO when Taiwan's NPO Self-Regulation Alliance joined ICFO as members in 2008.  It was during the Annual General Membership Meeting of 2008 in which ICFO celebrated its 50th anniversary, that two organizations from the People's Republic of China joined the meeting: The China Charity and Donation Information Centre (now China Charity Information Centre), and China Association for NGO Cooperation (CANGO).

Since 2008, the leadership of ICFO has visited Taiwan and Cambodia, as well as Australia, in which Adri Kemps and I participated in a conference on charity monitoring models at the Centre for Social Impact, University of New South Wales.  See my posts of 9 December 2009, 10 January 2010, and 22 August 2011.  However, ICFO has received regular Annual Country Reports from CCIC, and has maintained good contact with Peng Jianmei, the Director of CCIC.

It was, therefore, with real pleasure that I was able to travel to Beijing for meetings with the Ministry of Civil Affairs, with CCIC, and to participate in a training session for foundations and civil society groups.  I also had the privilege of direct participation with several civil society organizations, including several local churches.

Following a meeting with the leadership of CCIC, we were able to meet with Mr. Xu Jianzhong, the Deputy General Director of the Department of Social Welfare and Promotion of Charities, Ministry of Civil Affairs, and his Division Director of Charity Promotion, Mr. Meng Zhigiang.  This meeting addressed some of the issues involved in the charity sector in China, Europe, and the U.S., and the absence of serious, extensive, detailed legislation providing for the regulation of the sector.  The goals of the Department of Social Welfare and Promotion of Charity are to empower the sector and improve the transparency and accountability.  We discussed some of the differences between China and the U.S. and Europe with respect to the development of the sector, and the factors that promote giving and charity.

Two items received more extensive discussion both in the meeting in the Ministry of Civil Affairs and in a separate meeting the following week with the leadership of CCIC.  The first was the process of articulating Standards of Responsible Stewardship, and the second was how compliance with those standards was enforced.  Mr. Xu Jianzhong was particularly interested in how the Standards promulgated by the various monitoring organizations within ICFO were developed and by whom they were developed.  There was also the question of whether they were country specific and unique.  In other words, did they have application outside the European and North American context.  I expressed the opinion that most of these Standards were universal and largely immutable, and that it was for the different countries to articulate the context and factual situations in which they would be interpreted and applied.  Thus, although they might be worded slightly differently, they dealt with the same substantive matter.

The second matter was the various monitoring models followed in Europe and North America, and how these models might be applied in China.  This raised the question about the relationship between the Ministry of Civil Affairs and CCIC, and the level of independence CCIC might have with respect to both the articulation of Standards, but more particularly with respect to monitoring compliance.  While it was recognized that some authority was vested in the Vice Minister of Civil Affairs, it was generally vested in and exercised by the Department of Social Welfare and Promotion of Charities.

The law in China requires all charities to be registered, and indeed, they must be registered to get any favorable tax treatment.  However, many are not registered and operate in a kind of grey area where they are not legally recognized and are unable to receive any tax advantage.  The Ministry does seek to help unregistered groups to register.

The meeting with the Deputy General Director of the Department of Social Welfare and Promotion of Charity, and with the Division Director of Promotion of Charity was most productive, and the hospitality and interest accorded to me and to what ICFO promotes was well-received.  As I understood the conclusion of the meeting, there was interest in an association between CCIC and ICFO, with what CCIC, and the Ministry of Civil Affairs, could learn from other members of ICFO and contribute back to ICFO and its members, the expertise and experiences with the sector in China.

The meetings the following week with the leadership of CCIC under the direction of its Director, Peng Jianmei, followed many of the same themes, however with special application to CCIC.

CCIC is a leading monitoring and appraisal organization governed by the Social Welfare and Charity Promotion Department of the Ministry of Civil Affairs of China.  In the last five years, CCIC has emerged as the leader with an expanded database, infrastructure, and experienced services to meet the growing needs of the nonprofit sector in China.  Its vision is the enhance and empower a transparent and effective third sector in China with the capability of responding to the increasing social needs.  Its mission is to promote the development of philanthropy and charity together with the government, corporate, adn NGOs establishing the national platform, providing professional consulting, and enhancing accountability of charitable organizations.  Its positions include leading national information platform, professional service provider, independent policy advisor, competent and reliable partner of NGOs, and providing a vehicle for social change and innovations.  Its core values include total accountability and transparency, high efficiency, compassion and enjoyment, and independence and individuality.

CCIC has a board of 28 members, including the Director, and includes representatives from government, corporations, and public welfare.  While the Board supports CCIC and what it does, and is involved in projects and strategic and project planning, it does not actually exercise any governance responsibilities.  The Board meets in annual meetings, with the executive committee meeting weekly.  However, it does approve strategy, that could include a relationship with ICFO.

The Director and Vice Director of CCIC had a number of ideas for engagement with ICFO and its members that sounded quite intriguing.  They identified two problems in the monitoring process in which their reports address.  The first is informing the public about the best charitable organizations in terms of transparency and accountability.  The second is informing the public about which charitable organizations are most effective in their programs and charitable work.  Both of these issues are being addressed in various fora by the members of ICFO.

In order to advance this engagement with ICFO, CCIC proposed consideration of a tour of ICFO member organizations to see how they are addressing these issues and to exchange ideas; to engage in discussions about what CCIC is doing to public associations; and to learn from ICFO and its members information about monitoring models that might be applicable to the China context.

As part of its capacity building for the sector and for foundations and charitable organizations, CCIC conducts regular training sessions with different constituencies, as well as provide consulting services.  One such session was conducted during my time in Beijing, and I was given the privilege of participating in that training.  The focus of this training was on public credibility of charitable organizations.  More than 30 foundations, grassroots organizations participated in the Salon.

This training Salon addressed the models of government monitoring, and third-party, or independent monitoring of civil society organizations with various accreditation and certification models through self-regulation schemes.  Attention was given to standards of responsible stewardship, governance, and transparency, and fundraising, the ICFO International Standards, and challenges facing any type of standard setting and monitoring regime.  Representatives of BSR (Business for Social Responsibility) Beijing office addressed disclosure of information and practical tools for insuring adequate and proper disclosure.

The CCIC website newsletter reported on the training session that:
China charity organizations, faced with the emergence of another problem, the public face of the many questions, how to improve public charitable organizations' integrity, accountability, self-discipline, transparent mechanisms to rebuild the credibility of public charitable organizations, to improve constantly eroded credibility of charitable organization was placed in front of a problem.  The charitable contributions in the public information center invited International Committee on Fundraising Organizations President Rollin van Broekhoven who introduced some foreign advanced experience and practice, for solving the local Chinese charity challenges facing the development sector, which would be useful.

As Mr. Dou Yupei, China's Vice Minister of Ministry of Civil Affairs, said:
China Charity Information Centre (CCIC) has achieved tremendous success in giving data analysis and promoting information disclosure that contributed greatly to the cross-sector working platform for donors, charitable organizations, and beneficiary.
 In 2010, CCIC assisted policy makers and various charitable organizations in organizing diversified events to promote the philanthropy and charity, conducted scientific researches on China's philanthropy and released research reports and publications concerning philanthropy development and social changes.  For all these years, CCIC played a key and important role as policy advisor and has been a part of China's philanthropy.
Pei Bin, Director of Partnership Development, BSR, said:
CCIC has emerged as a leader with an expanded database, infrastructure, and extended services to address the growing needs of the nonprofit sector, driving transparency and information disclosure by releasing the "China Charity Transparency Annual Report."
While much of what I observed and experienced supported these statement, there is still a large portion of the sector that is not registered and as I wrote above, that operates in a gray area of legality.  The reasons are complex and not easily reportable in this post, but are part of the present reality in China.  What I found interesting is that many of these organizations are not ignored or left out of the work of CCIC.

I had a number of  meetings with civil society organizations and associations connected with several churches in Beijing.  These allowed me to connect leaders of these organizations, and with the people and culture of China.  One of these groups supported the Living Tree Orphanage

just outside Beijing.

I had learned of this orphanage from a friend before traveling to China, and had it on my agenda to visit.  However, because of my schedule in Beijing, I was unable to visit Living Tree and volunteer there for a day.  The orphanage is in an apartment complex with a number of suites used to shelter and care for special needs children.  Ms. Tina is the founder and head of the orphanage.  The majority of the 35-40 children in the orphanage suffer from cerebral palsy.  This is a remarkable work in the Beijing area and one which is highly regarded by a number of groups and churches, as well as by the staff of CCIC.

Following two weeks in Beijing, I continued on to Phnom Penh, Cambodia where I participated in the Regional Forum, "Revisiting CSO Governance and Accountability in South East Asia in the context of Post-High Level Forum 4 in Busan."  There were approximately 100 delegates representing 13 countries, extending from Pakistan and India, to Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and the Philippines, to Australia.  But, more about this Forum in the next post.