Mainland Moments: Giving in China

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Recent high profile scandals in China’s charity scene have affected some of the country’s biggest NGOs. But as Karen Tye reports, there are many ways to make a contribution to charities in China.

“It’s a shame that people who would normally get involved in charity don’t in China because there’s so much need here,” says Kevin Mann, the cofounder of The Good Agency Asia, which provides strategic and creative marketing services in the area of CSR for businesses.

“It doesn’t help that there is widespread cynicism towards charities in China due to the many instances of corruption and misuse of funds,” Mr Mann says. He cites the Guo Meimei scandal in 2011, where a young Chinese woman managing an organization under the Red Cross Society of China, flaunted her extravagant lifestyle on social media. This included pictures of her Maserati and a collection of Hermes bags. Prior to that, the Red Cross had also come under fire for mismanaging funds from the Sichuan earthquake appeal.

Mr Mann also sits on the fundraising and support committee in Shanghai for Baoji Xinxing Aid for Street Kids. The charity’s mission is to provide care and guidance to abandoned children who have fallen through the cracks as a result of mass migration of farmers to cities in search of work and wages that are little more than subsistent. He was introduced to the organisation through his connections with the Australian community (the organisation was founded by Australian Médecins Sans Frontières nurse Marg Ward in 2005, with substantial support from the Australian business community in Shanghai), and after a very moving and inspiring visit to the centre, Mr Mann made the decision to get involved.


But according to the China Charity and Donation Information Center, donations to charity in China dropped for the second consecutive year in 2012 to RMB 81.7 billion (A$14 billion).

Shanghai-based Katie Littlefield also sits on the Xinxing committee and through her Account Director position at The Good Agency Asia and marketing role at Austen Morris Associates, organizes Chi Fan for Charity, an annual food and beverage event fundraiser. She says there are a number of reasons why Chinese are hesitant about donating money to Chinese based charities.

“One needs to be cautious when contributing to any charity in the world, but people are particularly hesitant when it comes to Chinese charities,” says Ms Littlefield.

Ms Littlefield works with a number of other charities in China, including Heart to Heart Shanghai, which provides heart surgeries for needy Chinese children and CCS CharityLINK, whose goal is to connect businesses with relevant non-governmental organizations.

At the crux of the matter is the lack of transparency in Chinese charity operations. Earlier this year, Chinese media pounced on accusations made against actor Li Yapeng, the ex-husband of Chinese pop singer Faye Wong, for embezzling funds from the couple’s Beijing-based charity, the Smile Angel Foundation.

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“At Xinxing, which has NGO status, we maintain transparency through regular website updates, which includes a running list of donations, as well as through newsletters and emails to the community,” says Mr Mann.

ANZ does Xinxing’s banking and every penny is accounted for.

But for expatriates living in China and hoping to give something to back during their time in China , finding the right charities can be a job in itself.

Mark Quillinan, who heads up AustCham Shanghai’s Corporate Social Responsibility program, says all five charities being supported by the chamber for the 2013-2014 have been carefully selected through a formal and rigorous selection process. It means members of the Australian business community can give back through the chamber’s CSR channels with full confidence that donations are going directly to projects on the ground with full transparency and accountability.

“There were some 86 applications to start with and we decided on five CSR partners – Habitat for Humanity China, Stepping Stones, Home Sweet Home, MiFan MaMa and MDA (Muscular Dystrophy Association) China,” says Mr Quillinan.


Once selected, a formal written agreement is drafted as to the core projects and deliverables and sign-off for how funding will be used.

“This might seem a little dry, but the CSR committee is committed to ensuring that funds from members have maximum impact where they are needed most,” says Mr Quillinan.

Tax incentives are still lacking in China when compared with countries like Australia and culturally, there is a different understanding of charity in China.

“Charity is a very young concept in China and currently it is quite difficult to explain to Chinese people who have no international experience why charity is even needed,” Ms Littlefield says.

This cultural difference is stark. In 2013, Australia was the seventh top nation on the Charities Aid Foundation-compiled World Giving Index, which measures charitabilty by population. In 2010 and 2011, Australia ranked first. As for China, the country placed 133rd out of the 135 countries and regions surveyed in 2013, tied with Croatia and only ahead of Greece.

Carolyn Butterworth, who hails from the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria but is currently living in Shanghai, says there are numerous ways to get involved.

“For some people, stepping into an orphanage can be too emotionally taxing,” she says.

For Ms Butterworth, she contributes as much or as little time and resources as she has available, and she says, has been rewarded tenfold.

Ms Butterworth collects, sorts and sends clothes, household items, and baby goods from families who are repatriating and no longer need them to a number of charities including MiFan MaMa, Home Sweet Home and the Baobei Foundation, using her garage in Pudong as the coordination point.

In addition, she has helped out at various fundraising events and visited several foster homes.

“I don’t run, or chair or manage any charity organizations, I just do my little bits to help,” she says. “When it’s time to go back home to Australia, I think I can say that the little bit that I do has made things a little bit better for someone here in China.” 

*To read Josh Li’s story, click here.


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