Wang Xingzui, the head of one of China's largest NGOs, argues for a stronger Chinese social sector
Geometry teaches us that at least three points are necessary to form a stable surface and this is true for society as well: it needs the three sectors of public, private, and social to all be strong for stability to take root. The role of the government, which collects taxes and provides public goods, is to develop the rules of interaction to safeguard equal competition and social justice, and act as an impartial judge. The second sector is business and enterprise, which creates wealth and pays taxes. The third sector is the social sector, represented by NGOs, NPOs, civil society organizations, and community organizations. Its role is to maintain social justice and promote social progress and stability by identifying and addressing social issues, and providing customized services to meet the individual needs of target groups.
These three sectors check and balance each other to produce a stable society, However, the social sector in China is still weak. It is estimated that at the end of 2012, there were roughly half a million officially registered NGOs/NPOs that employed six million people, which accounted for less than 1% of total employment in China. Registered NGOs/NPOs raised 81.7 billion yuan in donations, 0.16% of China's GDP. By comparison, in the United States non-profits employed 13 million people and contributed 5.5% to GDP, according to 2009 statistics by the Urban Institute.
In today's China, more than half of its people live in cities while its GDP per capita has exceeded $6,000. International experience shows that this is a critical period for social transformation. On the one hand, economic development has contributed to huge accumulation of wealth and the formation of a large middle class, many of whom have the money, time, energy, and willingness to participate in philanthropy to help others and care for the society. On the other hand, during such a period of rapid economic growth, enormous social problems such as social injustice and the marginalization of vulnerable groups have emerged. In order to tackle these issues, I believe China needs to implement the following policy changes.
The Chinese government must nurture the growth of private foundations. It can do so by expanding government procurement of social sector services to support grassroots NGOs and international initiatives. China can also develop its own service organizations and establish NGO/NPO alliances. At the same time, it must loosen the restrictions on the registration of public foundations and encourage the development of new innovative groups, such as the One Foundation and the Free Lunch Campaign led by Deng Fei. China must also reform its system of GONGOs (government-operated NGOs) and decrease their number.
In addition, China's government has to withdraw from its current fundraising role and return to its position as judge and legislator. It must expand and amend legislations regarding the social sector, and it must encourage self-governance and self-discipline within it. One way in which this can be done is by improving social accountability.
All these, if properly managed, will contribute to the development of NGOs/NPOs and the social sector.
China's former leader Deng Xiaoping once said that stability is the overriding priority for China. China's experience over the past three decades shows how important social stability is to the economic development and well-being of the Chinese people.
Wang Xingzui is a 2013 Yale World Fellow. He is the Vice President of the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation, one of the oldest and largest NGOs in China.
This article also appears in China Hands.