Reforms give NGOs a level playing field

Updated: 2014-03-31 08:35

By He Dan (China Daily)

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Reforms give NGOs a level playing field

New rules relating to registration and donations are expected to see social organizations play a greater role in the provision of services, as He Dan reports.

It took 10 years for Zheng Xiaojie to obtain legal recognition of the nonprofit organization she founded with her husband in 2003.


Setting up nongovernmental organizations across a range of sectors - including industrial associations and chambers, organizations for science and technology, charity and community services - will be made easier, said Vice-Premier Ma Kai, when he presented the government's restructuring plan at the national legislative session.

According to the plan, founding an NGO - with the exception of those related to religion, politics, the law, and foreign NGOs - will only entail registration with the civil affairs authorities, and organizations will no longer be required to be examined and approved by other regulators.


The State Council issues detailed guidance on government outsourcing of public services to social organizations. The regulations require that the government establish a mature system to outsource services in a fair, transparent and efficient manner. The regulations state that education, employment, social security, medical care, housing, culture and sports, and assistance to the disabled are the key areas the government should consider outsourcing to social organizations.


The Ministry of Civil Affairs and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security provide regular training workshops for talent from social organizations. The move is part of a national program to train 1 million professionals from the 12 sectors the government regards as the most important for China's development.


The Decision on Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Deepening Reforms is adopted at the close of the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee. It states that the government will work to stimulate the vitality of social organizations and allow them to better engage in governance. Social organizations will be allowed to become service providers. The country will prioritize the development of social organizations in the fields of science and philanthropy, plus urban and rural community services. Organizations in those fields will be allowed to register directly when they are launched.

However, thanks to the reform of the registration procedures for social organizations that came into force in March 2013, Zheng's last shot was so easy she could hardly believe it. In China, the term "social organizations" refers to associations, charitable foundations and noncommercial private organizations. Essentially, they are NGOs.

"The whole process from application to permission being granted took just seven days!" said Zheng, who is secretary-general of the Beijing Hongdandan Education and Culture Exchange Center, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the visually impaired.

Until May 21, 2013, Beijing Hongdandan was registered as a company, a common practice for many grassroots social organizations that are unable to find a governmental agency to act as their supervisor, a precondition for those wishing to register as a nonprofit organization.

"In the past, we had to try hard to explain to potential cooperators and donors why we were a nonprofit group but were registered as a business," Zheng said.

"When we acquired a legal identity as an NGO, it felt as though the bonds that had constricted us had become looser and we were no longer worried or concerned about our awkward identity," she said.

There are about 16.91 million visually impaired people in China, equal to the entire population of the Netherlands.

"Visually challenged people have the same needs to access information, art and culture, but society has ignored them and failed to provide sufficient resources," Zheng said.

For example, among all Beijing's tourist hot spots, only the former residence of Prince Gong, a statesman during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), provides dedicated guide maps for the blind, she said, adding that although many NGOs in China are devoted to improving medical care and rehabilitation of those with disabilities, few have worked to remove the information barriers that hamper the visually impaired.

Every Saturday, Zheng's Xinmu Cinema, located in a courtyard in Dongcheng district, plays free movies for the visually challenged, who listen to the film's dialogue while volunteers explain the visual aspects.

Beijing Hongdandan also invites broadcasters and volunteers to record audio books, which are then distributed to public museums and schools for the blind.

Direct registration

The good news for Zheng came when Vice-Premier Ma Kai announced that four types of NGO - industrial associations, charities, community services, and organizations dedicated to the promotion of technology - would be allowed to register directly with civil affairs departments and would no longer be required to be affiliated with a government backer.

To date, 26 provinces and regions have implemented the new regulations, and more than 10 provincial governments have piloted the outsourcing of public services to social organizations.

Statistics from the Ministry of Civil Affairs show that more than 19,000 social organizations registered directly with civil affairs departments in 2013, while the central government has invested around 400 million yuan ($64.5 million) to support 470 projects run by social organizations.

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