Self-organization is a key to achieve good governance

In this interview Qiu Zhonghui, Vice Board Chair and General Secretary of the Amity Foundation, speaks about good governance, community funds and explains Amity's approach to Community Building. The interview was initially conducted by the Chinese Philanthropist, a Chinese magazine that informs about developments of the third sector in China.

The Chinese Philanthropists (abbreviated: CP): The Amity Foundation, in its almost 30-year history, has been carrying out its work with a strong focus on community. Why does Amity put such a priority on community?

Qiu Zhonghui: The Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the CPC has called to modernize the good-governance system and capability of the government as well as innovating the good-governance mechanism of society. We believe that we can only reach these goals, by achieving good governance on a community level. The governance of a country as a whole, and the governance of the society, are both based on the fundamental work that needs to be done in the community. The term “management” we used to talk about leads, in some way, to a tense relationship. The 'governance' we are now using emphasizes the harmonious relationship between people, nature and the society. 'Governance' centers on people and these people form a community. Community building is a crucial part of the social construction of the society. The Premier of the State Council Keqiang Li hosted an executive meeting of the State Council on October 29th, raising the point that it is crucial to encourage charity and to guide people to get involved into social development work, to overcome weaknesses of the society's development.

The CP: What is the weakness of the society's development exactly?

Qiu Zhonghui: Since the Opening up and reform Policy, China's economic development has made tremendous achievements. In comparison, however, the society is still lagging behind; therefore becoming a weakness. In order to overcome the weakness, first of all, we shall clarify our goal of social development, its meaning and the way we are going to achieve it. The goal is a harmonious society, the meaning is good governance and the mechanism to achieve it is community participation. There are three sectors in a community: the government sector, the business sector and the social sector. The social sector is weak and the lack of awareness about this fact is an additional weakness. We have to raise awareness about this weakness because we are not focusing enough on the role of the social sector.

The CP: Which actors constitute a complete system of good governance?

Qiu Zhonghui: In the process of community development, a comprehensive and integrated governance approach should be considered. Government, enterprises and the social actors should all be taken into account. Of the three, the most important element are social organizations. Without these organizations, nothing would work smoothly. The development of social organizations depends greatly on the presence and the development of social workers, volunteers and leaders. Only if social actors increase in their number, social development and good governance will be enhanced and the whole society will flourish. A variety of social organizations are very important for the development of a society, like water, sunlight, the soil, air and other elements are essential for the nature. When all these elements are in place, the 'Golden Age' of social development and good governance would come by itself.

The CP: In your opinion, what are the characteristics of Amity Foundation’s social development projects?

Qiu Zhonghui: We particularly focus on a participatory approach. Amity has done a lot of participatory training since the 1990s in communities of different provinces. We firmly believe that “participation” is a very important mechanism to ensure true community governance. When we are solving a local problem during a community development project, we have to take various local aspects and factors into consideration and adapt our work to the situation. The success of our diverse strategies depends highly on the involvement of the local community. In practice, the Amity Foundation's community development projects are always based on the 'Model of Three Participations', that involves the beneficiaries, the local government and external experts.

The CP: Previously, the Amity Foundation's community development projects were mainly focused on the countryside. What did Amity do precisely?

Qiu Zhonghui: In the 1990s we did mainly rural development that was focused on comprehensive management and community development. In order to realize harmonious relations among the people and between the people and the society, we restored ecological, environmental and social systems. Rural development focused mainly on meeting the peoples' basic needs as food and clothing and to achieve sustainable development. In other words, we insisted on a strategy that focuses on environmental protection and that is people oriented. These two strategies are not mutually exclusive but rather develop complementary. For instance, when we were carrying out a micro-financing project in Cangyuan, Yunnan, we integrated it into the bigger frame of the community development and did not listed it out separately, because offering micro-loans is a part of promoting mutual trust between the people. In this process, local farmers would join, contributing with not just some physical work, but by taking part in the decision-making process of specific projects. In this way a sense of self-responsibility for community projects is formed and gradually also a community spirit.

The CP: We know that, in the rural development projects, Amity Foundation has always been promoting a 'community environment safeguard mechanism'. What specific kind of system is this?

Qiu Zhonghui: It is the synergy of government administration, the market mechanism and the social mechanism. The government administers environmental problems on the countryside by taxation and external compensation, the market by privatization and by providing a mechanism of resource allocation and the community is protecting their rural environment by its organizational form. The mobilization of a large number of community residents is the basis to achieve a tripartite participation. The term “participation” here refers to organizations that are autonomous established by the community with the status of legal environmental institutions that have the rights to set regulations within their village environment, to deal with environmental affairs and have the right and the power to impose penalties for violations of the rules. The farmers' degree of integration and power needs to be maximized to create a good environment and to save benefits. The community mechanism is the key to solve environmental problems in rural areas. By timely involvement of the local residents, the sustainability of rural development projects can be assured.

The CP: At present, Amity Foundation’s community development projects are focusing more and more on urban areas. How did this transition take place and how is Amity doing urban community development work?

Qiu Zhonghui: Roughly since 2000, we have started to focus on urban communities. We continue doing rural community development work, but due to the shortage of overseas' resources and funds the scale has been reduced. Along with the Chinese strategy of urbanization and continuing economic development, many migrant workers from rural areas come into the cities and bring a lot of pressure to the cities' communities. This reveals many contradictions and problems. Because of this reasons, we are shifting our attention and community building work from the countryside to urban communities.

While both are Community development projects, we call the projects in the countryside “Integrated community development projects” and in the city we call them “Integrated community service projects.” In the cities, we put more emphasis on offering services. Now, the Amity Foundation is starting to develop elderly services for urban communities. At the same time, we are supporting the establishment of social organizations. Nowadays, our NGO Development Centers are deeply involved in community building. At present, organizations that are offering social services are most welcomed by the government. Therefore, our work emphasizes on the support and development of social organizations that are capable of serving the community, especially the community leaders in the organizations.

The CP: Amity Foundation has always been a “low-key pioneer”. For a few years, you are trying and test 'community funds'. How is the progress of this work?

Qiu Zhonghui: We now see this as separate projects. In my opinion, the community funds are to use money from a community to establish a fund, and ultimately it will be given back to the community. When a community fund is established, it does not matter whether or not specific projects are assigned, but the money has to be used for services that benefit the community. As long as everybody is willing to donate money, the fund will last. This process depends mainly on the community's ability to organize, to develop and to administrate itself, in order to reach transparency, strong participation and credibility. Thereby, residents will be mobilized to participate in the community's development and the working and decision-making process will be enhanced. Meanwhile, volunteers, social workers and social organizations in the community will promote the public to donate and form a joined force to realize sustainable community development.

The CP: In China's contemporary process of the philanthropy development, where are lying the values of the community funds?

Qiu Zhonghui: The best case scenario for providing community services and development is to have an amount of money in the community, where capital from the outside can also go in. But the residents of a community decide on their own about their needs, according to a self-organizational relationship. Community funds are fundamental to support the community. By community funds you can boost the development of community organizations, establish offers to provide social services and facilitate the tripartite cooperation between the government, business and communities to achieve sustainable and integrated development for community services. As always, Amity Foundation is consistently carrying out community projects, one of which is the development of community funds. Now, many of the problems of the societies are lurking in the communities, but this situation is also an opportunity for the development of community funding.  With the development of the society, community funds and social organizations are spreading widely in China and the Amity Foundation is willing to contribute and to boost to this development.

Translation supported by Timothy