Qiu Zhonghui: Amity's poverty alleviation and development work

The annual meeting of the China Social Welfare Association (中国慈善联合会) was held in Beijing on January 20th, 2017. The theme of the meeting was 'A new era, a new mission and new responsibilities’. The emphasis was on strengthening charitable organizations to work towards poverty alleviation, pooling their knowledge in this industry and reviewing achievements of the past year. What follows is the full text of Mr Qiu Zhonghui, Executive Vice Chairman and General Secretary of the Amity Foundation. We thank Suzanne for supporting the translation.

An overview of Amity Foundation’s poverty alleviation and development work

    The Amity Foundation was established in April 1985. Amity is a civil society organization started by Chinese Christians, including the former vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), Mr Ding Guangxun (Bishop Ting) and in which Chinese Christians from all walks of life participate. Amity's purpose is to contribute to social development to poverty-deprived and remote parts of China, ethnic minority areas and underdeveloped and urbanising regions. We are developing capacities, serving society, benefiting the people and working for world peace. Amity has experienced distinct stages in its 30+ year history, and we will look at these in ten year blocks. The development of each stage is closely related to the needs in our country and of our society at the time.

    • Amity’s first ten years (1985-1994) were the initial period. These were the early days of China’s policies of Reform and Opening Up. In March 1986, the seventh five-year-plan, passed by the National People’s Congress, proposed steps to achieve economic development in remote and impoverished rural and urbanising areas. Amity raised funds from overseas and ran individual small-scale projects focused on education, disabilities and rural development in the east of China. These provided immediate relief to many impoverished people. One particularly noteworthy project was disaster relief after the floods in East China in 1991. Amity raised nearly two million US dollars, which was used for emergency relief and for reconstruction work in affected areas. Both the government and the community commended this work.
    • Amity’s second decade (1995-2004) was a time of growth. In March of 1994, the State Council came up with and announced the ‘National 8-7 Poverty Reduction Plan’, designating 592 counties as impoverished. From 1993, Amity’s focus gradually shifted to western parts of China. Many poverty alleviation and comprehensive development projects started in impoverished counties in Guizhou, Yunnan, Sichuan, Guangxi, Gansu and Ningxia. Amity proactively introduced advanced concepts of poverty alleviation and development, focusing on poverty reduction on western rural regions, in accordance with the government’s 8-7 Poverty Reduction plan.
    • Amity’s third decade (2005-2014) was a time of innovation. Amity started many new types of projects, and these reflected changes in society and its needs. The fifth census was held in late November 2000. There were 130 million people aged over 60 in China, making up 10.2% of the population. According to international standards, China had become a country with an aging population, and the need for elder care was obvious. The need for social services in urban areas soared. This is why Amity initiated projects in urban communities, including such projects as urban community self-governance, home care, self-organizing activities as well as establishing community enterprises. At the same time, Amity actively promoted religious charities to develop, to strengthen their domestic public relations and fundraising efforts.
    • After 2014, Amity entered its fourth decade, a period of development. The party and the government are actively promoting ‘One belt, One road’, and many companies are expanding beyond China. Beginning in 2009, Amity also explored the possibility of going abroad. This process started in 2011, actively using the elaborated network of international partners. It followed the model of development which involves both charity work and the establishment of enterprises, cooperating with both the government and businesses. In 2015 and 2016 respectively, Amity established an African office and an international office in Ethiopia and Geneva. The voice of China’s non-government sector now rings out on the international stage, enhancing China’s soft power and contributing to the Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation.

    Amity’s work in the area of poverty alleviation and development can be divided into five broad areas: community development, environmental protection, public health, social welfare and education. Of these community development mainly focuses on helping people in poverty stricken communities to start businesses, promoting community governance, and to foster a spirit of mutual care and help. Thus Amity aims to improve the local economic and social development. Public health work provides services for impoverished communities, mostly in underserved regions that lack basic public health services and primary health facilities, in particular paying attention on the health of poor people and poverty alleviation. The focus of social welfare work is people with special needs, including the elderly, children who are living in difficult circumstances and various people with disabilities. Amity provides many different types of services including developing their own abilities and enabling them to improve the quality of their lives. Education in poverty alleviation work focusing on poor families. By enabling children, youths or adults to access lifelong education or training opportunities, families enhance their economic situation, their living skills and improve their own ability to develop.

    Over the last thirty plus years, Amity has made progress in its poverty alleviation and development work, and achieved significant results. Since its establishment, Amity has carried out various types of poverty alleviation and development work in 521 counties in 31 provinces (cities and districts) in China. Amity is currently mostly active in the central and western parts of China, working in 351 counties located in 16 provinces and regions. Amity has invested five million Yuan in order to help impoverished people, in regions of historical significance for the revolution, to get rid of poverty as soon as possible. We are actively developing a program to support orphans in the Luoxiao Mountains, with the assistance of the China Charity Alliance,

    Over many years, more than 10 million people have benefited directly from the projects, and over 220 million people have benefited indirectly. Implementation of these projects has greatly improved, the living standards and circumstances of poor farmers. They have increased their technical and management skills in picking up a livelihood as well enhancing their environment in these areas including the quality of drinking water. These projects consist of 100 autonomous specialised economic cooperatives and community development associations in a great variety of areas established and self-organized by farmers. Each of these associations consist of between 100 to 1200 poor households. They focus on a variety of areas including tourism, organic farming and raising of livestock, forestry, basic processing of agricultural products and preserving traditional cultures. These projects have led to a significant increase in the development of impoverished rural households, achieving an increase in per capita income from 1000 to 2000 yuan per year. About 22,000 rural doctors have been trained and they have significantly improved the capabilities of primary health care services in tens of thousands of poor villages. About 250,000 poor women have received health checks through the support of the projects, and 140,000 receive effective and appropriate treatment. A total of 300,000 impoverished children have received comprehensive health care services, resulting in a drop of 4-5 percentage points in various health indicators, including infant mortality and growth retardation rates in the target areas. A total of 2,376 new schools were built and teaching facilities improved. Education was made available to 3157 disabled children, including blind children. Amity projects provided access to education to 41,212 orphans and 434,725 ordinary students.

    The main strategies for poverty alleviation and development

      In order to be more precise in its poverty alleviation, Amity Foundation adheres to the following strategies in its poverty reduction and development work.

      One way: Insist on a people-centred approach

      Adhering to a people-centred approach and involving the masses, is the basic requirement Amity puts on itself in poverty alleviation and development work. A people-centred approach affirms poor people come first in poverty alleviation and development work. The aims and objectives of all poverty alleviation and development work must tightly revolve around the interests of the impoverished people and the projects must emerge from their perspective. Strategies for poverty alleviation must make use of various resources and improve the capacity of the poor to become sustainable.

      Over the years, Amity has always insisted to conduct thoroughly assessment and consultation with the people in every poverty alleviation and development project. Amity is carefully listen to what the people have to say about their own situation including about their livelihoods through discussions with large groups of people, with individuals and by visiting families. This includes listening to particular groups such as women, children, the elderly and the disabled. Amity let people express fully their ideas, opinions and suggestions related to issues, causes, needs that relate to their own poverty and development.

      People should fully express their ideas and suggestions concerning the implementation and management of poverty alleviation and development work as well as ideas and suggestions about what lacks in terms of results and improvements. No matter what type of work is concerned, if the outcome is specifically poverty alleviation and development, people are always in the centre. The degree to which the project relates to impoverished rural households is closely examined; the question of whether the work really adds value to impoverished rural families or negatively impacts them is also closely examined. Above all, the question of whether or not that particular project can result in improvements, in people’s ability to develop sustainably and increase living standards, has always being considered.

      Amity’s experience in poverty alleviation and development work over many years is testimony to the fact that adhering to a people-centred approach works. With a people-centred approach the problem of 'non-inclusive' in poverty alleviation and development work is avoided and dispelled. A people centred approach effectively reduces blind obedience and almost superstition of local people concerning the preconceived ideas of development workers and outside experts. A people-centred approach guarantees that poverty alleviation and development work is focused on impoverished families and achieves ‘targeted poverty alleviation’.

      Two elements: Combining hardware and software, production and marketing

      First, we must make sure that there is a good balance of both hardware and software as we work for poverty alleviation and development. We know that the difficulties faced by impoverished people from rural areas concern basic physical needs. These are related to their livelihood and living conditions, as well as their own capabilities and ways of managing how they interact with their environment. This is why the Amity Foundation has always helped impoverished farmers to improve their living conditions and infrastructure, while also enabling them to enhance their own productivity, life and management skills in relevant areas. Amity provides education and establishes appropriate management systems. At the same time Amity consistently works to improve facilities (hardware) for poor farmers, while providing relevant skills or ways of managing operations (software) for such facilities. This is an effective way of improving the allocation and efficient use of poverty alleviation funds and alleviating poverty.

      By focusing on a combination of both hardware and software, the Amity Foundation effectively avoids a problem often seen in practice: to focus on the visible and achieve tangible results (hardware). Often there is too little attention to build up skills and mechanisms, which cannot be seen or do not produce immediate results, but can be passed to others (software). This problem results in the inefficient use of hardware or even results in hardware being just decorative, eventually put aside, and does not benefit anybody. By combining both hardware and software, another problem is avoided. Communities are blindly pursuing expensive skill training opportunities but don't get the hardware such as complex equipment that is required to manage and use it. This type of poverty alleviation and development work is of no practical use for impoverished people. It is just a lot of empty talk and doesn’t result in any real benefits or advantages for impoverished farmers when it comes to poverty alleviation and development. Both of these situations drain resources allotted to poverty alleviation, but efficiency is low and results minimal. These problems must be avoided and eliminated.

      Second, production and marketing must be combined. After China’s economic Reforms and Opening Up, and especially under market economy conditions, there was a fundamental change in the way impoverished farmers interacted with the environment beyond their home area. The relationship between them and the outside environment became much more tightly linked. External conditions had an increasingly great effect on farmers and directly affected their actions. It can be said that nothing farmers are doing in terms of production can be separated from conditions of the environment beyond them. This is why the Amity Foundation always focuses on both production and marketing in its poverty alleviation and development work. Farmers don’t just produce what they need for their own sustenance, but for what the market needs. On one hand, when determining what poverty alleviation projects should entail and when deciding what projects should produce, farmers should be supported to anticipate what the market will do and analyse financial matters. On the other hand, when training farmers in skills and improving their abilities in productivity, attention must be paid to training farmers in how to engage in the market. This is absolutely necessary to alleviate poverty.

      By combining a focus on both production and marketing, Amity Foundation has effectively avoided the problem of only helping farmers with their productivity but neglecting marketing matters. This problem is quite common in current poverty elimination and development work, resulting in agricultural products being stockpiled. This means that what has been produced can’t be turned into income, thus severely dampening the motivation of farmers. In a context of a market economy, this cannot help them to get rid off poverty and achieve the goal of sustainable development.

      A combination of hardware and software, of productivity and marketing can effectively improve precise poverty alleviation projects and measures and also increase the degree of accuracy.

      Three groups of participants: the masses, the government and experts in the field

      First, we have to insist of the participation of the people. In everyday life, people often view impoverished farmers simply as beneficiaries, as recipients of help in poverty alleviation projects. They think that the organization and its workers constitute the project and that the agency is naturally in their hands. Impoverished farmers are often excluded from the management of poverty alleviation and development projects. At most the farmers are only involved in the planning stages of the project. They provide basic information about the local situation and being passive participants in a very small part of the work. Based on the collected information, the project plan is compiled and carried out by development workers. Poor residents are unable to be part of the project management. They have a very shallow understanding of the project and how it relates to their lives and way of producing. They barely know anything about the aims and content of the project. This directly leads to farmers making the project a low priority and having little sense of ownership. After the projects are implemented, management measures are missing and their effectiveness fades away.

      In light of the above problems, the Amity Foundation believes that participation of the people is the most important factor in the success of all poverty alleviation and development projects. Amity has always put the participation of local people as priority in its work. Active and innovative involvement in project management methods and mechanisms enable local people to participate and make decisions. This includes the planning, monitoring and evaluation of projects rather than simply being a source of labour. In this way farmers are involved from the very beginning. They incorporate their own situation and livelihood with the project aims and content and thus becoming a primary part of the management of the project. In this way the project is smoothly executed and after it is finished, follow up management and continuing results lay a solid foundation. Through participating in the process of managing a project, local farmers are trained and improve in areas of management and sustainable development.

      Second, the government is always involved. The Chinese government has a relatively high degree of involvement, providing strong support for the success of poverty alleviation and development work. In and of itself, this should not be a problem. However in certain situations particularly in the process of community based poverty alleviation work, local peoples' participation is not adequately considered. People adopt attitudes and practices that contradict and exclude the participation of the government. Because of this, poverty alleviation and development projects become completely disassociated from the local area and even from national strategies and policies of development. The result is that projects lack of strategies and principles, resulting in partial or complete failure of the project. Observing this type of problem, Amity persists in involving farmers in the policy decisions and management of projects. At the same time, as always, Amity is emphasising the government’s participation to specify policies and to analyse strategies and measures in poverty alleviation and development. Specific poverty alleviation and development projects are coordinated with local and national development strategies, relevant laws, regulations and policies. This provides a stable and institutionalised guarantee for the sustainability and outcomes of every poverty alleviation and development project.

      Third, keep experts in the field as participants. We know that poverty alleviation and development work involves a lot of different professions. In addition, people need a strong sense of responsibility, dedication and commitment for poverty alleviation and development work. Furthermore, people also need a scientific and rational approach to carry out various management tasks. In poverty alleviation and development work no matter whether you consider impoverished farmers, government officials or external development workers, there is always a problem of limited rational knowledge. If you only value and follow the recommendations of one of these groups, serious problems would occur in the project, impacting both the successful implementation and also the sustainability of the project. Amity has involved experts for a long time now. A proper technical analysis and evaluation of poverty alleviation projects and its measures ensures the project’s feasibility. Doing this greatly improves the degree of accuracy of the project, thus providing a powerful technological guarantee of precise and sustainable effectiveness of poverty reduction.

      In practice none of the above three groups of participants can be singled out, emphasizing one at the expense of another. Impoverished farmers, in particular, must not be prioritized over the involvement of the government or experts in the field, and definitely not excluding the latter two groups.

      Four areas of coordination: Individuals and groups, the environment and the economy, traditional and modern, short term and long term

      First, we must continue to have individuals and groups work together. In traditional poverty elimination and development work, we are often confronted with the problem that poor households are consciously or unconsciously isolated from the community around them. This often led to conflict between households and their neighbours, between groups with different needs within society, resulting in disputes and conflict. This caused projects not being successfully implemented and ultimately failing. Therefore, Amity has always supported the development approach to take the whole community into account and analyse and measure poverty elimination of individual farmers within and regarding to their community. So Amity makes sure that there is an appropriate balance between individuals and the whole community benefiting from the project.

      Second, we must continue to keep the environment and the economy in balance. For a long time, people have seen the environment and the economy against one another in development work, or at least separating them from one another. Implementing methods which emphasized one and ignored the other, often led to environmental problems in development plans and strategies. Poor farmers could not receive practical economic benefits, and the project is not sustainable and may even fail. In order to avoid this sort of problem, the Amity Foundation looks for ways to find harmony between environmental and economic concerns, thus improving the effectiveness and sustainability of poverty alleviation and development projects.

      Next, we must coordinate short-term and long-term approaches. People usually prefer development projects in which you see results in a very short time, and neglect projects that are more long-term in nature. Of course, there are also people who overemphasize long term projects and overlook the immediate needs of poor farmers. In the first case only quickly fixed methods are implemented. It can be a case of ‘killing the hen which lay the golden eggs’, focusing only on short-term means. The methods of those who emphasize long-term work, however, can easily dampen the motivation of people to participate. This can even result in more difficulties for farmers in the short-term. Amity always works to find balance between a short-term focus and a long-term focus, thus effectively avoiding either of the above-mentioned problems.

      Finally, we must coordinate tradition and modernity. Culture refers to the way how daily life and development of a particular group of people has been shaped over the course of history. It has crystallized into wisdom. Culture has an instrumental role, but also immeasurable cultural value. In day-to-day life people easily overlook the positive components of the traditional culture of an impoverished area and fail to protect it or pass it on, not recognizing it plays a very important role for their production and way of life. The trust they place in the so-called ‘modern culture’ of the cities or economically developed areas is almost superstitious. They blindly introduce modern methods and technologies from outside. As a result, development projects may work out or even fail, because the methods used aren’t suitable for that particular area. People from impoverished areas may easily lose the spirit of their homeland. They may lack cultural awareness and lose confidence in their own culture and ultimately the sustainable development of this population may be affected. Amity is always looking to keep tradition and modernity in balance. This lead to good outcomes come from poverty elimination and development work.

      Five ways of thinking: Systems, Causes, Goals, Outcomes and Process

      We will first consider how we think systematically. A characteristic of poverty alleviation and development work is that people are required to always think systematically. People must use dynamic and interconnected viewpoints as they consider a great variety of matters arising in poverty alleviation and development work. They must avoid analysing and dealing with a problem in a static way, isolating each variable. By doing this, they minimize the chances of making the mistake often seen in aid and development work in which a project is like a body which is missing an arm or a leg. Systematic thinking can also dispel biases in poverty alleviation projects. Such thinking avoids practitioners being one-sided in their solution of issues without looking at the overall picture

      Second, we always think in terms of causes. Materialistic dialectics tell us that if something changes, it is the result of both internal and external causes. Thinking in terms of causes requires us to investigate the reasons behind the problems and needs of impoverished rural households related to their livelihoods. We need a deep understanding of the challenges and difficulties faced by these farmers and avoid methods simply registering impoverished households. It is only by doing this that we can run precise poverty alleviation projects.

      Third, we have to think in terms of targets. Always keeping the outcomes in mind is an inherent requirement for precise and effective poverty alleviation work. This means that workers must first be clear about the causes and the measures behind each project and the value that they want to bring to the impoverished household. If a project does not add value to an impoverished household, then it must be terminated. Running poverty alleviation projects just for the sake of running a project must end.

      Fourth, we focus on outcomes. This way of thinking complements the way we think about goals, but this particularly emphasizes the results of each project and even of each specific component of a project. After completion, the results must be closely evaluated, in terms of the positive effect it has actually had on impoverished farmers. This way of thinking will help workers avoid to simply focus on how many tasks have been completed.

      Fifth, we believe in processes. One important difference between community development and engineering projects is that a community development project depends primarily upon the participation of the people. They are also the target of the project, while that is not the case for an engineering project. People are generally less interested in the management process of a poverty alleviation and development project, instead of the results. This leads to neglecting and exclusion of impoverished households, professional concepts, technology and methods. As a result, the project is far less likely to make a real difference to the sustainable development of poor farmers. Sometimes, the lack of professional management creates new problems and conflicts in the community.

      In summary, it is following the ‘1-2-3-4-5 strategy’ – one concept, two combinations, three participants, four areas of co-operation and five ways of thinking. This approach enables Amity to effectively deal with the problem of ‘exclusion’. In this way, Amity improves its poverty alleviation and development work, and has a high degree of accuracy in terms of targets, financial transparency, specific measures and outcomes.

      Reflections and revelations

      First, poverty is a multidimensional and complex problem. Poverty does not simply mean that people lack the basic necessities of life, as adequate food and clothing. It also involves a lack of safe housing, access to basic health care and education, and also opportunities and the ability to participate in a social community life. It’s not hard to understand that the reasons leading to such poverty are complex. They are also subjective because of different ways of thinking, awareness and skills, as well because of more objective factors including political, economic, social, cultural, and even geographical reasons. Often various reasons impact one another and are intertwined, resulting in people falling into poverty.

      Second, poverty alleviation is a matter of capacity building. From a practical point of view, poverty alleviation is not only a matter of giving poor people what they need in a timely way or giving them material assistance. Even more important is nurturing their own development potential and empowerment. So they can rely on their own ability to move out of poverty and realize their own sustainable development. Otherwise, impoverished people won’t ever escape poverty. Relying on relief provided from outside the community will only produce a temporary illusion of poverty alleviation, which actually means consolation style of poverty relief.

      Finally, poverty alleviation work should take the differences between people seriously. This is the key to achieve accurate results in poverty alleviation. That people are different to one another is an objective truth. Some poverty alleviation actions overlook this and use a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. As a result, some poverty alleviation and development projects and measures are irrelevant or only have small impacts on certain groups of poor people.