Looking ahead to Amity’s 30th anniversary celebrations in Nanjing, General Secretary Mr. Qiu Zhonghui pins down Amity’s development over the last 30 years, talks about the current state of the 3rd sector in China and outlines the cornerstones of Amity’s work. This text is a summary of two recent interviews with Mr. Qiu conducted by Amity’s overseas partner Bread for the World.
Which goals would the Amity Foundation like to achieve?
We base our work on the principle of mutual respect and trust. Amity builds friendships with people at home and abroad and supports society’s disadvantaged groups, such as minorities living in China or the handicapped. We engage in the development of the non-profit sector, promote China’s opening abroad and want to contribute to the strengthening of civil society and world peace. Amity wants to make Christian commitment better known in the Chinese society.
What are the biggest challenges in your daily work?
China’s outstanding economic development over the last 30 years was accompanied by many social problems. Finding effective ways to solve these problems is a practical challenge. In addition, the financial support from abroad has diminished. Together with other organisations, we are therefore increasingly trying to expand the culture of private donations in China, which has so far not been very pronounced. China is currently changing so fast that traditional fundraising methods are no longer sufficient. The rapid progress of Internet technologies brings a whole lot of new challenges and opens up more easily accessible and suitable communication channels for fundraising. But there is still a long way to go until local sources can cover the needs.
Which development policy approach is the basis for Amity’s work?
For nearly 30 years, the Amity Foundation’s approach to development has been to place people and their needs at the center. This has been the common theme of all Amity’s projects from the outset: from the first English teacher programme to the subsequent rural development projects, to the support of Church social services such as work with the elderly, pastoral youth work or family support. Participation is important, we involve all stakeholders in our work: the beneficiaries, experts and state authorities.
What is the Amity Foundation’s biggest success?
Amity carried out pioneering work in order to build up a non-profit sector in China that has had a big influence on China’s development, comparable to the economic sector. We have established an exemplary and sustainable model for Chinese churches and Chinese Christians who work in social welfare. Jesus said: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind!” This is the first and most important commandment. The second one is equally important: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself!” The Amity Foundation has been spreading the message of love in China for almost 30 years.
I read that politics and society in China are changing, that they become more open. There seems to be more space for the work of philanthropy organizations like the Amity Foundation than before. Can you explain how this change in society takes place?
After the reform and open up policies were adopted, society started to diverge. As a result, social needs become more and more diversified. The old social warrant system could not meet the needs any more if government remained to be the only service provider. It became a hot issue as far as meeting the needs of society is concerned. NGOs input in meeting the needs are therefore welcome by society and the government at different levels.
In China today, the role of civil society organizations are recognized more and more by society as a whole. Today, over 600,000 NGOs are established providing services to society. In order for the NGOs to grow and develop in a healthy way, NGO supporting organizations as capacity building organizations, such as Amity, are emerging rapidly.
Particularly at community level, NGOs become more and more popular in communities for people because NGOs can provide good services for the residents and therefore, bring about good community atmosphere and improve people’s sense of happiness.
More ordinary people are aware of philanthropy work. They participate in philanthropy activities and make donations to charity organizations. Take Amity Foundation for example, over 50% of our funding comes from donations in Mainland China now, of which the majority are private individual donations.
Is it a problem for you as a Christian organization to work in China?
Faith based organizations are regarded as a strong force of social harmony. Established by Bishop Ting, the Amity Foundation has developed good reputation, particularly on the high quality of services it provides for the marginalized people and therefore has won great trust from different sectors of society. Amity is a pioneering case. I once said the Amity Foundation is like a Special Philanthropy Zone as opposed to Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in China.
Furthermore, the government has also called to implement religious work guidelines and to enable active contribution of leaders and people of religion in economic and social development. We foresee great potential for faith based organizations to work in China. In recent years, government has not only reinforces the implementation of the policy on religious freedom, but also reiterates religious figures and believers’ active roles in the economic and social development.
How important is the financial support from abroad for The Amity Foundation? Should it continue, why?
In the beginning the Amity Foundation did mainly receive funds from overseas partners. Amity built up its own domestic fund raising department in 2004. Up to the present, funds raised in China increased from less than 5% of the total annual budget in 2004 to over 50% nowadays. Nevertheless, it was not an easy journey. At the moment, it is difficult for Amity to raise fund to support pioneering projects in Mainland China. Individual donations are mostly focused on particular sponsorship programmes. However, it is very important to promote community development through helping people to develop themselves, which in turn, will enable the society to develop. It still takes time for individual donors to realize that. Amity’s response to social development programmes will not only help Amity’s development, but also the whole NGO sector’s development.
Charity, diaconal work and the third sector as a whole is still in a beginning stage. Therefore, the support from abroad is still an important part. Although the funds are shifting with very small steps from overseas to indigenous funds, it needs time to built up a sustainable foundation of funding. Additionally, more widespread funding sources will secure Amity’s independence and give us more freedom to choose and work in the areas, where we see the need for engagement.
In one sentence, the third sector in China is a delicate little tree that is emerging in a fast changing and sometimes fierce environment. Funding from abroad will support the entrenchment and the sustainable growth of this little tree. In order to meet with the challenges, Amity needs overseas organizations to provide sustainable and stable support. I want to give my sincere appreciations to the organizations from abroad for their kind, generous and strong support to Amity over the years.
Watch a video about the 30th anniversary celebration of the Amity Hong Kong Office in May.