Labeling China’s NGOs

In the recent Ethical Magazine article, NGOs and activists – Zealot, hypocrite or genuine article?, Brendan May writes out his thoughts on the various species of NGO that exist in his world.

  • The tunnel-visioned zealot
  • The hypocrite
  • The angry activist
  • The smiling salesman
  • The overfed giant
  • The genuine article
  • The critical friend

Doing a good job to highlight that there is a real spectrum of NGOs in the Western world, in reading the article it made me think about the fact that in China you have several separate spectrums that exist. Spectrums that often can include several different groups and ideologies.:

Spectrum 1: The GONGO
In a league of their own, China’s GONGOs – short for Government Organized Non-Government Organization – offer a wide range of operations and people. At the upper range of this spectrum, you are going to have those who are driven by policies, old relationships, and the old guard. Internally, these groups are going to be run in a manner that would resemble the United Way in the United States. Leaders are typically political appointees, and they are not looking to be hyper efficient machines, but are looking to maintain a course that was set well before the current generation of leaders took the helm. however, over the last few years, what I have seen is that there is a new guard rising in the ranks. that, while the upper ranks may be from the old school, new recruits are just as eager to accomplish things as their peers in smaller, more grassroots, organizations would be.. but they are limited by the organizations.

Spectrum 2: The International NGO
International NGOs, and the recent number is in the 200 range, also present a spectrum of quality and approach, but at the basic level there are two subgroups: teachers and collaborators. the teachers are the groups who feel that they are there to teach the locals how to get it done. That, regardless of what the local conditions are, their process is what matters most and they are investing their time and effort to accomplish this task. Collaborators on the other hand, are doing their best to mimic a local grassroots organization by developing locally originated programs/ leadership, while leverage their global brands to access larger programs. They are less likely to be over preachy as their front lines will be staffed by locals, however, there is a difference in culture and approach that will provide a clear divide between the two groups.

Spectrum 3: The Local NGO
Like International NGOs, there are a couple of quick classifications that can occur at the fundamental organizational level:

  • Mercenary NGOs – NGOs that will do anything for money. Not issue specific, and maintaining no core, these groups are perhaps the weakest in the system as their projects are not driven from a base, but are constantly on the move. Developing systems, and stabilizing people, are very difficult tasks for these groups, and maintaining a strong base of knowledge and partners can be difficult as they hop from one project to the other
  • NGOs with int’l training – NGOs established by leaders who had been brought up within the international NGO network and have benefited from the training and structure of an established system. Sometimes moving from a feeling that things need to speed up, or that the international NGO will have limited long term potential, founders of this group of grassroots NGOs tend to fare better than others. In addition to understanding how to build programs, budgets, and funding proposals, they are less likely to find themselves in a the spin cycle that their mercenary counterparts find themselves in. Which is why many of these organizations have come to grow faster,and find acceptance, in areas that were previously off limits to others
  • NGOs with purpose – NGOs that were founded by a group who was deeply affected by an issue. Perhaps it is a mother whose has a challenged child, or is a day labourer abuse by a boss, the founders of these organizations are often driven by a sense of fixing a wrong. A wrong that is personal to them, and catalyzed them to develop an organization that would support others.

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