Interview with Mr. Qiu Zhonghui, Board Chair of Amity Foundation (Part Two)
In the final part three of the interview, Mr. Qiu Zhonghui, the Board Chair of Amity Foundation talks about motivations for social work and further prospects of charity in China. (Part One / Part Two)
The interview was slightly edited for better understanding.
The “third distribution” is supposed to align with China’s goal of common prosperity. The concept of “third distribution” was first put forward by economist Li Yining in the 1990s. The document of the Fourth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee formally proposed to “attach importance to the role of the third distribution and the development of charity and other social public welfare undertakings.” In August 2021, the term “third distribution” was brought forward again at the tenth meeting of the Central Committee for Financial and Economic Affairs, arousing even greater public interest. On the one hand, the growth of companies has encountered challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. On the other hand, the CPC Central Committee announced a comprehensive move on poverty eradication and rural revitalisation, promoting common prosperity.
After the meeting of the Central Committee for Financial and Economic Affairs, many people have told me that now is a very good time for the development of public welfare undertakings and the third sector. Also, it’s a critical moment to emphasize the concept of common prosperity.
First of all, I think the third distribution is of great significance in promoting social harmony and narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor. It is also the way to consolidate the fruits of China’s reform and opening-up.
As one of the participants in the third distribution, social organizations are unable to do a good job without more resources. The primary distribution is regulated by the market. The second distribution is mandatory through government taxation. The third distribution, as we say, is voluntary. . Through voluntary participation, discussion and communication among members of the society, the third distribution is achieved with social consensus. When talking about the prospect of the third distribution, I am optimistic and believe that we will keep promoting it.
Secondly, all participants in the third distribution must firmly adhere to the premise of meeting the actual needs of the disadvantaged groups in society. This includes more communication and consultation for this purpose among social organizations, with the government, as well as with various social groups.
In the third distribution, it does not mean that there is a ready amount of money, consisting of 1% of China’s GDP, sitting there for the purpose of public welfare. Instead, we have to amass resources through the voluntary donations of individuals, institutions and market players fulfilling their responsibility to society. I believe that this is a great opportunity for the development of social organizations. When social organizations reach out to the grassroots, go into the communities, understand the real needs of different groups, and actively raise funds based on such needs, we can then effectively respond to the needs of the public and realize our target of third distribution. In short, the third distribution must be based on the needs of grassroots groups, which can only be assessed on the field rather than in the office.
The diversity of projects under the third distribution is also very important. Social organizations should not only focus on traditional forms of aid, but also meet the needs of society in cultural, educational and athletic aspects. We should explore and discover specific needs from different social groups, and aim to increase people’s happiness with our work.
In this process, we need to proactively help the Communist Party and the government have a deeper understanding of the work of social organizations. One of the characteristics of social organizations is flexibility. We are able to do some experimental work, discuss and refine methods which could better meet the needs of society, and then carry out social advocacy after success, so that the government can take them as a reference. If such an experiment fails, we can stop and analyze our experience. The lesson we learn can also be used as a reference for the government. As long as the government recognizes the important role of social organizations, many challenging and painful problems in the third distribution will be solved.
One thing to keep in mind here is the rationality of resource allocation. If we have too many resources, we should beware the possibility of waste. Social organizations should raise funds according to the actual needs in the community. When funds exceed our capacity, we need to put the brakes on to guarantee an effective use of the funds raised. This is part of the self-discipline we need to achieve, which is never easy. We must emphasize self-discipline and integrity, which I think are the basic but key points of the third distribution. To my belief, advocacy in this regard is something that we must never forget. Only by allocating resources more rationally and more transparently, can we really do a good job as a charity organization, and make the third distribution more sustainable.
Charity is a profession but also an ambition
The traditional concept of charity is often understood as giving and extending love and kindness to others. Once, when Mr. Zhu Chuanyi (a well-known scholar advocating philanthropy in China) raised the possibility of charity work increasing employment at a board meeting, some elderly colleagues could not accept it. In their opinion, charity was more like a cause relying on dedication, how could it be related to the job market? However, in the modern concept of charity, contributing to charity work and increasing employment are not contradictory, because public welfare, objectively speaking, is not only a profession or career, but also an ambition.
What is the meaning of “ambition”? When one considers charity as an ambition, one may carry out their daily work with both the love for charity and ambition for their individual career. You can’t ask all the people who join Amity or other social organizations to start their career with dedication, because then it will become a kind of compulsory work, not voluntary service. People first have to deal with their own survival needs, so a profession is what they must have in the first place. Amity has fostered quite a few social organizations in both urban and suburban areas, and all of them have contributed to the increase of employment in our society.
Social work is a cause of inner drive and motivation. We want our employees to be serious and dedicated, and to treat social work as a profession. For example, if an employee is interested in environmental protection and concerned about the work in this area, which is also in line with his/her own philosophy or life value, then it is more likely for him/her to do a good job in environmental protection and public welfare. Nowadays we always talk about one’s “original aspirations”, or the love for work. If a person loves environmental protection, then he/she may look for a related organization and engage in environmental protection work. Only in this way, could one have inexhaustible drive to pursue this as a career.
But interest and enthusiasm are not enough for those in the philanthropy sector. Given the sector’s great impact on society, I think there are two aspects that are important for a social organization.
One is professionalism. Foundations and social organizations are not simply “fund-providers”. People donate money to us because they trust our professionalism. They believe that we can manage the money well and maximize the social and economic benefits of the funds according to the needs of the public. If social organizations are not professional enough, they will not be able to operate and grow in the long term.
Furthermore, when we talk about the third distribution or philanthropy, the most important thing is the impact on social culture and values. As we just mentioned, ideally, philanthropic donation may reach 1% of our GDP in the future – actually 1% is not a big number but why do we pay so much attention to it? Because on one hand, social work plays an advocacy role for society and the government. On the other hand, its role in creating social culture, ideas and spirit is of paramount importance. In a sense, when people’s material life is satisfied, they would start to focus on spiritual needs, which is significant for the stability and prosperity of society in the long term.
I think we should not underestimate the goal of 1% of GDP for charitable donations, although we still have a long way to go. Objectively speaking, we are only a small part of society, so we have to place ourselves in the right position and make full use of our advantages, so that our work can be more meaningful and worthwhile.
The Interactive and Symbiotic Relationship Between Industry and Institutions
Recently, I attended the board meeting of China Foundation Center (CFC) and talked about the sector’s transparency work that Mr. Shang Yusheng (one of the earliest initiators of China’s philanthropy sector) has been working on. Transparency was actually the reason why we set up the Center. During that meeting, I suggested that we should not only do well the routine work at CFC, but also do a better job in information transparency.
Furthermore, we need to identify the common problems, difficulties or weaknesses within the sector through analysis of information. Efforts should be made in staff training and capacity building, especially in bringing into play the role of young people in the sector, so that we can ensure management transparency and facilitate a holistic and sustainable development of the sector.
We should regularly summarize common issues in the sector at forums and conferences held every year. At these events, our proposals should be more practical and mindful of the needs in society, and more relevant to the everyday life of our citizens. I have always been very supportive of the work of China Foundation Forum and have high hopes for it.
The Evergreen Library is an important work that China Foundation Forum has been doing for the sector. It is necessary for us to keep a record of the development of our sector. Although philanthropy in China still has a long way to go, we should make a point of recording our accumulated experiences for our future. The Evergreen Library has just started, and I hope it will record the history of our sector step by step throughout its development. If we do not start the work now, it will be very difficult to do so decades down the line.
Taking Amity as an example, unfortunately, those who attended the first meeting of the board of directors have all passed away. It will be very difficult to piece together the situation back then. This is why I especially appreciate the work of China Foundation Forum, which not only functions as a platform for communication, but also for recording the history of our sector. We are willing to provide support in order to ensure a better future for the sector.
The relationship between an organization and the sector is a dialectical one. When we first established Amity NGO Development Center, many people did not understand, saying that Amity was “fostering its own rivals” when in fact it was not. Instead, what we intend to cultivate is a bigger cause and industry possibilities. Only when the sector develops and the cause grows, will we have the possibility to develop and grow. We will never achieve that goal without the development of the whole sector.
Innovating for Development
Most foundations in China have only developed in the past 10 years, and a significant portion of them have an administrative background, while another considerable number are non-public or corporate foundations. As far as I know, founders play a very important role in the establishment of many corporate foundations. And a considerable number of them were not clear about the objectives of the foundations when they launched the corporate foundations. It is my hope that China Foundation Forum could do more to promote sector development.
Foundations in China are relatively young, but there are some advantages to that. I always hope that there should be more innovation, but in fact there is still not enough incentives for innovation in our sector. In my opinion, more motivation will drive us far in this undertaking.
Some of the most basic principles that we have to uphold are our vision, self-discipline, transparency, as well as volunteerism. Meanwhile, the ability to help our industry thrive with innovation is also highly needed. Compared with the market, our drive, innovation and speed of development are far from enough, so we have to learn from the market and society.
Embarking on a New Journey
We are going through a very important change that has never been seen in a century. Faced with this change, everyone needs to think and reflect. Sometimes, transformation comes with pain. However, what we need to face is the new social reality, the new world situation, as well as the new stage of development of our country. Our original aspirations and vision remain unchanged, while the specific work must adapt to the new situation. Therefore, we need to come up with new strategies, tactics and measures. If we are able to integrate our personal fate, as well as the fate of our organization, into the overall development of our motherland, the development of our future cause will be optimistic.
I believe that social organizations in China, through our development over the years and future efforts, will gradually make our voices heard in the international arena, and be widely recognized by society. We will become part of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, integrating into the development of the whole country, or even the world.
Sometimes I wonder why the older I get, the more motivated I seem to be? The fact is that I hope to do what I can to develop the philanthropic undertakings. The vision of the Amity Foundation is to make life more abundant, society more just, and the world a better place. Such a pursuit should be long-lasting. When I look at the work we have done so far, as well as the achievements we have made in the past, I could truly see the meaning of life. When I meet the partners we have worked with in the past and see how much they have moved on, I feel this is the constant source of motivation and what we call the abundance of life. This is what it really means.