• Why China, Why Now?

    The opportunity to upskill China's new generation of changemakers

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    China is having a big philanthropy moment.

    • Private giving in China from individuals, corporations, and other sources reached US$ 24 billion in 2019.
    • Annual growth rates for charitable giving are over 15% per year, on average.
    • Government spending to purchase social services from local social service organizations was US$ 800 million in 2017.

    The growth in giving from China's individuals, companies, and other sources means more funding than ever is now flowing through the social impact sector. Both wealthy and middle-class citizens are engaging through donations, volunteer work, and, in some cases, by deciding to dedicate themselves full time as mission-driven professionals. Today about 10 million people work as ‘changemakers’ in China.


    The opportunity that all this activity presents is creating a buzz in the global philanthropy space. As this April 2019 report on China philanthropy, supported by The Rockefeller Foundation and written by the Asian Venture Philanthropy Network (AVPN), asserts:


    “Chinese philanthropy is growing into a powerhouse that could shape the future of international giving and development, largely driven by the Chinese private sector and a new generation of wealth. National strategy plans such as the Belt and Road Initiative and South-South Cooperation are propelling more domestic funders and social organizations to engage in international development issues. And as a new culture of giving takes shape in China, Chinese philanthropists and leaders of philanthropic organizations are increasingly keen to engage with the global community”.


    The growth truly is remarkable, as is the progress that China has made in reducing extreme poverty from over 66% of the population in 1990 to less than 1% today (at the World Bank’s international poverty line of $1.90 per day).


    Yet there remains significant unmet need for specialized social services for highly vulnerable groups:

    • One-third of China’s 220 million elderly population live below the poverty line
    • There are 7.3 million adults with intellectual disabilities and over 1.6 million children with autism yet less than 5% of the people in these groups receive specialized care or education
    • 60 million children have been left behind by migrant parents who have moved to urban areas for work; many experience psychological problems including anxiety, insomnia, low self-image, and depression

    In these three issue areas alone there are simply not enough trained people, working full or part time professionally, to provide the services needed.


    China’s social sector needs more great people to lead its growth, and as of now there are no large-scale, effective solutions to a persistent talent gap.


    Achieving high-quality, specialized service delivery at any scale, much less at a scale that is meaningful for China, is impossible without incredible talent at every level, from frontline workers to fundraisers to social entrepreneurs and organization leaders.


    In the 2017 article published in Stanford Social Innovation Review, Talent: The Key to Developing the Social Sector in China, Ding Li shares the observation from her work with hundreds of social enterprises at China’s Non-Profit Incubator (NPI) that 90 percent of the organizations they know “face a severe talent shortage from day one.”


    The article gives an overview of historical and cultural contexts that help explain why the talent gap is so pronounced in China. Of possible solutions to the problem, the writers concede that “Affordable and effective training is not readily available in China, but many organizations are seeking it. Training can show team leaders why it is important to invest time in talent development as well as equip them with the tools to do it.”


    In this statement are two realities that create an enormous barrier to progress: first, that there is a supply and demand issue with regard to training; second, that managers in the sector are not equipped to provide the kind of environment in which talent can flourish.


    We started That Spark because we want to see if we can offer creative solutions to support changemakers as they grow into the leaders that the social impact sector needs, for today and for the future.


    With China’s philanthropy growing in resources and securing future global influence, and with the social impact sector at large utilizing those resources at an unprecedented scale, the growing number of foundations, nonprofits, and social enterprises will be under increasing pressure to prove value—to China’s citizens, to donors, to the government, and to the world.


    Better solutions to the talent gap can help China’s third sector to prove its value, and in doing so secure the sustained, long-term support it needs to thrive and meet its full potential.