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Dispatches from Beijing, Chengdu and Shanghai

Sixteen students from the University of Maryland School of Public Policy have embarked on a fabulous study journey toward three major cities in China this spring break. Enrolled in the course “China Philanthropy and Social Sector,” students will get an extraordinary opportunity to delve deep into and reflect actively upon the rapidly changing China philanthropic landscape, receiving knowledge about Chinese social enterprises, grassroots organizations and volunteerism through in-person visits and professional meetings with a variety of NGOs. Students had six weeks of intensive academic coursework ahead of the trip, and three summer fellowships will emerge from this, with funding from the Henry Luce Foundation, where SPP students will work with Chinese foundations or research organizations during summer 2016 in keeping with the school's desire to deepen students' international experiences. Read below their blog posts and find more about their unique experience and interesting stories along the trip in China.

(You can also check out SPP's Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership and blog posts from the winter break India trip to learn about additional study abroad experiences.)


March 19, 2016

Today begins the final full day in Shanghai for our group. The tone of the morning was both relaxed (we didn’t have to get on the bus!) and frazzled (did everyone sign the cards for our group leaders?). We started the day with a breakfast meeting, led by Eileen, executive director of the NPO Development Center. Eileen, like our other speakers, was humble and gracious—we learned about the challenges the NPO Development Center faces in justifying the need for capacity-building in the third sector. While the nonprofit sector is growing, its organizations like NPO that help nonprofits ramp up and do good quality work for those they serve. Speaking from the heart, Eileen advised us to try working in the nonprofit sector for five years or so, to see what we can accomplish. Her experience was so rewarding that after the first five years, she fell in love and never returned to her previous life. 

In the afternoon, we split off into smaller groups. I went shopping in Shanghai’s Chinatown where native speakers helped us negotiate on trinkets, and most importantly, I found my soup dumplings, or tom baos. A soup dumpling is a Hershey kiss shaped dumpling with broth and meat inside of it, which can be eaten with a spoon, or even the help of a straw. I’ve had them in the U.S. a few times, but I had no idea how much fun it would be to eat a dumpling that’s 5” in diameter with a straw.

After a quick jaunt at the French Confection, we wrapped up the night by attending an acrobat show. Unfortunately, there were no cameras allowed, but this was one of several opportunities we had this week to see Chinese artistic expression. There was humor in some routines, and grace in others. From juggling and hat tricks to contortion and hula-hoop dancing, we were in awe of the performers’ discipline and talent. (And definitely fearful for the nine motorcyclists doing tricks in a giant round cage!)

Today was a good balance of work and play. As the trip comes to an end, I take time to reflect on the cultural and academic perspectives our great journey East have taught me.  

-Dominique Covelli


March 19, 2016

This morning we met with one inspiring leader in the third sector in China, Zhuang Ailing. She is also the founder of the NPO Development Center and China Foundation Center. One most important takeaway I had after listening to her talk is her career advice on whether or not to get in the third sector. She mentioned that internships are important for those who hadn’t worked full time in the nonprofit sector. One or two years of being an intern will test out whether we are suitable for this sector and whether this sector is suitable for us. She also recommended not getting a Ph.D. right after graduation and getting more experience first. I found it very important that she was one of the founders of the China Foundation Center and how she found her true calling in grad school and worked in this sector for more than 20 years. When being asked what is the most important character trait for being a leader in the third sector, she said that believing in what you do is most important, which really moved me.

After her talk we had surprise cakes as a thank you for Dr. Bies, Zhongsheng and Janet. We had a special heart-shaped one for Dr. Bies because we believe that she has a big heart and we appreciated everything she brought us on this trip. We also circulated cards for the leaders as well as our donors who will receive special thank you notes after we get back to the states. 

-Bingying Wu


March 18, 2016

Today was our last full day of meetings and the China Charity Law passed today! What a great time to be in China and studying philanthropy. Throughout our time here, we have heard numerous leaders talk about their thoughts and opinions on what they thought the Charity Law would bring to China, and now here we are, seeing it become a reality. While there are still uncertainties that need to be answered, this is going to be a new era of transparency for nonprofit organizations (NPOs) is China and governmental support for this sector.

A large part of our day was spent at the Social Innovation Park, where numerous social enterprises are located. There, we had lunch and went to a coffee shop that trains and employs individuals who are deaf. We were also shown an organization that provides opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities with artistic abilities. 

As someone who is always thinking about how the disabled community and policies affecting individuals with disabilities are implemented, I was very fascinated by these organizations and how not only the Chinese community, but the philanthropic sector views people with disabilities. One thing I have been thinking about during my time here is the view of the elderly and its correlation, or lack thereof, with people with disabilities. In America, the two sub-populations are often combined, especially when thinking of their needs, however in China this seems to be very different. We have heard a lot about the importance of family, and how many people live with their grandparents, but have not heard much about the changing needs as people gets older and if philanthropic organizations are doing anything to help. I think this can be strongly connected to philanthropy around individuals with disabilities. While there is still a stigma of people with disabilities, I look to the future to see how this area within philanthropy will grow.

At the end of the day we spent a lovely evening on a boat tour of Shanghai. It was a great time to reflect on how beautiful the city is and how very different it is from Beijing and Chengdu. I am extremely grateful to have been able to see three very different cities and to have experienced it with such an insightful and thoughtful group.  

-Jessica Finkel


March 18, 2016

Today, I experienced a lot of “first times” in Shanghai, for example, as a Shanghainese I never thought that one day I would get on the Huangpu River cruise to appreciate the beautiful night view, especially with a group of “foreign guests.” In fact, this whole study trip really provided us not only with sightseeing (for Chinese students particularly to rediscover the Chinese history and culture that we are accustomed to), but also with many valuable visits to top charitable organizations in China. NPI (Nonprofit Incubator), our last stop of this trip, was one of them. And since I interned for three months last summer, I really came with a special mood mainly because I’m now deepening my recognition of NPI and also I’m glad that more people are getting to know this innovative organization.

Li Ding, vice director of NPI first introduced to us the history and current situation of NGO development in China. With 10 years of exploration, NPI now is the cluster of several intermediary agencies to support the emerging third sector in China, focusing on Community Service Platform, Social Enterprise Platform as well as Venture Philanthropy Fund. Since NPI is now one of the biggest supporting nonprofit organizations in China, it enjoys a tremendous grassroots NGO network and puts increasing efforts toward building up alliance for more organizations doing social innovation programs. Austin Dempewolff talked about two projects in his team: one is SEFORIS (Social Enterprise as Force for more Inclusive and Innovative Societies, originally UK program), an academic research project conducted by doing respondent-driven interviews by phone to evaluate the performance of 100 social entrepreneurs as well as their organizations in China; and another one is Kunpeng Social Enterprise Accelerator program, which engages consultants from outside (Global Development Indicator last year) to select social enterprises with potential and train their capacity to do the fundraising. Xueqiong Zhu shared her duties in Ford Better World Program with us, which is a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) program of the Ford Motor Company. They give grants to green local NGOs, provide trainings to those NGOs (mentorship and online networking community) and more importantly involve their employees to actively participate in volunteer activities for 16 hours with pay. All of these projects were developed in recent years during the rise of a new phenomenon in the process of China’s philanthropic development. It shows that not only government should shoulder the responsibility of public services, but those “for-profit” businesses can also find their way to make a difference. And once their social roles get cultivated, their overall performance should be advanced as well.

Another thing that impressed me a lot was when we walked around the “Shanghai Social Innovation Park” (公益新天地) and visited some successful social enterprises. I was really touched when people said we should just buy a painting together at World of art brut culture (WABC) to make some donation to the organization. Western people in this aspect are more generous than Chinese people, and one of the reasons behind giving may be the different level of social trust as our readings also pointed out. That’s also why the Adream Foundation could be successful. They are the number one public fundraising organization publicizing their annul report to the public. And because of their board members’ financial background, the way Adream Foundation carries out their quality-oriented education solution is always to go through the risk control process so as to promise their mission completion. Overall, today’s visit inspired us a lot to think about the development of foundation, social enterprise and CSR

-Hongqi Ding


March 17, 2016

We had such a short time in Chengdu. We spent a night in the Jinhe Hotel, which was once the General House in Qing Dynasty, then it was time to leave and head to Shanghai. To seize the last opportunity, we walked around to explore combination of the traditional and modern that was nearby.

Wide and Narrow Alley (Kuanzhai Xiangzi) is a micro Chengdu, where people can have a historical and cultural experience sitting in the ancient style Starbucks, or watching an opera in the teahouse. Kuanzhai Xiangzi is a deep mark in local people’s memory. However, it faded away as time passed by. The government had begun to renovate Narrow Alley and Wide Alley since 2003, aiming to build a complex cultural and business street with the functions of tourism and recreation. Thanks to their effort, Kuanzhai Xiangzi protects those valuable ancient western Sichuan style houses. Besides, they save our memory and inherit the spirit of this energetic and inclusive city.

After a three-hour flight, Shanghai welcomed us with its rainy afternoon. If Beijing is a classroom to learn Chinese history, then this “upon-the-sea” city is a fancy place to implement any innovative ideas. Its high height and rapid speed impressed us the most. As one of the first five trade ports after the first Opium War, Shanghai mixes classical revival buildings in the Gothic, Baroque, Chinese and western style and financial landmarks together. High cost of land reflects Shanghai’s booming economy and its incredible everyday miracle. With a population as large as Australia’s, this super city respects various freedoms, emphasizes public goods and creative actions. We will see how its polybasic environment nurtures the third sectors.

-Junran Liu


March 17, 2016

Today was a day full of travel, but a lot of questions came up in regards to philanthropy and nonprofit management in China. First, when walking this morning in Chengdu with Junran and Jess, I wondered what the nonprofit sector could do to improve the public spaces such as the People’s park and shopping area in downtown. Junran mentioned that the facilities (such as the streets and the bathrooms) were maintained by the government, but I feel that a volunteer organization could easily take part in this public good. That got me wondering about the role of volunteers in the third sector in China and reminded me that all the people in the small village that we visited yesterday were volunteers in making their community a better one.

Secondly, I got thinking about the public spaces that may have been used for one purpose (like in Shanghai the old banking district is no longer used for banking) and how nonprofits might be able to help buildings become repurposed. (Our tour guide also mentioned this when she pointed to a “spaceship-like building” that is now an art museum). How can philanthropy lend itself to allowing bigger cities (as well as small towns – like those seen on Wednesday) to keep their history alive via old buildings and structures while also ensuring it moves ahead with the 21st century?

Lastly, at dinner I had a reflective conversation on what we had discussed in the last class – the idea that now that there is no longer a one child policy in China, do families really want to have more than one child? Our Shanghai tour guide seems to not want one, and the Chinese students I’ve spoken with (casually) about this also seem to be concerned with cost. So if no one is planning on having more than one child, are there social services (via nonprofits) that help people plan for this? In the United States, we have Planned Parenthood as well as a plethora of organizations that provide preventative care and information on reproductive health and hygiene. However, in China – where it seems that these services are highly needed – talk of such things is taboo. Is there a way for non-profit organizations that specialize in this area to infiltrate the seemingly more conservative China-family-planning sphere?

-Julie Dennis


March 16, 2016

The second day in Sichuan was busy but substantial, just like the weather here--frigid but agreeable.

To all of us, the most exciting thing among the whole trip has to be the visit to the Ya’an Panda Research Base. Pandas are so precious that even as a Chinese person I have never had the chance to be very close to them. Therefore, when the researcher and feeder came out with a six-month-old panda that sat on the bench surrounded by us, everyone was so excited that they could not say anything! But time was limited, and after a short tour in this special research base, we got on the shuttle to next station: Lvgeng Social Work Development Center in Ya’an Station.

Actually, Lvgeng Organization is a nonprofit organization headquartered in the Guangdong province and was initiated by Sun Yat-Sen University and The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. This work station in Ya’an has only eight years of experience because it only started after the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake. Hence, it is obvious that this center was built to help the reconstruction. But it is not just the reconstruction. 

The social worker told us the main achievement of this center for the Old Courtyard in the Shangli town in Ya’an: a community kitchen, a common place for villagers to assemble and a reception place for external visitors or researchers. The kitchen was designed and constructed by residents in the Shangli town, which shows a high level of autonomy and a respect for their local tradition and culture. In Beijing, we visited several big organizations and foundations that influence China’s philanthropic process. While in Ya’an we tried to learn about China’s philanthropy from those grassroots organizations and the Lvgeng Organization in Shangli town is a real success example.

-Shuai Yuan


March 16, 2016

Today was our first day away from the chaotic city life in Beijing and our first in the more rural area of Chengdu and the city of Ya'an. While this date had been circled by almost all of us due to our meeting at the Panda Conservation Center, I personally found myself in utter disbelief and amazement at our second stop at a social enterprise sponsored community kitchen. As we wound our way through luscious, green mountain roads, we eventually made our way into a newly remodeled building where we all gathered around small tables for a homemade lunch made from all locally grown and harvested foods. The love and cultural pride was like nothing I've ever experienced.

To begin, many of the surrounding homes were nearly 400 years old. However, during the earthquake in 2013, many of the homes and surrounding buildings were severely damaged, if not destroyed, leaving the community devastated. With fundings from the China Foundation of Poverty Alleviation (an NGO we visited in Beijing ), social workers and volunteers from Sun-Yat-Sen University entered the city with a focus of not only aiding in the disaster relief, but building a communal public space. The idea was to work with the local villagers to record historical and cultural stories, as well as passing these stories and traditions down from generation to generation. The end result was a community kitchen within the heart of this small town. 

-Phillip Burton 


March 15, 2016

The first thing I want to say is that I have never before had the pleasure of traveling with such a wonderful group. I've been fortunate to travel internationally several times, and there is nothing that can ruin a great experience like a person that refuses to open their mind, dig in and allow themselves to be a little uncomfortable. I see travel as a great equalizer in a sense; we have each experienced the unease of being a foreigner. I greatly admire those who choose to take on this experience and to leave the comforts of home and familiarity, and I think this group, individually and together, has chosen to face this experience head on.

The opportunity to visit China in an academic setting is unique. We are not quite tourists, not quite students (just given the limitation in the length of our trip). I have really enjoyed experiencing the sights of Beijing as well as taking in our meetings through the lens of a public policy student. Throughout yesterday (our longest day--meetings from 8am to 11pm!!) I tried to remind myself of the different context of Chinese society and to remain open-minded. It is easy to critique the policies and practices of a society as different from my own, particularly given the historical American aversion to communism, which whether I like it or not has shaped my education. Chinese philanthropy is in its nascent stage, because of this and I feel that we are at a juncture in which the Chinese government is more receptive than it has ever been to outside opinions and the opinions of its own citizens on this subject. This trip and the partnerships that it is inspiring and deepening could have a broader influence than we can even see today.

-Sarah Gordon


March 15, 2016

As the continuation of what we had done yesterday, we went to Ford Foundation's Beijing office before we flew to our second stop, Chengdu. After listening to thoughts of the domestic NGOs and scholars on China's third sector, it is really impressive to have an idea of what an America-based foundation has done in contemporary China.

Ford Foundation's office in Beijing is one of its 10 international offices around the world. With its global platform and local bases, the Foundation has an eye on social inequality, particularly migrant workers in large cities of China. Like many other U.S. foundations, Ford Foundation does not hold activities itself, unlike most of their Chinese counterparts. What it does is to manage the money it has and try to make sure it gives it to the right persons/NGOs in China, who have the same focus on marginalized population and inequality in China as it, and propose an appealing plan to deal with the problem. It also provides grants for scholars to do researches on issues they are interested in. This is shocking to me in that most organizations in China have functions of fund raising, project design and execution, and program evaluation all in themselves. The clear division of labor that Ford Foundation absolutely brings many more new possibilities.

The professional approach by Ford Foundation is obviously much worth learning. Some newly-born Chinese NGOs, especially foundations have chosen the same pathway as Ford Foundation, and I think this will facilitate the professionalization of the whole philanthropic sector in China, since the grantees also have to be professional in what they do, in order to compete for the limited funding from granters.

-Tianyou Huang


March 14, 2016

After touring the Forbidden City and Great Wall of China over the weekend, the business part of our study abroad program commenced on Monday. The class had the opportunity to meet with some of the country's most influential figures in the philanthropic and nonprofit fields. The students, Professor Bies and our donor friends (Ed and Penelope Peskowitz) met with Ming Wang, Chao Wang and Yanbing Zhang at Tsinghua University's Institute for Philanthropy, Ze Tao at the China Foundation Center, Youping Liu at the China Charity Alliance (CCA), Daofeng He at the China Foundation For Poverty Alleviation (CFPA) and finally, Jasmine Lau from Philanthropy in Motion.

Through these meetings, the class became immersed in the intricacies of China's philanthropic and nonprofit landscape. This week is particularly important because of the long awaited passage of China's new charity law that would lower the restrictions placed on nonprofits. The men and women we met were clearly excited by this law because it signified that the People's Congress has recognized the importance of nonprofits and charities in Chinese society. While I enjoyed everyone's presentations, I definitely found He from CFPA and Liu from CCA the most informative and engaging. He gave us an overview of CFPA's diverse domestic and international development efforts and Liu provided a fascinating historical overview of China's philanthropic and civic sectors.

Not only was I impressed by our hosts' dedication and passion to their fields but also how they are using philanthropy and public service to improve China and address its social and environmental problems. Moreover, I was impressed by my colleagues' questions, which helped us to better understand the organizations' work.  Our conversations went on throughout the day whether it was on the bus rides, walking to the meeting locations or during our dinner. Talking with the Chinese students in the class, in particular, provided me with incredible context and helped fill in the gaps that enriched my understanding of the political and cultural realities that nonprofits face as they progress and evolve. 

After a 14-hour day, we returned to our hotel very exhausted but nevertheless better informed of China's budding civic sector. I look forward to following this trajectory and I am excited to see the contributions that my Chinese and American colleagues will make in the future.

-Rommel Calderwood 


March 14, 2016

Today was an “exhausting” day full of visits, meetings and seminars. In the morning, we visited Tsinghua University where Professor Wang Ming gave us a presentation with a focus on the first Charity Law in China, which will be issued tomorrow. Professor Wang mentioned the Charity Law would be a page-turning point for nonprofits, foundations, charities and philanthropic sectors in China.

After visiting Tsinghua University, we went to China Foundation Center (CFC), China Charity Alliance and China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation (CFPA) in the afternoon. CFC believes the power of information and promotes Chinese foundations’ transparency. Tao Ze, the vice president of CFC, presented CFC’s development history and Chinese foundations’ rapid growth over years. At China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation, vice president Wang Xingzui gave us a speech about CFPA’s domestic and international projects. Most importantly, he talked about how CFPA is becoming more and more independent from the Chinese government.

In the evening, we had a wonderful “academic” dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Peskowitz, professor Yang Kaifeng from Renmin University and Jasmine Lau who is the founder of the Philanthropy Emotion. Over the dinner, Lau shared with us her story about her career and foundation, which wasquite inspiring. Today wasa great journey full of insights and knowledge!

-Lin Peng


March 12, 2016

Our China study abroad journey begins with this amazing and glamorous city--Beijing, which, in my personal viewpoint, is most representative of the beauty of China, of the date with ancient relics and modern life style blending and interacting with each other dynamically. I was not hit by the twelve-hour jet leg for my first day trip as I was so excited to witness with my U.S colleagues how dramatically China has changed throughout these years. We are also so pleased to have our donors- Mr. and Mrs. Peskowitz joining us for this wonderful day.

I have never so deeply felt that I am so lucky and proud to be Chinese. The grand picture of the Forbidden City unfolded in front of our eyes. We rode bicycles to tour and visit many traditional residential houses in “Hutong” and we wandered in “Nanluoguxiang”, a newly built but traditional style market, to experience the nice food, exquisite shops and the happiness of Chinese young people. The tour was unique since I got an extraordinary opportunity to share my thoughts with U.S students, many of whom are in Beijing for the first time, and I was inspired by their feedback and questions. I believe we all have a feeling about how kind modern Chinese people are, especially when Junran was presented with a big surprise on her birthday, which was carefully prepared by our contacts Vivian and Janet. It was a great time. There is no reason to doubt that China’s philanthropy will grow robustly under the cultivation of this strong and promising country.

-Yan Qu


March 12, 2016

On our first day in China, we went to Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and two Hutongs (narrow traditional streets). As our group is half Chinese and half American, some of us were familiar with the the sights and some of us were seeing these sites for the first time. That said, all of us saw these sites with a new perspective. For those of us who have never been, it was an opportunity to learn about ancient Chinese history and relate it to modern Chinese history. For those of us who have been to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City before, it was a chance to learn more about the symbolism behind familiar landmarks. In terms of the Hutongs, all of us were able to interact with history on a very personal level. We were able to physically touch furniture pieces older than our grandparents and look at the handwriting of an emperor. Also very interesting was being able to connect our readings to real life. Walking down a hutong we ran into several Shequs, which are community institutions that provide services similar to civil society in the west. As we delve deeper into the topic of the nonprofit and service sector of China, we are going to find additional opportunities to connect our studies to actual practice. I look forward to learning more as we go forward and sharing our varied experiences. So far we’ve had a lot of fun and started this trip with great momentum. 

-Coreene White


March 13, 2016

When Dr. Bies entered the hotel lobby wearing a shirt that said "I climbed the Great Wall" I was a bit confused. "Climbed?" I thought that the wall was a flat pathway that tourists would walk leisurely along. I was so so wrong.

First, the wall is not one uniform entity. There are many different sections of the wall-- some tourist-friendly and renovated, and some crumbling in remote locations. We explored one of the in-tact sections-- one that also happened to be very steep. There were two paths we could take at the wall: an "easy" one (which still had a ton of steps) and a hard one (which looked like it was a million flights of steps at a 90 degree angle). I took the easier route with some of the other women, Zhongsheng and our tour guide. Although we shed sweat and layers during our climb, we laughed the whole time telling jokes and stories. By the end, Sarah's Fitbit said we'd climbed 64 flights of stairs.

When we got to the top of our section of the wall, there was a sculpture with a saying by Mao, which I was told roughly translates to: "When you climb the wall, you enter a new chapter of your life." This trip is definitely a chapter unique from any of my past experiences. Like my preconceived and wildly incorrect idea of the wall, I've realized that many of my other assumptions about China were untrue. Until you go somewhere and experience things for yourself, you can't really understand them. The importance of listening to others stories and trusting their experiences has become more and more evident.

The focus of our trip-- philanthropy-- largely relies on listening to those who need help, and trusting their judgements. It also requires listening to people whose experiences and pasts are very different from your own. During the past two days, I have cherished all of the new stories, foods, sights and experiences. They've surprised me in ways I wouldn't have imagined (like loving using the "squatty potties," when I assumed before the trip that I would hate them). I can't wait for more new experiences and lessons in the days to come. Maybe some more hard paths will be labeled "easy," but we will climb them together anyway.

-Leah Schleifer


March 13, 2016

This is my first time of climbing the Great Wall “Juyong Guan.” Though I chose the “easier route,” I did complete the mission and enjoyed the scenery together with other friends. I have heard that there are volunteers in the Great Wall during holidays. They help handicapped tourists climb the Great Wall, pick up trash along the road to keep clean environment, provide medical assistance, etc. But I didn’t see any volunteers this time and it is probably because there's not so many people climbing the Great Wall during the winter. It would be so nice if volunteers could be organized and if they created a “volunteer group/list” that could provide volunteer services all year round.

Before I began this climbing, I thought I would never make it. But eventually I did it together with other friends, most of whom are girls. Life is like this. Sometimes I think I’m not able to complete one goal, but I’ll never know if I don’t try. And it turns out that it was easier and happier than I imagined. Another thing is that it was the right choice when I chose the “easier route.” It doesn’t mean that I didn't want to challenge myself, it is just because that I set stretch goals that were possible to achieve. This is a really important lesson I learned during this trip.

-Qianjing Wang