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Chinese NGOs reach out to African countries

By Meng Jing and Sun Yuanqing | China Daily | Updated: 2013-04-29 08:28
Groups give new impetus and direction for people-to-people exchanges in Africa with their community outreach programs, report Meng Jing and Sun Yuanqing.

At almost the same time that President Xi Jinping announced during his recent visit to Africa that China will extend a $20 billion credit line to the continent over the next two years, Zhang Ming, a director of the Red Cross Society of China, was busy raising funds of more than 30 million yuan ($4.85 million) from China to build public health centers in Africa, the first overseas project by her organization.

Chinese NGOs reach out to African countries

Wu Peng from the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation visits Sudan to learn about the country's living conditions for mothers and babies. Provided to China Daily 

Though the project may not seem as generous as the $20 billion credit line from the Chinese government, it is a giant leap for China's non-governmental organizations. Giving back to society with an enlightened self-interest is the common tag line used to identify NGOs globally. But with more than half of the nation's people living in poverty before the 1990s, Chinese NGOs were more likely to receive financial assistance from developed countries, rather than extending help.

"We have been receiving donations from other member nations of the International Committee of the Red Cross for quite some time. Though we did donate money to other countries for emergency disaster relief from time to time, we had never set up operations or run long-term projects outside China," said Zhang, director of the external liaison department of Red Cross China.

Her plan for the organization's first steps abroad include a three-year program covering Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, setting up community-based centers that offer first aid, healthcare and water supplies.

With the rapid economic development of China and the country's transition from an "upper middle income" economy to a "high income" economy over the next 15 to 20 years, a small but growing group of NGOs are eager to go outside China and give a hand to less well-off countries. The friendly relationship and increasingly strong trade ties between China and Africa have made the continent an ideal destination for Chinese NGOs wanting to test the waters.

Financial help from the Chinese government has been a big factor in the growing number of Chinese NGOs that are keen on undertaking projects in Africa. According to experts on the ground, Chinese NGOs have not only made meaningful contributions in Africa, but also played an important role in promoting bilateral relations between China and Africa through people-to-people exchanges.

There are no official statistics about the number of Chinese NGOs operating in Africa, but Liu Hongwu, director of the Institute of African Studies at Zhejiang Normal University, estimated that there are more than 100 Chinese NGOs operating in Africa, and 10 of them have permanent operations and local offices in Africa.

Liu, who is also an expert in NGO studies, said that the number of Chinese NGOs operating in Africa has seen tremendous growth over the past four to five years.

Chinese NGOs reach out to African countries

Li Liqing, board member of the Chinese-African People's Friendship Association, said that the rapid economic development of China is one of the major reasons pushing these organizations into Africa.

For Red Cross China, the decision to go abroad came in 2011, when China officially overtook Japan as the world's second-largest economy.

According to Zhang, membership countries of the International Committee of the Red Cross are broadly divided into two categories. Donors such as countries in northern Europe are partnership national societies, while receivers, such as Nepal and China, are operational national societies.

"When China became the second-largest economy in the world, we knew that we could not be a receiver forever. We needed to step forward and offer our help to other countries," she said.

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