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Social enterprises to play bigger role
By Mark South (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-02-17 08:43

SHANGHAI: Unskilled workers could soon be learning a trade while recycling old household appliances, if social enterprise ideas from the UK catch on in China.

That was one of the projects reported on at a seminar in Shanghai yesterday, when members of Chinese non-governmental organizations (NGOs) discussed their factfinding mission to social enterprises in Britain.

With the aim of creating social benefit rather than shareholder profit, experts from both countries agreed that social enterprises could play a major role as China aims to build a sustainable and harmonious society, as set out in the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10).

"I am already thinking of how to realize the spirit and the principles of (the UK projects ) in China," said Song Qinghua of Beijing-based Shining Stone Community Action. "I am so excited that I am still overwhelmed by the feeling even now that I am back home."

The seven-member delegation visited 10 projects during their nine- day visit at the end of last year, including companies in inner-city London, training and employment services in Wales, and Track 2000, a recycling project which trains people by teaching them how to fix old washing machines.

Not only do the people learning to repair the machines benefit, but the refurbished goods are then sold, at very low prices, to disadvantaged families who would otherwise struggle to afford them.

Speaking at the seminar, Robin Rowland, founder and chairman of GLI, explained that by meeting the needs of their communities and providing training, employment, education and other intangible benefits, social enterprises generate a "social profit."

"If community organizations work well, it doesn't matter what we call them NGO's, NPO's, social enterprises they save the government money, they save social services money, they save health, education and housing services money and make society more harmonious," he said.

Rowland also highlighted some of China's existing social enterprise projects, including a rabbit-rearing project in Sichuan, a training centre for rural women in Beijing's Changping District, a patchwork company run by recovered leprosy patients in Guangzhou and a school for cancer patients in Shanghai.

"Here in China I have seen some very inspiring social enterprises," he said. "There are great things happening which people in the rest of the world can learn from. Projects in the UK have helped create a more harmonious society, as have projects in South Africa, India, Canada and in many other parts of the world. The object for us is to learn from each other."

(China Daily 02/17/2006 page2)

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