A New Generation Of Chinese Social Entrepreneurs Is Emerging In Africa

The story of the Chinese in Africa is one that has been defined largely either by state or corporate interests. Whereas there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Western non-governmental organizations and other civil society groups that have been active in Africa for a long time, there are a just a handful of similar Chinese organizations there dedicated to charity and non-profit development.

The dearth of Chinese non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Africa should not come as a surprise given that the emergence of the non-profit sector in China is a relatively new phenomenon. Today, there are an estimated 500,000 registered NGOs in the People’s Republic of China, most of which focus on domestic issues in areas such as poverty, the environment, and health. Now, however, a growing number of Chinese NGOs are looking abroad, particularly to Africa.

In the West, an NGO often is considered to be an independent entity, thus the name “non-governmental.” In China, though, it is not that simple. Independent civil society groups, especially foreign groups, often are viewed with suspicion by the Chinese Communist Party (C.C.P.). Over the past 12-18 months, the government has enacted a series of harsh new regulations to restrict the activities both of domestic and foreign NGOs operating within the country. The C.C.P., for its part, is worried about any organization, particularly those that deal with sensitive social issues such as the environment, legal reform, and human rights, as potential threats to its political supremacy. Facing pressure at home, a growing number of Chinese non-profits are looking to go abroad.

The lines that divide the state, the Party, and state-owned companies from one another in China are often hard to see. Within that matrix has evolved a new kind of development organization known as a “GONGO” or government-organized non-governmental organization. Typically, these organizations operate development projects as an extension of political or diplomatic agendas abroad, as is the case in certain parts of Africa.

The emergence of these GONGOs in Africa occurs at the same time that a new generation of young, highly-educated, professionally-minded Chinese are developing new hybrid social entrepreneurship organizations focused in areas such as corporate social responsibility and education and wildlife conservation. Groups such as Nairobi-based China House Kenya and Care for All Kids are among the best examples of this budding trend.

Kate Yuan and Joany Huang helped to co-found the teacher training non-profit Care for All Kids. They join Eric and Cobus to discuss why there are so few Chinese NGOs, and the difficulties associated with funding and operating a non-profit in Kenya.