China ideas marketplace uses entrepreneurial spirit to tackle social issues

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A woman explains a project to restore education in the part of Gansu, China, hit by last May's earthquake. Grassroots civil society organizations proposed innovative project ideas this week addressing development issues at the China Development Marketplace.

I am glad that I did not have to be a juror in our second China Development Marketplace, which concluded with its award ceremony today. Grassroots civil society organizations (CSOs) from all over China proposed projects addressing environmental and social issues in innovative ways.

We received more than 500 proposals, and choosing 50 winners (download list in Excel) to receive funding was a very difficult task. Our expert panel of academics, civil society activists, and financial contributors chose 115 finalists, who came to Beijing for a colorful exhibition. One of our jurors, who was judging proposals for the second time, noted that the quality of proposals was much better than the last China Development Marketplace in 2006, indicating how quickly civil society groups here are strengthening.

The other half of the marketplace is raising money – mostly from corporations. We got a number of big contributions from Chinese companies – Red Avenue Chemical and Lenovo – and from international firms – Wal-Mart, KPMG, and Ticketmaster in partnership with Music for Relief Foundation. Altogether we raised 8 million Yuan (US$1.1 million), which enabled us to give 50 grants averaging 160,000 Yuan (about $24,000).

A couple of the winners caught my eye in the exhibition:

The Tibet Yangjin Legal Aid Center won funding for their project to give legal aid for Tibetan migrants making the transition from rural to urban life.
  • The legal aid project for migrant workers in Tibet is a Lhasa-based CSO. Some Tibetan nomads are gradually settling in cities and taking up construction or other work typically done by migrant laborers. In Tibet, however, rural-urban migrants often have poor understanding of their legal rights or little ability to protect their rights. This project provides free legal aid for migrants who have disputes over compensation or injury. It can also provide help in property disputes.
  • In Henan, one of the winning projects will help protect the Yellow River, known as the China’s “mother river.” The award will enable a local non-governmental organization to expand its program of independent monitoring of the quality of the water in the river. The group publicizes regular monitoring results from water quality tests along the river. Its activities have already resulted in public mobilization to close or retrofit 200 big polluters along the river, leading to restoration of wetlands and improvement in water quality. The award will enable the group to expand to cover most of the river within Henan, China’s most populous province. This is a good example of a project that starts on a small scale, but can potentially improve water quality for a population of nearly 100 million.   

The Jinba Charity Assistance of Yushu Prefecture presents its water supply project for the Baizha village in Qinghai province.
  • The Baizha Village Water Supply project sounds straight-forward: The main activity is to develop clean water supply for a poor, rural part of Qinghai province. Women there carry water a long distance to get clean supplies now. This CSO has a project to improve water supply for several villages. But what impressed me was the integrated character of their project. They developed good training material in local languages to encourage better sanitation and hygiene, which is necessary for water supply investments to lead to sustainably better water and for communities to get the most benefit out of clean water. 

All of the finalist projects revealed some really sobering challenges on the ground. Yet they demonstrated how great social entrepreneurial spirit can work to tackle these issues.


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