China Development Brief • 中国发展简报 • China

China Development Brief 

Provides an online platform to disseminate information about Chinese civil society and promotes its interaction and capacity building.

Beijing, China 
Photo by: Emilia Szekely

“By capitalizing on our platform, CDB aims to promote the sharing and exchange of development ideas, knowledge, experiences, and approaches; enhance the opportunities for grassroots NGOs to spread their voice; and drive the resource matching for NGOs in terms of funding, talent, and capacity”. (China Development Brief’s Website)

China is a country with a strong State presence in the management of socio-environmental initiatives. In 1996, Nick Young, from The Guardian newspaper, created a printed bulletin called “China Development Brief”, with the purpose of circulating knowledge that would contribute to the strengthening of civil society in the Asian country. Over time, this initiative became a more complex digital platform (and accessible to a larger sector of the population). Its contents in Chinese and in English seek to promote the exchange of information (research, consulting, communication of experiences) and the resource-matching among development actors (jobs, materials, funds, skills, know-how, etc.).

Currently, non-governmental organizations, foundations, companies, individuals and research centers can use this site to promote their projects and events. In addition, they can find out about developments in the field of civil society in China through the sections of “News“, “Articles“, “Events” or that of “Publications”. They can also identify and interact with other development or charity civil organizations through the “Directory” section, in which China Development Brief, first through the sending questionnaires and then with the support of updating carried out by its editing team, has compiled a list of development projects carried out by civil society in China for several years. In the case of the Chinese version, initiatives can be registered in the directory through a format with which they report, through labels, their objectives, greatest achievements, major projects, donors and main partners, distinctions, social networks, contact, legal profile, region, sector, year of origin, number of personnel in China, religious affiliation, mission, social connections, location, etc.

Within this framework, China Development Brief has published interesting information such as interviews with different civil society actors, reports on wages in the sector, a Chinese-English dictionary of development terms, etc.

In addition to the platform, China Development Brief organizes an annual forum and various capacity-building workshops in the sector. In these, it guides foreign non-governmental organizations that want to work in China on legislative aspects or characteristics of civil society in that country, informs civil society scholars in China, and trains Chinese initiatives in matters of management, promotion, financing, etc.

To broaden the scope of its efforts, the initiative publishes books based on its own research that it sells online or on paper, sends a monthly electronic newsletter to its collaborators, and organizes discussions and exchanges of resources and information through its various networks, such as Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Sina Weibo and a group of Wechat.

Internal organization and financing strategies

China Development Brief was originally registered as a company, but in 2016 it decided to change its legal profile to civil organization (社会 组织). This is because changes in China’s Charity Law made registration easier for non-governmental organizations and the government purchases services from organizations that are registered to support its programs. This law has promoted the registration of many NGOs that had not done so previously either because of the complications of the process or because they are working on politically sensitive issues. Still, the main sources of financing for China Development Brief are donations from international foundations, because unlike the Chinese government, which usually makes direct interventions in poverty reduction and allocates little funds for the development of civil organizations, there are many foreign donors interested in investing, rather than in solving specific problems, in strengthening citizen participation in solving socio-environmental problems.

In addition to donations, China Development Brief is supported by the profits from the sales of its publications, with those generated by the publication of job offers on its website, and with the support of volunteers.

Its team is small but reports to a Board of Directors made up of various leaders in the field (see here), which demonstrates the initiative’s inter-sectoral profile and linkage. Internally, decisions are made by a senior management team, involving the director, chief executive officer, editors-in-chief of the English and Chinese versions of the site, and the accountant. For important decisions, the consensus of all the members of this team is sought and when it is not achieved, the vote is used. Ultimately, the legal representative has the last word.

Knowing how politically sensitive several of the topics it addresses are, and that, in its perception, censorship in China has increased in recent years, China Development Brief has decided to avoid addressing the most controversial issues for to be able to continue gradually fulfilling its mission to promote and consolidate citizen participation.