China Development Brief • 中国发展简报 • China

China Development Brief 

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”. Its purpose was to circulate knowledge that would contribute to the strengthening of civil society in the country.

Over time, the initiative became a complex digital platform, accessible to a larger part of the population. Its contents in Chinese and English promote the exchange of information on research, consulting and experiences. It also aids the resource-matching of development actors regarding jobs, materials, funds, skills, know-how, etc.

Currently, non-governmental organizations, foundations, companies, research centers and individuals 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 sections such as:

They can also identify and interact with other development or charity civil organizations through its Directory. This directory has been compiled by China Development Brief, first through the sending questionnaires and then with the support of updating carried out by its editing team.  

The directory lists development projects carried out by civil society in China over several years. In the Chinese directory, initiatives can register by reporting their:

  • objectives
  • greatest achievements
  • major projects
  • donors and main partners
  • distinctions
  • social networks
  • contacts
  • legal profile
  • region
  • sector
  • year of origin
  • number of personnel in China,
  • religious affiliation
  • mission
  • social connections
  • location

China Development Brief (CBD) has published information such as interviews with different civil society actors, reports on wages in the sector, as well as a Chinese-English dictionary of development terms.

CDB also organizes an annual forum and various capacity-building workshops in the sector. It uses these to guide foreign NGOs that want to work in China on legislative aspects of their work, or characteristics of civil society. They also inform civil society academics in China, and train local initiatives in management, promotion, financing, etc.

To help broaden its scope, the initiative publishes books based on its own research. It also publishes a monthly e-newsletter for its collaborators, and organizes discussions and exchanges of resources and information through its various networks, such as:

Internal organization and financing strategies

CDB was originally registered as a company, but in 2016 it changed its legal profile to that of a civil organization (社会 组织). This is because changes in China’s Charity Law made NGOs easier to register. And also because the government often purchases services from organizations that are registered to support its own programs.

CDB still relies on donations from international foundations as its main source of revenue. This is because the Chinese government itself usually makes direct interventions in poverty reduction and allocates little funding to the development of civil organizations. Meanwhile, many foreign donors invest, rather than in solving specific problems, in strengthening citizen participation in solving socio-environmental problems.

CDB is also supported by its publishing profits, job advertising revenues, and volunteers’ aid.

Its team is small and reports to a Board of Directors made up of various leaders in the field (see here). The quality of the board demonstrates the initiative’s inter-sectoral profile. 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, a vote is taken. Ultimately, the legal representative has the last word.

CDB knows how politically sensitive many of the topics it addresses are. In addition, it perceives that censorship in China has increased in recent years. As such, CDB has decided to avoid addressing controversial issues so that it can continue its mission to promote and consolidate citizen participation.