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Sustainability and Long-Term Effectiveness: the Role of Business


Amidst the rapid and relentless change taking place in China today, three dynamics in particular are profoundly affecting the role of traditional nonprofit efforts in the country. This raises the question of what sort of entities will allow for sustainable engagement in the future.

On the one hand, the central government is exhibiting an increasing distrust toward foreign NGOs, resulting in not a few being forced to scale down operations or to quit certain areas of China altogether. While the vast majority of NGOs and those who support them may have the best of intentions, China's leaders see in the NGO community the threat of political competition. Furthermore, since China lacks a non-profit tradition, the Chinese government is immediately suspect of organizations established for a purpose other than making money and quick to conclude that such organizations, particularly if funded from outside China, have ulterior political motives.

Meanwhile, the worldwide economic crisis has severely impacted the traditional funding sources of foreign NGOs, forcing a reconsideration of priorities and raising questions about ongoing sustainability.

On the positive side, China's burgeoning business sector has opened up new space for creative, faith-based efforts to both impact individual lives and to have a transforming effect on whole communities. While traditional doors of engagement in the non-profit sector may be closing, other doors within this space continue to open. This is not to say that NGO leaders facing challenges should now simply exchange their NGO hat for a business identity. Successful serving through business requires, first of all, a passion to succeed in the business. Without this, adopting a business "cover" to conduct activities that are traditionally done under an NGO umbrella is a recipe for failure. Neither the business nor whatever efforts one is making to serve the community will last, and outside observers, including those within the government, will quickly see through one's supposed commercial identity.

Zhao Xiao, a prominent Beijing economist, believes the "Kingdom enterprise " concept is key to sustainable service and witness in China. In a recent interview Zhao provides valuable food for thought on the role of business in China as a vital expression of both Kingdom presence and purpose amidst China's rapidly changing political and economic environment.

Brent Fulton

President of ChinaSource. Follow Brent on Twitter - @BrentSFulton.

Image credit: City of Industry, Beijing, by Cory M. Grenier, via Flickr

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton is the president of ChinaSource and the editor of the ChinaSource Quarterly. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of... View Full Bio