Public to have say on distribution of funds

Updated: 2012-10-29 07:54

By Xu Jingxi in Guangzhou (China Daily)

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HK philanthropists ask residents which charities should get money

Residents of Guangdong province will soon be able to vote for which social programs they want to see receive money from a charitable fund set up by the richest people in Hong Kong.

Provincial authorities and the Li Ka Shing Foundation, which supports charitable projects in both the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the Chinese mainland, have said they plan to invest 20 million yuan ($3.2 million) in at least 170 public services that are run by social organizations for the benefit of women.

Voters will be able to have a say either online or over the phone on which organizations receive the support.

"By involving the public, the initiative will not only draw people's attention to the protection of women's rights but may also spur people to make donations or even start their own charity projects," Chan Yu, project manager for the Li Ka Shing Foundation, said on the weekend at an event to launch the initiative.

The fund, set up by Li Ka-shing, chairman of the multinational conglomerate Cheung Kong Group, used the same methods to organize Love Ideas Love HK, a philanthropic campaign also supported by the foundation.

According to Chan, social organizations will be placed into various categories according to how much money they request.

Voters will then have two opportunities to pick which projects they think should receive support and those with the most votes in each category will get it.

During each round of voting, Chan said, 40 projects will receive up to 50,000 yuan each; 45 will get 50,001 to 100,000 yuan each; two will get 100,001 to 500,000 yuan each; and one will receive up to 1 million yuan.

"It's the first time citizens in the province, rather than government or foundation officials, have decided which public program should receive money," said Xie Xiaoxie of the Guangdong Women's Federation.

Provincial authorities began entrusting the provision of public services to social organizations this year.

Xie said more than 30,000 social organizations operate in Guangdong, a number that far exceeds the supply of public-program opportunities.

"Social organizations need to learn how to sell their ideas to enterprises and foundations and exploit connections to raise money from 'friends'," she said. "This is especially difficult for small or budding groups.

"This initiative gives social organizations a fair means of competing for public support. We hope it will help small organizations expand."

Policy of giving

Guangdong has been giving more support to social organizations in recent times.

For example, on July 1, it relaxed the registration policies applied to social organizations in nearly every officially recognized category, excluding only privately run education, training and medical-care organizations.

"We have seen a great increase in the number of social organizations since the policy change, but their quality remains uneven," Cai He, president of the school of sociology and anthropology at Sun Yat-sen University, said in a speech at the opening event.

"Testing public support will push social organizations to come up with projects that really meet the needs of the people they serve," he said. "Experts represent different interest groups, which may influence their opinions, but ordinary people, the recipients of public services, will vote honestly for projects that offer them practical help."

Social organizations have said they welcome public participation, although some have raised concerns about giving the public a large say over which organizations receive financial support.

Liao Huanbiao, executive director of Qi Chuang Social Work Service Center in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, said the opinions of experts should be taken into consideration when projects that the public knows little about are being considered.

"I'm afraid people won't give much attention to a project, say, to help sex workers or the children of HIV-positive people, as they don't know as much about these group as they do about female migrant workers," he said.

Luo Hongmei, founder of the Sun Flower Female Worker Service Center, also in Guangzhou, said she is not especially in favor of the initiative.

"We have only three people working in our organization, me included," she said. "I don't think it's worth it to spend time and effort designing eye-catching promotions and canvassing for votes. I would rather direct my limited resources toward serving female workers in our community."

Luo said it is easier to raise money from businesses and foundations than to convey an idea to the public.

"Many enterprises and foundations are inclined toward helping a specific cause when they sponsor charity projects," she said. "So it's easy to get money if we apply to an enterprise or foundation that is interested in issues concerning female workers."

Building trust

It is also doubtful whether those helped by the proposed projects will actually use their right to weigh in.

"The government is acting with the best of intentions by letting us vote," said Liao Zhuqiu, a 44-year-old cleaner who moved to Guangzhou from Hunan province 10 years ago. "But I don't surf the Internet. How can I know what projects are posted online and then choose among them?"

She agreed that by giving the public a say the program will help social organizations tailor their projects to meet their clients particular needs.

"I saw on TV that social organizations are running projects that help migrant workers," she said. "Some are building libraries for us. But I'm too busy to study, and I'd rather see more projects that can help me get a better-paying job or take care of my child."

In his speech, Cai said the initiative might also help repair the reputation of charitable groups after it was damaged in a series of recent scandals involving the Red Cross Society of China.

"As well as a tempting idea, social organizations need to present a clear plan showing how they will use the sponsorship to earn people's support," he explained. "The public is now demanding transparency in the financing of nonprofit organizations."

Chan said she expects that the program in Guangdong will spread to other regions in the Chinese mainland.

"We'd love to sponsor and organize these programs targeting other issues besides women's rights," she said. "We hope that not only social organizations but also individuals can submit their ideas and apply for money through these programs, as we do in Love Ideas Love HK."

Social organizations in Guangdong can submit their applications for the first phase of the program from Dec 17 to Feb 8. No schedule has yet been set for when the voting will begin.