OK, China's important. But why civil society? In fact, what is a "civil society"?
What is civil society?
You may never realize, but "civil society" encapsulates many things that we so take for granted but make sure our societies in the West run well.
--When you buy something from a charity shop, or when you donate to British Heart Foundation, you are contributing to civil society;
--When your community decides to build a library, you are working as a part of the civil society;
--When you volunteer in Africa, you are playing a role in the civil society;
--When you go do museums, you are enjoying a civil society;
--Whe you go to church or a mosque, you are going to a civil society group...
Broadly speaking, the term civil society includes everything that is neither governmental nor corporate. That's why they are usually called "the third sector". The third sector, or civil society, allows individual and ordinary people to decide on the things that matter to them, to run museums and communities without looking up to the government, and allows every one of us an additional avenue to express ourselves.
You can’t avoid taxes, but can choose to donate. If you choose to do so, all taxes are refunded. In a developed world that we are so used to, many significant parts of our lives are run by civil society groups: British Museum, English Heritage, Cancer Research UK...they are as important as our government and corporations like BT, Vodafone and all in running a functioning modern country.
Civil society is lacking in China and there are real consequences
Civil society is, however, highly underdeveloped in China.
For example, whereas the Chinese economy is approximately 40% that of US's, charitable donations in China are only approximately 0.4% that of the States. Our “society" is still far too small and insignificant to manage a complex and fast modernization country. In fact, when ChinaNext Foundation initially reached out to support charities and/or civil society groups, we didn't find many charitable groups existing to work with us.
The consequences of this lacking is already apparent: without effective environmental lobbyists, the air quality in China has continued to deteriorate to air-apocalyptic level; when child benefit groups are lacking, many plights of vulnerable Chinese children went unnoticed; while the government-led healthcare system proves incapable of providing good enough medical services, the equivalent of Cancer Research UK or McMillan are nowhere to be seen. Until an initiative of FREE LUNCH was first launched in 2011, the world, even the Chinese people themselves didn't know that over twenty million school children didn't have lunch at school.
Economic development can only do so much. It is good at producing goods and services but less than effective at reducing poverty, illiteracy, or the wealth gap.
The consequences are not going to be felt just in China; in this global theater we call life, every person on this planet is going to be affected. In a very strange way, civil society in China matters very much to everyone no matter what part of the world you call home. So it’s in the Chinese people’s interests to be involved, as well as yours.
Where there's a void, there's people who can fill it, people like us and you.
We believe that China’s challenges ahead will be less likely to lie in the GDP growth rate, but in how a new generation of free Chinese citizens will, for the first time in their history, master the skills and know-how necessary to confidently manage their own communities, and join the rest of the world to shape a joint future for mankind.
The ChinaNext Foundation, whilst small in this big endeavor, is determined to focus on this mission. We spread the spirit of volunteerism and citizenship awareness, we enable charitable actions, we facilitate the communication of Chinese and international civil societies. However, our most important role of all is how we support, cultivate, foster and help a new generation of young Chinese leaders who have also seen this need, who have devoted their time and energy to this tremendous task. Often we feel proud for them. Now we feel incredibly lucky to be working with them.
Together we are building civil society in China.
Because it's important for us, for them, for everyone.