Who Says the Chinese Don't Volunteer?
- Corinne Hua is a consultant at CSR & Company, the first and the best Corporate Social Responsibility consultant team in China. During one of her volunteering campaigns she came across the need to help at schools for migrant children - and founded Stepping Stones to do so.
: Greetings everyone, I'm Michael McCune, and this is The China Business Network.
Corrine Hua lives in Mainland China where she advises corporations on the formation & implementation of their corporate social responsibility initiatives. Having spent 16 of the last 20 years living and working in the PRC, she's developed deep knowledge about the often gray areas of civil society in China - enough so that she has launched her own volunteer organization dedicated to helping children of migrant workers qualify for entry into Shanghai's public school system.
Corrine joined us on the phone from her home to talk about navigating the field of corporate philanthropy in China.
I wonder if you have a point of view on the Chinese professional population and their original ideas back in the early or mid 1990s about potential opportunities to do community work, or this concept of social responsibility or corporate social responsibility. How did you see that start to penetrate the mindset of the professional class in Shanghai?
: Well it was really no idea of doing anything like that in Shanghai in companies until really a few years ago. In the ‘90s, as I said, there was no – there was really no concept either on the individual or on the corporate basis doing anything other than trying to make ends meet and, if possible, make a profit. The whole idea of corporate social responsibility is, after all, a relatively new one even in the west, although there’s been corporate philanthropy for a lot longer than that. Corporate philanthropy was probably around ten years ago in China but it tended to be large companies giving donations to the government-organized charity. Like the Chinese Red Cross, or the Shanghai Charity Foundation here or the China Charity Foundation, which also have only been around for about ten or so years, not much longer.
So there was very, very little of real corporate philanthropy and certainly there was no sense of corporate social responsibility until very recently. It was when things started to change that I decided it was time for me to move out of the corporate world into the not-for-profit sector and I could see very interesting things about to happen, both on the individual and the corporate playing field.
: Now I know professionally you’re engaged in helping many corporations build out their own volunteer programs or engagement with local or international NGOs to help channel their talent or workforce, employees, or resources to help different causes. What challenges do they face when they want to step into this field? Do you find any differences in terms of companies that perhaps have strong philanthropic tendencies from wherever they are in the world versus others that are new and general and are trying to find ways to respond to the demand of their own employees? I’m interested in how you find the origin of desire to engage different among companies that you work with.
: I think the challenges faced by corporations are, first of all, finding the right partners to fulfill their CSR objectives. And again, one of uses I mentioned earlier about the invoices. The obvious people to work with for PR, for legitimacy, for global reach would be the big government-operated NGOs, but there are all sorts of reasons companies don’t want to work with those organizations. There’s a suspicion that projects might not run very efficiently or they won’t have control - the company won’t have that much control over how the money gets spent, or the reporting back won’t be up to standard.
: Maybe we could just talk a couple minutes here at the end of our conversation about Stepping Stones as one of the examples of the work that you’ve been doing and help us highlight some of the aspects of the conversation in having. How did you come to focus in your own life to the status of migrant children in Shanghai?
: Well it’s one of those things that happened a bit by accident, to be honest. I was working, doing a fundraiser with a British school in Shanghai. And in the end they decided they wanted to spend the money they raised on an educational project which the students want to do things where they can get involved. It is actually a very common theme, either the students or the corporate employees of companies and organizations here want to do things where they can get involved. In fact, much, much bigger than donations, either material or financial – volunteering is really the thing. So I started to research something the British international schools could do locally. I went to visit the migrant schools in their neighborhood. Every migrant school that I went into, when I asked them what kind of help they needed from society, they said “come and teach English to our kids.” In part because I was a big-nosed, white-faced foreigner, so that is what they could see that I could bring to them. But it was true that they struggled a lot to teach English. And English is one of the three cores of the Chinese curriculum.
Chinese, math, and English are the three most important subjects – the only subjects that primary kids are tested on when they go up to middle school. English continues to play a quite unfairly important role, in a way, to young people as they progress through the education system. It’s an area in which kids from rural China, including the migrant kids living in Shanghai, are most disadvantaged compared to their urban peers. The kids from rural China, if they’re really smart and they work hard they can pretty much succeed Chinese and math, but they can’t manage English on their own, and they don’t have teachers who actually know English themselves. So they’re pretty stuck, especially in oral communication. So they can have great lines in reading and writing, but oral is a lot more difficult.
So this was a consistent theme when I visited these schools. And on the other hand, I had people queuing up for volunteering opportunities, most of whom, including the white-collar Chinese and the Chinese students, had much better English skills than the teachers in the schools for migrants. So it just seemed like a sensible and a good thing to do to start matching that massive resource with a massive need. And it started small and just grew because it was such a good thing. And for every person I sent into a school to teach English, told a few people, and a lot of their friends wanted to get on board as well. So it’s been that way, it grew casually and small, but it grew rapidly. Now we’re 300 or so volunteers in 20 different schools around Shanghai, and continuing to grow.
For more information on Stepping Stones or to volunteer your time, please visit their website