From the Sichuan Earthquake to COVID-19: What Crisis Philanthropy in China Looks Like 从“5·12”汶川抗震救灾至新冠抗疫:中国社会组织的危机管理现状

By Phyllis Brown

铠凌

NANJING, China — On March 19th, mainland China saw zero confirmed cases of COVID-19 for the first time since state media began coverage of the virus in late December 2019. More recently, the country rejoiced as Wuhan, the virus’ initial epicenter, concluded its 76-day lockdown on April 8th.

中国南京 – 自中国官方媒体于2019年12月底开始报道新冠疫情以来,中国大陆于3月19日首次呈现零例确诊病例的局面。4月8日,被封锁了长达76天的武汉解封,中国民众为之欢欣鼓舞。

With community spread successfully contained, China’s social organizations (foundations, social enterprises, volunteer groups, social work agencies and nonprofits) entered into a period of reflection. Looking back on the sectors’ activities since January, how can social organizations develop effective responses to economic disruption? How significant were their contributions towards the management of COVID-19? How did state-society cooperation fare? Most of all, how does the sector’s recent response compare to previous crises? 

随着社区传播的成功遏制,中国社会组织(即基金会、社会企业、志愿者团体、社工机构和非营利组织)踏入了一个反思阶段。回顾自1月份以来的活动,社会组织如何才能对疫情所引发的经济混乱做出有效反应?如何评价社会组织整体对抗疫作出的的贡献?政社合作的效果如何?最关键的是,与以往的危机相比,社会组织这次的抗疫表现是否体现出行业的发展与进步?

To this end, opinion remains divided. No doubt, social organizations helped to address service gaps that stemmed from successive lockdowns. In the face of overcrowded hospitals, the NCP nCov Life Support Network launched, allowing 400 volunteer healthcare professionals to provide virtual medical consultations, grief counselling and social support to thousands of residents. By January 25th, a volunteer foundation in Hubei Province’s Xiaogan city established an impressive 91 contact points within the province to distribute medical supplies. These volunteer-run platforms for resource procurement and distribution take on an international dimension as Chinese organizations receive — and later donate — medical supplies overseas. Beyond Hubei, volunteer associations mobilised residents to enforce lockdown regulations and see to community needs. Fei Xiaojing, co-founder of Impact Hub Shanghai, observed that these social initiatives were predominantly ground-up in nature, citing instances of WeChat support groups for pregnant women and the elderly.

即使行业内部的意见存在分歧,毋庸置疑,社会组织在疫情造成服务缺口的局面下作出了巨大贡献。面对医院人满为患的情况,NCP新冠生命支援网络的设置促使400名志愿医疗专业人员为数千名居民提供医疗咨询、哀伤辅导和关怀服务。1月25日后,湖北的孝感义工联合会展现出令人赞叹的效率,在全省一共召集了91个联络机构来分发医疗用品。这些由志愿者运营的资源采购和分配平台具有一定的国际性,因为它们作为国内组织从海外接收医疗用品并随后将其捐赠。在湖北之外,各区的志愿者协会动员居民执行禁闭条例,并关照社区需求。影响力工厂(Impact Hub 上海)联合创始人费晓静指出,这些社会动态具有自下而上的性质,当中也包括各别专门帮助孕妇与老年人的微信群。

Volunteers delivering food supplies to workers involved in the construction of temporary hospitals in Ezhou city, Hubei Province. 志愿者在湖北省鄂州市为参与临时医院建设的工人运送食品。
Photo credit: Reuters

Despite these displays of initiative, others maintain that the sector’s overall performance fell below expectations, in terms of both scale and substance. For one, organizational participation was low — philanthropic researcher Yan Jiawei estimated that just 10% of Shanghai’s 17,000 social organizations were involved in COVID-19 efforts. Hao Nan, NCP’s founder and a key philanthropist since the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, added that for most long-standing, formal social organizations, service delivery was conducted no more professionally than the volunteer networks that formed spontaneously during the epidemic. Volunteers even appeared to harness technology more constructively and creatively than the formalized social organizations. 

尽管上述组织的确反映了主动性,其他观察者们依旧主张行业的整体表现无论是在范围或是素质方面都低于预期。一方面,社会组织的参与率偏低。公益研究者闫加伟估计,在上海的1万7千所社会组织当中,只有10%左右加入抗疫活动。NCP平台创办人郝南自2008年的汶川地震就已经积极投入于公益活动,他也赞同以上观察。郝南透露,诸多常设的正式社会组织在服务交付方面的专业水平竟然等同于疫情下自发形成的志愿者网络,后者甚至在互联网使用方面具有更加突出的创新能力与运用效果。

Volunteer relief workers from Jilin Province at the Sichuan earthquake disaster zone in 2008. The 8.0-magnitude quake was arguably China’s worst natural disaster in four decades, spurring an outpour of philanthropic activity and the growth of China’s social sector. 
2008年四川地震灾区,来自吉林省的志愿者救援人员。这场8.0级地震被普遍认定为中国40年来最严重的自然灾害,同时也是公益活动以及中国社会组织发展的催化剂。
Photo credit: Tencent Jinri Huati

There are those who also feel that coordination within social organizations could be improved. According to Hao, foundations mostly remained in the “upstream” segment of the fight against COVID-19, namely by approving grants and disbursing funds to “downstream” front-liners including hospitals and social workers. Without in-house capabilities to evaluate the needs of affected areas, many foundations effectively approved grants and projects with a limited understanding of what front-liners needed. In fact, Hao further contends that contributions from China’s foundations were generally too little and too late – out of billions of RMB in public donations, foundations only accounted for “millions” in funding. 

其次,也有专业人士认为抗疫协同工作有待改善郝南声称,国内基金会大致上的职责仍然仅限于抗疫工作中较为舒适的“上游”部分,即纯粹针对前线医护人员和社工筹资拨款。这些基金会由于内部缺乏探明疫区状态的评估能力,所以往往仅凭其对前线需要的有限理解就批准赠款和项目。郝南甚至认为,国内基金会的捐款数额一般太少,而且过于滞后——在数十亿元的公共捐款中,源于基金会的资助也许只有数百万元不到。

As for the sector’s partnerships with local governments, Wang Jun, deputy secretary-general of the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation, remarked that joint efforts between state and society to combat COVID-19 were “not as smooth” as what transpired following the 2013 Ya’an earthquake in Sichuan Province. This time, social organizations mainly relied on their existing networks to make an impact. Hao finds this problematic. By failing to organize themselves to collectively engage authorities and medical equipment suppliers, social organizations are less able to outline concerns over crisis management and resource procurement respectively. 

对于社会组织与地方政府的合作关系,中国扶贫基金会副秘书长王军表示,国家和社会在疫情局面下的协同关系并不像2013年雅安地震那样“通畅“。这一次,社会组织主要依靠现有的网络来发挥作用。郝南则认为该现象是存在问题的。社会组织未能联合起来与官方机构和医疗设备供应商进行集体谈判,所以在针对危机管理以及物资采购方面的表达能力就难免受到制约。

However, the sector’s performance should also be judged based on the circumstances surrounding the sector’s operating environment, in addition to the fact that COVID-19 is wholly unlike previous humanitarian emergencies in China. 

然而,在判断社会组织整体业绩的过程中,有必要考虑到两方面的因素。其一包含社会组织所属的经营环境,其二是疫情与中国以往灾难的结构性区别。

First and foremost, engagement works both ways — as lockdowns were successively imposed, local governments barely made any institutional arrangements for social organizations to get involved. When Shanghai came under lockdown, authorities issued documents permitting workers in essential businesses to leave their homes. However, neither similar provisions, nor general support measures,were extended to social organizations. 

首先,必须认同政府与社会组织之间的协同合作关系是双向的。在各地区相继封锁的过程中,地方政府几乎没有为社会组织提供任何参与抗疫的制度安排。上海市在封锁期间,市政府通过发布“白名单”来选择性地允许特定行业的员工进出社区,但社会组织不曾享有类似规定与一般性的支持措施。

It did not help that much uncertainty surrounded the nature of COVID-19, with experts only confirming human-to-human transmission on January 20. Answers as to how long the virus stayed on surfaces and how it transmits, amongst other details, came much later. Although the Chinese Association of Social Workers released guidelines to help social workers better support epidemic prevention, few social organizations possessed the technical expertise to contribute in the initial weeks of the outbreak, or to confidently do so without risking public health. After all, the social sector’s experience in relief work appears, till now, rather limited to natural disasters at home and abroad — the Sichuan earthquake of 2008, which claimed 78,000 lives, was widely regarded as the catalyst for the development of Chinese philanthropy to begin with. That year, charity donations tripled and 13 million volunteered

更何况,新冠肺炎病毒本身的不确定性也给社会工作带来了困难。中国国内的病毒专家仅在1月20日证实了病毒人传人的可能性,而关于病毒的传播方式、在物体表面的存活期等信息均在一段时间后才能得出结论。尽管中国社会工作协会发布了指导社工如何支持防疫工作的资料,但很少有社会组织具备在疫情爆发初期就参与抗疫的技术专长,或具备信心能在不威胁到公众健康的前提下作出贡献。毕竟,似乎到目前为止,社会组织的救灾经验仅局限于国内外的自然灾害救济。夺去了7.8万人生命的2008年汶川大地震被广泛认为是中国社会组织发展的催化剂,那一年的慈善捐款出现两倍增长,抗震救灾的志愿者同时达到1300万名

Clearly, such large-scale mobilization cannot and should not be replicated amidst an epidemic, but the limited mobility of social organizations has its costs. It reduces governments’ abilities to mitigate the unintended effects of yidaoqie (undifferentiated; literally “one knife cuts all”) lockdown policies on vulnerable communities. In China’s case, a HIV-positive man had to make a desperate appeal on Weibo for his medication. In another case, a child with disabilities died alone after authorities moved the boy’s caregivers to a quarantine facility.

在疫情蔓延下复制这种大规模的动员策略显然是不妥当的,但社会组织成员的有限流动有其代价。具体来说,政府所采取的抗疫措施难免都会带有“一刀切”的色彩,其抗疫政策无意中对某些弱势群体产生了负面影响。社会组织若是受到了约束,它们便无法有效扮演缓解这一负面影响的角色。以中国为例,一名艾滋病患者迫不得已通过微博呼吁民众为自己派送药物治疗。在另一个案例中,一名残疾儿童在地方政府将其看护人转移到隔离所后独自死亡。

Perhaps China’s experience with COVID-19 helps to make the case for governments to designate roles for the social sector at various stages of national crises, or to grant social organizations a seat in every crisis task force. Spurned by a series of charity-related scandals that eroded public trust in social organizations — the most notorious being the Guo Meimei incident of 2011 — recent policy developments have already allowed China’s government to exercise greater oversight over philanthropic activities. Observers argue that the effects of these new laws have been mixed. 

或许中国的抗疫经验有助于政府在国家危机的各个阶段为社会部门指定角色,或者在危机工作组中给社会组织一个席位。但由于一系列涉及公益资金的丑闻侵蚀了社会组织的公信力(比如臭名昭著的2011年“郭美美事件”),国内近几年的政策发展导致政府对慈善活动的更广泛监督。鉴于此,观察者认为新法规的效果好坏参半。

However, as Hao and leaders of several foundations imply, China’s social sector is not without agency. To be taken seriously by the state, the sector ought to carve out a role for itself. Initiative, professionalization and capacity-building are thus essential. For example, Fei posits that social organizations can move to address the mental health needs of a nation emerging from lockdown. Some are already doing so. Indeed, as China grapples with economic recovery and the psycho-social effects of an epidemic, there is still work to be done. 

然而,正如郝南与几家基金会管理层所暗示的,中国的社会组织并非身不由己,反而蕴含着一定的能动性。为了获取政府的重视,社会组织应当为自己划分角色。在这个意义上,发挥组织的主动性、逐步推动专业化以及持续能力建设的相关工作至关重要。例如,费晓静认为,社会组织在当前国内的局势下能够尝试主动满足刚刚摆脱封闭状态的民众的心理健康需求。有的机构的确已经开始投入于类似工作。事实上,中国在应对疫情所导致的经济复苏与社会影响上仍任重道远。

Phyllis Brown is reporting from Singapore.

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