October 4, 2009

Social Economy 101 – China

Filed under: social economy 101 — benmetz @ 11:06 am

Here’s part five of my social economy 101 series, this time taking a look at China.   Substantive interest in the social economy from the Chinese people and government as well as from international NGO’s means this is an area to watch.  The sheer size of the country and the speed at which development takes place means social enterprise could well go to a scale not yet seen elsewhere incredibly quickly..!  Thanks goes to Nick Temple at SSE for the contents of his brain and connectivity!

The emerging social economy in China

The idea of the social economy was introduced to China some four or five years ago, predominantly through academic institutions studying the phenomenon in other parts of the world and bringing the concept to China through a series of theoretical studies.

While interest at this theoretical level is building there is little social economy activity happening on the ground.  Barriers identified, as part of these academic studies, include lack of funding and financing for NGO expansion into trading activity, lack of professionalism and business acumen in existing NGO’s, legislative and regulatory barriers to development and a lack of innovative, trading based solutions and thinking across the sector.

Definitions of social enterprise and the social economy are still uncertain for many commentators in China and a clear view has yet to be reached as to whether the social economy is something that sits firmly in the NGO world or whether it is a phenomenon that is driven by for profit business seeking to make social returns as part of their core offering.  This debate and clarification is not helped by the fact that the Chinese terms for “corporate social responsibility” and “social enterprise” contain the same words but in reverse order!

With Chinese government shifting from control oriented administration to a service oriented one the opportunity is developing for social economy organisations to deliver public services.  If realised this may stimulate the professionalisation and transformation of civil society to a more enterprising and competitive model, although it is too early to call this at present.

Clearly, with a country of such size and development trajectory starting to take a real interest in social enterprise the potential for the sectors development is off the scale.  However financing of these potential developments as well as government intervention and control pose significant potential barriers to the sectors growth.

The British Council is funding pilot activity around development of key social economy functions in China as well as across SE Asia.  Of note is their funding to the School for Social Entrepreneurs.  SSE co-designed a short programme (with other UK / Chinese agencies involved) for social entrepreneurs. This ran in Beijing and is now being rolled out in the tier two cities.

A precursor to this work was the British Council funded and recently completed Young Foundation led work to stimulate social innovation in China, which directly led to this new British Council focus on social entrepreneurship.

There are very few funders in China with a remit to support social economy activity.  A notable recent development is the start up of the China Social Entrepreneur Fund that describes itself as a “comprehensive platform for entrepreneurs to do philanthropy, a professional institute providing enterprises with comprehensive, complete, multi-level and tailor-made public interest and philanthropic plans, and a supportive strategic partner for enterprises to implement the plans”.  The English language website is still under construction so it is impossible at this point to ascertain how much of this ambitious vision is being tackled.

A number of Venture Philanthropy funds are getting started in China including the Lenovo VP fund and dedicated funds being developed by The Narada Foundation and The Asia Foundation.  Interest in VP as a method of third sector development is clearly taking root in China.

Ashoka is just getting established in China and has recently appointed a country director, Patrick Cheung.  The office is in start up and fundraising phase and has yet to commence any support activity.



  1. Hi Ben – nice round up. Not quite right about our work in China. SSE co-designed a short programme (with other UK / Chinese agencies involved) for social entrepreneurs. This ran in Beijing, and is now, as you say, being rolled out in the tier two cities.

    We are hoping to get the full, one-year SSE programme up and running with a chosen franchisee at some point soon.

    Comment by Nick Temple — October 4, 2009 @ 5:58 pm

  2. Oh – and the link to us doesn’t work ;0)

    Comment by Nick Temple — October 4, 2009 @ 5:59 pm

    • thanks for the clarification nick – will adjust now. and yes – one of the links to you doenst work. have tried to fix. first glitch i’ve had using wordpress

      Comment by benmetz — October 4, 2009 @ 6:04 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: