Amity Foundation goes Africa to Push the Local Development

By Huitan Xu, September 17, 2015 02:09 AM

Amity goes Africa

Vice Board Chair & General Secretary of the Amity Foundation Qiu Zhonghui believes that with the development of Africa, the whole world will begin getting better. And with the enhanced economic strength and arising international status, he thought, China should take responsibility of international humanitarianism and "pave the way to push for peaceful development of Africa" together with the international progressive force.

Eventually, that day comes.

On July 1, the Amity Foundation's Africa office was inaugurated and established in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethuopia. The center was established to promote friendship, cooperation and the sharing of resources between the people of China and Africa. Furthermore, Amity anticipates the Bible printing services to improve and to provide social development and social services for the people of Africa. The center includes the first coordinating office of a Chinese NGO and the first Amity Printing service center on the African Continent.

It is the first overseas office of a China non-governmental public welfare organization. Internationally, it is not special to establish overseas offices by an NGO but what Amity did is a historical breakthrough for China NGOs.

Right before, the newest version of The Development Report of China Charity pointed out that, at present, China foundation's plans to "step out" was still in the primary stages of exploring and experimental period. This basically belongs to a "Four NO" status: no fixed sources of funds, no fixed projects, no local employees, and no fixed office sites. Limited funds, lack of social consciousness, incomplete current policies and laws were the main realistic conditions that restricted China NGO"s deep internationalizations. This step that Amity has taken was the result of many years of preparations. "It was an important strategic option that was made by our institution after years full of deliberations, surveys and discussions," Qiu said, "It was not made in a hurry, not made for occasions, let alone for personal preferences. "

To him, walking into Africa was the "Experiment and pathfinding" they did to repay the constant strong supports from the international society in the past 30 years, "We should undertake more obligations. If it's unsuccessful, it shall offer experience and lessons to institution later on. "

Three years' surveys"On the African plateau, when you open up your eyes in the morning, you'll have the feeling like: Oh, I'm here, the place where I should be. " In 1914, the writer Isak Dinesen went to Kenya inEast Africa together with her husband. They ran a coffee farm and spent their legendary 17 years there.
On the plateau of East Africa, the scenery is strong and pure, life was primitive and warm, and all living creatures were persevering and bright. Dinesen spent a most beautiful time there and met with the most delicate emotions there. However, in 1931, she had to sell the farm and returned to Denmark.

To her, this was no worse than losing the paradise. Six years later, she wrote the monumental work, "Out of Africa" and returned to the vast and unrivalled land via the literal form. Thousands of readers, together with her, wandered and lingered on the land, and forgot to return.

"Africa has continued being the poorest continent so far. Nowadays, the World Bank defines the standard about poverty-stricken population is that the living expenses per capita per day is less than 1.25 USD. According to this standard, in 2010, there were about 4.14 hundred million of the population who lived in this standard and the population of Africa continues to grow rapidly, which had almost doubled in the past 20 years before 2010. "

Qiu Zhonghui believes that, "With the development of Africa, the whole world will begin getting better." And with the enhanced economic strength and arising international status, he thought, China should take responsibility of international humanitarianism and "pave the way to push the peaceful development of Africa" together with the international progressive force.

However, is establishing an overseas office in Africa and carrying out aid projects in compliance with Amity's missions and development goals? Is this keeping with national diplomatic strategies? Are the conditions and capacities mature enough? Which country should be chosen? How do you embark on routine operation and management? What project should be carried on so as to match self-specialties with local needs and produce practical long term social influence? How do you expand channels of funds to assure long term and favorable development?

Since as early as 3 years ago, Amity has embarked on thinking and discussing about all of those things. Amity built a special team and went on mission many times to different places in Africa to make field investigations. These places include Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, and Tanzania. And until the end of 2014, Amity finally chose Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, as its office of Africa.

"According to the statistics of 2010, there were about 22 million of the population who live below poverty-stricken line. This occupies 5.2% of the African poverty-stricken population. Ethiopia has a population of over 80 million and the poverty-stricken population in Ethiopia is more than 25%."

Besides that, there was strategic consideration. Qiu Zhonghui said, "Judging from the traffic, culture and history, Ethiopia can be called a portal to Africa. It has the center of African Union established in its capital. This was also one of the important reasons we chose it."

What's more important is that Ethiopia has friendly diplomatic relations with China. "You can find when you come to Ethiopia that there are lots of Chinese enterprises developing business there in the highways, railways, and various industry territories, as well as in lots of governmental cooperation," Qiu Zhonghui said, stating that this provided excellent opportunities for Amity to establish an overseas office there.

While proposing the scheme, Qiu resumed that it might be criticized by some directors, however, beyond his imagination, the directors soon came to an agreement unanimously.

Ten years of explorationInternationalization is not a new subject in Amity. "Amity has been connected with the international landscape since its establishment in 1985, because 98% of its capital came from overseas at that time," Qiu Zhonghui recalled Amity in the last 20 years has "special public welfare zones." He thought it was a different approach but had an equally satisfactory result in the special economic zones since the reform and openness has brought in international resources, technologies, missions, regulations and standards.

In the past two decades, Amity used its international funds to earn international experiences and to carry out mountains of poverty alleviation work in poor villages such as AIDS preventive treatments, orphan and poor children succor, environment protection, and so on. At the same time with "bring in, " Amity gradually set up an international network and trained and reserved a group of talented people who are proficient in English and familiar with international procedures and cooperation principles.

In its third decade, according to re-analysis and assessment of international social needs, Amity tried project innovations and started to carry out comprehensive services in some urban communities including home-based care for the aged, employment for the youth with intellectual disabilities, development for autistic children, and so on. During these procedures, the channels of contribution sources altered from overseas to domestic. As the structure of the contribution sources altered, Amity started to constitute new all-round international strategies.

"With the strong supports from the international society, we've achieved not only serving the domestic people but also continued developing ourselves," Qiu Zhonghui said, "Now, we think it is necessary to repay the international society and we think that the cycle of "bring in" to "step out" is actually an excellent way."

The China NGO occurred late. "Small quantities of people with weak voices and little strength" made them lag behind the current economic strength," Qiu Zhonghui said that this was also one of the inner-driving forces for Amity to explore the idea of "step out."

"That only the economy improved but soft power did not is not good." For this reason, apart from considering domestic services, Amity launched international aid practices, including actions for Africa famine, the project of Madagascar marsh gas development, the project of tying up with Watsi to cooperate on aids for international individual case, and so on.
However, no matter what, "bring in" or "step out", Amity persisted on the belief of learning and communicating from the beginning to the end. A righteous fundraising activity in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, which had been seen by Qiu Zhonghui was still in his mind. Ten thousands of people composed the righteousness team. Teachers took the students and parents led the children. With the traffic control throughout the road, all vehicles and passersby made way for them.
"The traffic has been delayed for hours totally, but I heard no horns and complaints," Qiu Zhonghui was touched deeply. "Africa lacks no spirit of public welfare which is a good thing that we need learn from them."
In 2013, Amity applied and obtained the special counselling position of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, which made preparations for establishing an oversea office of Africa take a step further.
"The main reason we established the office was to make the work not just float on the surface but to go deeply into local society by communicating more with the local civilians and cooperative institutions. We wanted to learn what they really need and empower them more to make them capable of developing on their own, but not simply accept succors or even alms, " Qiu Zhonghui said.
Long way to goAmity had been exploring for 10 years and preparing for 3 years, however, it took only less than 10 days to finally establish the office of Amity in Africa. "We handled the procedures via local international cooperative partners. For a while, they had been running back and forth among the different departments in the government building," said Qiu who indicated that the difficulties were not from Ethiopia, in which the procedures were handled efficiently and the amount of money needed was not large.
The difficulties were not mainly from current domestic policies or laws either, he said, "There was no legal regulations that banned charitable institutions from establishing offices in Africa. Besides, with the explicit fundamental policies of our government, there will not be any big problems with that.
As for the allocation of transnational funds, Qiu Zhonghui said, there was some difficulty, but they could be solved step by step via reporting as required and communicating proactively with all government-related departments. In the long term, what challenges Amity the most were the problems of routine operations in the office of Africa, project management and expanding its funds.
In 2013, China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation tried to establish an overseas office also but it keeps being postponed because of lack of sufficient financial support. It needed at least two or three hundred thousand yuan to make staff work and feel ease at the station. Zou Zhiqiang, Assistant to the Director of the  International Development Department of the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation said, "To an enterprise, two  or three hundred thousand yuan is really not a big deal, but to us, a charity institution, it is an enormous figure."
At present, Amity's office in Africa was rented and established in a Chinese hotel with four staff members, one of which is an Ethiopian student who once studied in China, one is a local Ethiopian staff member and one is an international volunteer. However, "With only by Amity's current capital and strength, it is not enough to support such an overseas office as far as in Africa, let alone there be a compulsory rule of Amity management regulations that the management expenses must not exceed 10%."
In addition, although the situation that non-governmental public welfare organizations are queried for taking part in international aids is getting better, the donation consciousness of domestic people is still weak as a whole. Qiu Zhonghui said, in Ethiopia, there are a great amount of transnational enterprises whose company names starts as "Chinese", but no one of them has been being willing to fund or donate to Amity's office of Africa so far." In this situation, Amity tried a new mode as "the two-wheel drive by social enterprises and public charity institutions," which supported the operation of the African office by setting up the Amity print service center in Africa. However, considering the unpredictable funds at present, the mode can only meet the requirements of some projects characterized by the short term, adaptable fund and quick result.
As far as we know, after the establishment of Amity's office in Africa, they will fund an orphanage in Kenya with their experience of long-term attentions to the special children, especially the orphans, in China. The director of the orphanage tells me that there are 126 children and dozens of teachers but the expenditures they need for one week is only 500 USD which is equal to less than 4,000 RMB
Qiu Zhonghui repeatedly said, "We expect to gain more supports from societies.  On one hand, the enterprise who has been out can think back on his development histories, understand and support the later coming China non-governmental public welfare organizations in participating in international affairs. And on the other hand, the governmental policies can be extended to further step and push the China non-governmental public welfare organizations to work on international aids better. Simultaneously, we expect more understanding and supports of the social public.
Qiu Zhonghui recognized clearly that to the new round of Amity's international strategies, the establishment of the African office was just a start. There is a long way to go yet the challenges and pressure have already been felt. 

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