As someone who wants to be in the developing field, I have a respect for Acumen Fund’s work. Trying to allocate the money to those who work hard to eradicate poverty created a new trend in philanthropy, and I think it is a step in the right direction.
While I feel GlobalGiving is doing an amazing work providing small grassroots organizations a place to fundraise, I also feel the limit of charity. With charity, you cannot move a huge amount of capital (you can if you were a big charity, but most of them with strings attached).
At the same time, I am a little baffled by their presentation of “impact” on their website. Here are some of the things that are on my mind;
-Where IS the impact?
In all the portfolios, the impact is summarized in only a couple of sentences. Is there evaluation for the program? Did people benefit in the long run? Did they restore dignity, as the Fund’s mission statement? There is an in-depth case study paper by UMichigan, but it is not publicly accessible. Why aren’t they making it public? A couple of questions come to mind.
-And, where is the OVERALL impact?
According to their website, Acumen Fund invested $81 million to 72 social enterprises in 10 years. Awesome! Now, how many did they help to pull out of poverty? Did the communities’ income rise as a result of Acumen funded projects??
-Which method was more successful than others?
There are a several portfolios per area. Was there a better method than others? Is there a comparative study across cases/ countries?
The reason why I became such a doubter is because the new “elixir” of poverty reduction, which I wanted to get involved so badly, turned out to be not too effective.
Maybe all the questions are answered not on the website - maybe they are released to the investors. But if traditional aid was criticized for lack of transparency, I hope that Acumen will take another further step to disclosing the results of the enterprises as well.
I have no excuse for not writing a post for over a month. It’s been 3 weeks since I left China, and in a couple of hours I’m going back being a student again. China seems so far away now, but at the same time, I could imagine myself back in the enormous train station in Beijing, fighting my way to get a ticket. In any case, Charlene and I successfully left China without any big trouble.
In the last days that we were in Beijing, we had our last meeting at Beijing office of Gates Foundation. This meeting invited key non-profit players in Beijing, to discuss the possibility of collaborating with GlobalGiving and among each other to develop the non-profit sector in China. The discussion was interesting, because while all the participants agreed to collaborate with GlobalGiving, they were not willing to share information or resources among themselves. They argued that by sharing information, they would lose competitiveness in the sector, thus losing donation or funding.
This discussion was really interesting for me, because the outcome exactly matched my observations towards the Chinese people - they are super competitive. Of course there are competitive people everywhere in the world, but the competition is so visible in China. On the trains, supermarkets, cabs on the street - you had to fight for everything to get what you want, and when you got something, the reward was only for you and your family and friends. Being taught it is good to be “Always Open” - one of GlobalGiving’s mottos- the discussion in Gates Foundation reminded me there’s a huge difference in the cultures in the non-profit sectors of these two countries.
I would like to see how the non-profit sector that has so much to develop in China, becomes in a few years. Would it evolve like in the U.S., or would it turn into something completely different? We can only wait to find out.
"In China, everything is possible, but nothing comes easy."
— A meeting participant
One of the reasons why we are spending the latter half of the trip in Shanghai and Beijing is because we are doing some ground research on the Chinese non-profit sector. We have had two meetings a day every day since we arrived in Shanghai, meeting potential partners that could help GlobalGiving find awesome grassroots orgs. Thus, to attend these meetings, we took off our grimy pants and sneakers, replacing them with sweaters, dresses, and nice flats. The transition felt funny at first - I still kind of miss wearing my hat and sneakers, walking around in the remote villages. That being said, I can’t be happier to be at a place with A/C, Wi-Fi, and hot water!
One of the many things we found about the Chinese non-profit sector during our meetings is that the scene is kind of similar, yet very different from the U.S.’s. Many orgs we met said that the Chinese people are willing to give - but they don’t necessarily care how their money is handled. Once they give to a charity foundation, they don’t feel the need to be updated. Seems like the same could be said about domestic corporate donation also. At the same time, there is a huge lack of trust towards the Red Cross in China, and towards GONGOs (started by gov’t agencies).
Meanwhile, the government is loosening up their regulations for local NGOs (with the exception of intl orgs). Before, all NGOs had to register to a government agency, but in Beijing, Guangjhou, and Shanghai, there is a movement to not to require the registration with the agency. It seems like the sector is about to bloom- it’s an interesting time to be here if you wanted to start an NGO.
To be continued….