Working with social enterprises: building a non-profit philanthropy innovation study association in China
Professor Zhang Yuanfeng, Zhongnan University of Economics and Law (Visiting Professor, School for Business and Society)
This workshop (involving a lecture and group participation) will explore the lessons learnt from my experience (as a University academic) in helping to develop a non-profit philanthropy research association - Hubei Philanthropy Innovation Study Association (HPISA) in China. My hope is that my experience will provide helpful tips for early career (and established) researchers seeking to develop engagement and knowledge transfer activities linked to their research. It will also offer useful pointers for researchers interested in the Chinese policy context, specifically in the area of social enterprise.
In recent years, China has experienced an associational revolution, with the number of non-profit organisations reaching 902,000 in 2021 (second only to the US). Non-profit organisations (social enterprises) are legally classified into three categories: social associations, social service institutions, and foundations. The Chinese government has adopted a targeted strategy to oversee this change with social service institutions being most strongly favoured. Accordingly, the growth rate of these social service institutions (currently over half a million) has exceeded that of other associations. Nevertheless, it is still difficult to establish a ‘society’ in China and register it at the provincial administration. With this in mind, HPISA was formed by a leading social activist and university professor (myself), with broad local membership and a ‘professional management unit’ to support the development of new social enterprises in the Hubei province of central China.
HPISA follows a model that is now common in China, known as the ‘dual registration system’. This model stipulates that new nonprofit organisations should be registered and supported both by the local government authority and (non-government) social enterprises/networks such as HPSIA. However, while the literature understands this work, we still know very little about the activities of social entrepreneurs themselves, including university academics, in this process.
In this workshop, I will recount my own experience as a founder member of HPISA and explore some of the benefits and risks of this initiative going forward. I find that the dual management system has increased the transaction costs for nonprofit organisations. Social entrepreneurs not only need to spend a long time building their social and political reputation, but also must win the high trust of the decision makers of the professional management unit and the registration administration. However, despite the high start-up costs, the trust established during the founding stage seems to bring more resources and opportunities for the newly formed HPISA by integrating it into a larger social network. I will reflect on this experience, on my specific role as an academic and on what other colleagues interested in helping to stimulate social enterprises, both in China and more generally, can learn from it.
Professor Ian Kirkpatrick