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Case Studies | CiYuan: Building Cross-Sector Partnerships to Enhance Social Investment in China

Publication Date

October 2012


CiYuan: Building Cross-Sector Partnerships to Enhance Social Investment in China

The Challenge

In China, economic growth is perpetuating a multitude of challenges, including a lack of human rights protection for migrant workers, environmental degradation, and income disparity—and government is not fully able to address these issues. There is an opportunity for civil society to fill these gaps, but without business’ help in strengthening the country’s nascent nonprofit sector, that progress has dramatically less potential.

BSR founded CiYuan to address the biggest barriers to the development of China’s nonprofit sector: limited strategic partnerships and opportunities for dialogue between nonprofits and business; a foundation sector with limited experience in partnering with and supporting grassroots organizations; a restrictive environment for nonprofit registration and fundraising; and weak governance and transparency, which generates a lack of public trust in nonprofits.

Our Strategy

In April 2010, we started our three-year CiYuan initiative (which is funded by the U.S. Department of Human Rights and Labor) by launching three main activities:

Improving NGO transparency

Our “Disclosure Guide for Charitable Organizations” helps nonprofits identify and communicate their information. We also trained more than 200 grassroots nonprofits to emphasize the rationale for disclosure and the steps to become more transparent. And we created an online giving platform for nonprofits to communicate their vision and attract online funding.

Supporting foundation development

We are providing foundations with international best practice and resources with tools such as our “Chinese Foundation and Development Handbook,” (PDF) which was distributed to 800 nonprofits to strengthen their operations. And we are going deeper with four foundations to create models for how to enhance support for grassroots organizations.

Building corporate-NGO partnerships

Through six diverse demonstration projects between companies and nonprofits, we are demonstrating different models for cross-sector collaboration. We are also providing training to more than 200 companies and NGOs, and we launched an awards program to raise awareness about the benefits of partnerships.

Our Impact

Since 2010, CiYuan has helped more than 460 nonprofit organizations enhance their transparency and develop effective partnerships with foundations and companies.

Our corporate-NGO demonstration pilots, case studies, and tools are providing companies and nonprofits with concrete examples of how to identify and assess potential partners and project opportunities, navigate partnership challenges, and evaluate partnership impact.

Our foundation handbook, the first of its kind in Chinese, provides Chinese foundations with a structured approach to operations, from registration and defining their mission to social impact measurement—a tool that can help more foundations in China flourish.

Lessons Learned

Through our experience working with global companies and global and regional NGOS, we identified many factors that can influence successful partnerships:

  • Level of ambition: The most effective partnerships require a greater commitment—and risk—than traditional philanthropy, and they have an equal potential for greater impact.
  • Alignment of vision: Programs need to be aligned with the company’s social investment strategy or link to its core business, and nonprofits need to focus on what they can deliver.
  • Mutual investments: Partners need to take time to understand and adapt to differences in organizational structures and working styles—and be flexible with goals and timeframes when priorities change.

For the remainder of the CiYuan initiative (which runs through February 2013), we will continue to work across these areas to build greater private-sector support for nonprofit development in China.

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