University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy & Practice Launches Penn-China Civil Society Initiative

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Media Contact:Jill DiSanto-Haines | | 215-898-4820July 14, 2010

The University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy & Practice has launched the Penn-China Civil Society Initiative, a program to assist the budding non-governmental sector in China.

Dean Richard J. Gelles signed a memorandum of understanding with officials from the Beijing Normal University One Foundation Philanthropic Research Institute, agreeing that the School of Social Policy & Practice will serve as a collaborative advisor in developing China’s NGO and philanthropy sector.

“This is a historic moment for the nonprofit, civil society sector in China, “ Gelles said.  “Moreover, it’s another way that our School embraces the Penn Compact.  We’re integrating knowledge among the disciplines to strengthen our global engagement.”

The agreement between the two universities promotes the development of collaborative training programs, along with international scholarly communication and cooperation.  It encourages professors and researchers to host international exchanges, research projects, lectures and other activities. 

“NGOs are essential in addressing social problems in China, but there’s a divide.  Some officials believe NGOs are needed, while others see NGOs as a source of potential problems,” Gelles said.  “NGO development in China lags behind the country’s rapid economic growth. In addition, China has experienced unprecedented philanthropic activity after the earthquake in 2008 and the Olympics in Beijing.  Now, it’s just a matter of how to channel those philanthropic dollars to make the strongest, long-term impact, and this agreement is the first step in structuring the development of NGOs there.”

The memorandum also calls for creating joint-research publications on the philanthropic sector, surveying the state of Chinese philanthropy, designing programs to improve the capacity of China’s philanthropic sector and developing professional standards.

The Penn-China Civil Society Initiative will be implemented during an 18-month timeframe, offering seminars in the U.S. and in China. The initiative will draw from expertise from schools across the University, including Wharton and Law, in addition to the School of Social Policy & Practice.

With private funding and a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, the vision of Tianxue Qiu, a 2009 School alumna who serves as a key advisor in developing the NGO sector, has turned into reality.  Qiu will serve as the project’s U.S.-based coordinator, housed at the School. 

The Henry Luce Foundation support will focus on promoting and influencing the regulation and legislation of the NGO sector in China.

Click here to see video from the signing of the memorandum of understanding between Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice and the Beijing Normal University One Foundation Philanthropic Research Institute.