Saturday, May 24, 2008

Earthquake's wider impact

Everyone is talking about the earthquake; the media is blanketed with it, Chinese people are all continuing to fund raise, bloggers discuss the most and least generous celebrity/company/entrepreneur etc, volunteers pile in to help, charities organise fundraiser events, Foreign governments donate supplies (the country has run out of tents!) and everyone competes to donate even more.

For those westerners here, we have been eagerly anticipating the Olympics, not because of the sports but because of everything else that it will affect. Now we have the earthquake and the impact is incredible -the Olympics will be boring in comparison.

Every company is competing who can donate more and employees donate more and more by the day, government departments set a mandated minimum donation from public servants, companies that do not loudly say how much they have donated run the risk of being boycotted (and many have, e.g. McDonalds branches being forced to print flyers saying how much they donated, as customers were concerned they had not). Will it affect all the other causes that need money? Will businesses do anything above and beyond cash donations?

The whole country has learnt what a charity/NGO is and they are, for the first time, not only being motivated (by media, peer pressure, guilt etc) to help, have found a way to help by donating..and there are plenty who can afford to donate. The amounts are staggering. Will it kick start the charity sector in China? Will it kick start a new conscience amongst the urban rich?

During the 3 minute silence the country came to a standstill and made a noise, during the 3 days of mourning it was so intense websites literally stopped publishing any non-earthquake news, some people were beaten up for celebrating a birthday party and you were unpatriotic if you did not buy a flag, a sticker and a 'I love China' t-shirt. Great that the patriotism was no longer channeled against Westerners (because we all, of course, want to split China up) and was just a solidarity thing for those affected. Will this last or will the patriotism quickly turn anti-someone else? Will it be noted that foreigners living here donated so much and that foreign aid has come from other governments or will that be swallowed up in the media? Will the fact that Taiwan provided experts be the start of some closer collaboration between the two?

As there are so few charities in China; especially few that are allowed to fundraise and are capable of managing such amounts of money, all the corporate, foreign, individual donations have all gone to just 3 or 4 organisations. Whether they will be transparent with their spending is one issue; another is whether they will sub-contract to local charities, who are always desperate for funding, yet another is will all the other charities who are piling in to the affected areas to help (from other regions in China) mark a step growth in the scale and capacity of the sector in China?

Unfortunately a second outlet for people's desire to help has been through flying or driving to Sichuan to volunteer. The result is scary. Even without the volunteers the army themselves lacked equipment and training. The volunteers blocked the roads, used up scarce water and food, got in the way and most of all, did not even realise they were making things worse not better. Most just ended up taking photos and showing all their friends back home. Some did this because they could not find anything productive to do; others actually went to the affected area with the objective of taking photos and showing off how they 'helped'. Will this lead to a huge increase in volunteering in China and will charities improve their abilities to manage such volunteers? Is it just a skin-deep act of showing off and will put all charities off using volunteers & all true volunteers from volunteering?

There are so many aspects to the impact of this earthquake to keep everyone talking. For many Chinese though, they are starting to get fed up of the horror and the depressing images. Outside of China everyone compares the relatively efficient government response to the Americans' mess-up in New Orleans and the Burmese Generals selfishness and evilness; Charities fear they cannot raise more money for Burma as the media has such poor access to the country there are few images/updates available on the news; Corporations admit China's market is just a little more important than Burma's (hence their massive donations to China in comparison) despite the lack of domestic funding resources in Burma compared to China.

Plan is doing something and I will share details of that later for those interested. In the meantime is the place to go for updates. I was actually in the air when the earthquake struck, on my was to Bangkok for a 2 day work trip (followed by a few days holiday in Malaysia), and just got back on Tuesday night to the furore, here in Shanghai (Olympic torch was in town, so everyone was super-patriotic!)


At 1:28 pm, Blogger huang said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 1:36 pm, Blogger huang said...

I agree with u. There are a few of charities in China and it's hard for them to make everything transparent, especially the spending of the money transparent to the public. But They really did a lot of work in this issue and does help. One of my friend works in Chinese Red Cross who is responsible for the reveiving and transporting the donated tents sent from all over the world to the earthquake areas. But only this job makes him work more than 12 hours per day,continuously for nearly a month. He is always wakened up by the midnight call,demanding the statistic data of how many tents collected or sent.
What i want to say is, every Chinese tried their best to help, no matter the government or NGOs or individuals. That's enough.Also thanks to the international aids, as they offered us some new angle of views on dealing with the sudden disasters.The earthquake is a historic issue indicating Chinese national cohesion,just happened before the Olympics.


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