More than 150 million rural Chinese residents have migrated to China’s booming cities in search of work, in what is often referred to as the largest human migration in history. These rural-to-urban migrants are one of the most vulnerable populations in China’s cities. Due to China’s...

Catalysing China's Nascent Charitable Sector

More than 150 million rural Chinese residents have migrated to China’s booming cities in search of work, in what is often referred to as the largest human migration in history. These rural-to-urban migrants are one of the most vulnerable populations in China’s cities. Due to China’s residence permit laws, rural-to-urban migrants are unable to benefit from social services and their children often face challenges in accessing quality education, the key to a brighter future in China’s extremely competitive academic environment.

The US $1,087,406 China Migrant Initiative was designed to address the challenges that rural-to-urban migrants face in Beijing communities. The overall objective was to equip migrants with the training, resources, and opportunities they need to overcome poverty and to succeed in an increasingly competitive academic and professional landscape.


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Strategic Initiative

SECTOR

Economic Empowerment

TOTAL INVESTMENT

US$ 1,087,406

LOCATION

China

LIVES CHANGED

8,231

SOCIAL IMPACT INDEX

52.7 (out of 100)

AVERAGE COST PER LIFE

US$ 132.11

Expand All

SI Breakdown:

Key Achievements

  • Tens of thousands of migrants reached – Combined, the education and economic empowerment projects funded through this Initiative benefitted more than 29,000 migrants (8,231 directly and 20,985 indirectly).
  • Models replicated in other Chinese cities – Three organisations in the Initiative have taken their unique models, piloted in Beijing, and replicated them in the cities of Shanghai, Chongqing, and Chengdu.
  • Influence on government policies – The pioneering organisations that make up this Initiative and their programmes are having an influence on local and even national rural-to-urban migrant policies, shaping the development of China’s civil society.
  • Vocational training results in improved income – 4,395 migrants have received vocational training, most of whom have been placed in or found jobs. Increased income from those jobs has changed the circumstances of many families.
  • After-school programmes – 1,758 primary school-aged migrant children benefitted from after-school programmes.

The Problem

More than 150 million rural Chinese residents have migrated to China’s booming cities in search of work, in what is often referred to as the largest human migration in history. These rural-to-urban migrants are one of the most vulnerable populations in China’s cities. Migrants take on mainly “3-D” jobs – jobs that are demanding, dirty and dangerous. Most migrant labourers earn an average monthly income of ¥ 966 (US $120), just 20 percent of the average for Beijing residents. They live in slum neighbourhoods and often face discrimination. Beijing’s migrant population – more than three million migrant workers and about 400,000 migrant children – accounts for nearly a quarter of the city’s population.

Due to China’s residence permit laws, rural-to-urban migrants are unable to benefit from social services and their children often face challenges in accessing quality education, the key to a brighter future in China’s extremely competitive academic environment. The permit restrictions and unreasonably low wages are obstacles that prevent migrants and their children from accessing the prosperity ladder.

Solution

The US $1,087,406 China Migrant Initiative was designed to address the challenges that rural-to-urban migrants face in Beijing communities. Because China’s NGO sector is very young, the Initiative worked with four community-based organisations (CBOs) which were relatively inexperienced but had demonstrated both effectiveness and the ability to innovate. The overall objective was to equip migrants with the training, resources and opportunities they need to overcome poverty and to succeed in an increasingly competitive academic and professional landscape. In order to achieve this goal, the four CBOs piloted several new programmes aimed at providing children with adequate and affordable education and migrant men and women with job skills and viable job opportunities. The education and vocational training programmes were expected to directly benefit over 8,200 lives.

Critical Analysis

The huge influx of people migrating from rural areas to China's booming coastal cities in search of a brighter future is shaping China in the 21st century. With an increasingly prosperous urban middle class, creating economic opportunities for rural migrants is important to maintaining social stability. The China Migrant Initiative helped address this challenge in Beijing by providing vocational training, benefiting more than 8,200 migrants and their families over three years, as well as helping thousands of children of migrants improve their chances of success in the classroom and in life. Perhaps the greatest – and hardest to quantify – aspect of this Initiative is the funding of pilot programmatic models that have been successful and that are now being replicated in other Chinese cities.

The programmes that comprise this Legatum Foundation-funded Initiative are truly pioneering. They are at the forefront of work with migrant communities and of developing civil society within the Chinese context. These organisations accomplished the following through the Initiative: opening low-cost private schools for children of migrants; creating hundreds of jobs for vulnerable migrant women; drawing the attention of the central government through education and vocational training programmes; helping to create a community of practice among organisations working with migrants across China; providing vocational training to blind adults; and offering training that imbues a new sense of dignity by raising the confidence of migrants who are often discriminated against and treated as second-class citizens in the cities where they work.

The Initiative exceeded its original granting strategy goal of reaching over 8,000 migrants. However, through active portfolio management over three years, grants were expected to reach a revised goal of over 9,100 people. Challenges faced by two vocational training programmes meant that the Initiative’s final results were 90 percent of the revised figure. This is not surprising, however, given that almost every project in the Initiative was a learn-as-you-go pilot or the expansion of a project with only a few years of experience and as social sector pioneers, these organisations had few models from which to draw experience. By the examples their programmes provide and through carefully nurtured relationships with national, provincial and local government bodies, these organisations have raised awareness of the social needs of migrants and are helping to influence the Chinese central government’s migrant policies.

Lessons Learned

Successes:

Pioneering pilot programmes prove replicable – The programmes funded by the Legatum Foundation were successful, pioneering pilot programmes ready for expansion. Funding has allowed programmes to scale up, attracting greater attention and additional sources of funding. Three programmes funded as part of this Initiative have proven to be replicable models and are now being reproduced in other cities with other donor funding.

Chinese government support – Three of the four programmes – Xin Zhi Guan, China Children and Teenagers Fund, and Compassion for Migrant Children – are now well connected with national government bodies and are influencing the national government’s approach to migrant issues.

Model volunteering programme – Compassion for Migrant Children’s system of training and involving volunteers is a model for NGOs in a nation where volunteerism is a new concept. Compassion for Migrant Children recruits college student volunteers, who work in after-school programmes and on Super Saturdays, helping children with homework and providing positive role models. The hope is that – in a country where volunteerism is virtually non-existent – if young people can become exposed to the idea of service, they will develop an interest and remain committed to social work for the rest of their lives.

Challenges:

Little interaction between organisations – The nascent state of civil society organisations in China, a lack of trust within the culture, and an entrepreneurial go-it-alone spirit have hindered efforts to develop a community of practice among organisations in this Initiative. As a result, sharing of lessons learned, resources and good practice is more limited than is ideal. Better networking of NGOs in the early stages of civil society development in China could accelerate the growth of effective organisations, prevent unnecessary duplication of efforts and reduce time spent by different organisations ‘reinventing the wheel.’

Pioneering work comes with unique challenges – A lack of existing resources and infrastructure to address migrant issues forces partners to invest energy and time in blazing the trail themselves. Although to be expected in a pioneer setting, it does contribute to fatigue and staff turnover. In the case of Compassion for Migrant Children, their vocational training pilot was not able to reach as many migrants as expected due to a slower than expected ramp-up phase.

Cultural differences – Significant differences in attitudes and worldviews between migrants who were raised in Beijing and those who grew up in the countryside have created challenges for designing and implementing life skills and vocational training for young adults. Beijing-raised migrant children have higher, often unrealistic, career expectations given their low educational levels. While recent arrivals may be satisfied with training that equips them to work at a retail shop – a big step up from menial labour – Beijing-raised migrants are less satisfied, and instead want a job that affords the high standard of living they see many Beijing residents enjoying.

China Migrants: Featured Projects

SII ScoreProject NameGrantLives ChangedCost Per LifeSector
57.00 China Children and Teenager’s Fund (CCTF)$467,4003,174$147.26
54.00 Compassion for Migrant Children (CMC)$208,4902,207$94.47
50.40 Xin Zhi Guan (formerly Xingzhi School)$306,5162,650$115.67
49.40 Bright Angel Fund$105,000200$525.00
Note: The Social Impact Index Score reflects the relative social impact of a given development project. The lowest possible score is 20; the highest possible score is 100.

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