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Social business: a new concept, new hope
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10:59, November 07, 2007

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Chinese experts and officials are considering a roadmap to developing "social business" in China on the basis of the experience of other countries like the UK.

A social business offers job opportunities to disadvantaged groups in society, such as the homeless and the disabled. This is still a new concept in China; and in fact, has only been in practice globally for about twenty years. This concept currently lacks legal definition.

In China, the idea did not arouse much attention when it was first introduced seven years ago. But now, after the central and Beijing local governments both sang its praises, the concept is regarded as an effort towards building a harmonious society. China and the UK are currently cooperating in this area. On October 31, experts, community workers, NGO representatives and government officials from China and the UK gathered in Beijing to discuss what China can learn from UK in regards to social business.

Speakers at the meeting reviewed their visit to the UK which was sponsored by the British Council two months ago. They visited six successful social businesses which operated in different ways and with the same purpose of helping those in need.

Mr. Robin Rickard, the British Council Director in Beijing, said the UK has the world's most successful and most active social business. More than 55, 000 social enterprises have not only significantly contributed to the economy but also, more importantly, to society.

China and the UK are also working together on the research of social business. The book, Social Enterprise Overview: A UK and China Perspective, was launched at the meeting. It is a reflection of the latest cooperative research by the British Council in China and the China Center for Comparative Politics & Economics, a research institute affiliated with the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau which translates and researches communist theories.

The British Council in China also redesigned its website on social innovation and launched it on November 1. Viewers can post comments on the website and upload case studies and experiences.

After reviewing the UK's history of developing social business, Mr. Ma Zhongliang, vice president of the Capital Institute of Social & Economic Development, said that the challenges in China – the masses of unemployed workers who were laid-off during the reform toward a market economy, the aging population, and the increasing welfare pressure on public financing – present a similar background for social business as that in the UK more than 10 years ago. So it makes sense to draw from the UK's experience.

Ma believed that China was "essentially ready" to engage in social business. When he proposed the idea in 2000, he did not get much response. "Back then, the timing was not right," he said, "but now everything is different."
He said existing business operations in non-profit organizations providing services to the needy serve as a foundation for social business. And he insisted that practice would improve conditions in the future.

Ma called for a change in the government's understanding of social welfare. He hoped that the government would support disadvantaged groups as a driving force for innovation, rather than only people who need special care.

Mr. Liu Zhenguo, an official with the State NGO Management Bureau, agreed that there was no need to "wait" for better conditions, as charities in China and alternative innovation methods have already made it possible to develop social business.

In his conclusive speech, Liu stressed that the UK's experience offered a "major concept;" and China should develop this in its own way rather than "copy" the UK's practice.

He also said that the integration of resources, especially non-market resources, would be essential to the success of social business. The government currently cannot offer tremendous financial support; and so it is particularly important for any social business to rally support from the community. What's more, innovation is necessary for the success of non-profit organizations.

He revealed that the government was already improving policies and mechanisms, innovation of the operation of non-profits organizations, and theoretical research to facilitate the development of social business.

By People's Daily Online

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