Compared with Western counterparts, Chinese NGOs provide an alternative experience to Africa
○ More and more Chinese NGOs are working in Africa amid a wave of overseas expansion
○ Chinese NGOs operating in Africa face mistrust and lack of understanding from locals as well as competition from Western counterparts
Every year, Wang Ke, CEO of a Beijing-based communication company, spends a big chunk of his time and money in Zimbabwe. There, he holds another identity - founder of a Chinese NGO which is dedicated to preserving local wildlife as well as alleviating poverty.
Founded in 2015, Wang's NGO brings advanced equipment to the African country to monitor a vast wildlife park and help locals track down poachers.
"Many people criticize the Chinese for smuggling wildlife out of Africa. I want to prove to them that we do care about wildlife and can shoulder the responsibility to protect it," he told the Global Times.
"But while we are doing the good deeds there, we are still facing mistrust and lack of understanding both within and outside China, as well as competition from Western NGOs," he added.
Li Xiaoyun, a professor at China Agricultural University, told the Global Times that more and more Chinese NGOs are working in Africa and China is witnessing the third wave of overseas expansion which is led by NGOs.
"The overseas expansion of Chinese NGOs is an important part of globalization and it represents the third wave of China going global," he said. The first wave occurred between the 1950s and 1970s and was dominated by government actions to help "third world" countries. The second wave started in the 1980s when Chinese businesspeople began to go overseas, Li elaborated.
"In Africa where the government is weak, the position of NGOs is very important … Compared with Western NGOs, Chinese NGOs can provide a selective experience for Africa," he said.
Caught in the middle
In March, Deng Fei, founder of the "Free Lunch for Children" charity campaign, revealed on his Sina Weibo that the campaign was expanding to Africa. Its first 1 million yuan project was dedicated to children in Kenya. The campaign helps rural children avail healthy lunch.
While most of Deng's posts on Weibo have few comments, this particular post drew a lot of attention. Many Netizens argued why he was spending money on African children while many Chinese children were starving. Some even said that they wanted to withdraw their donations if the money was sent to Africa.
Deng responded to some of the comments, emphasizing that the domestic donations are used in China. The money for the African project comes from Beijing-based NGO Pearl Humanitarian Rescue Institution and in the future he will raise donations overseas to support projects outside China, he said.
Wang said that it's not uncommon to meet backlash from some Chinese people. "This can't be called a problem. The most important thing is you think clearly what you should and must do," he said.
Besides, Wang is also facing mistrust from African people and competition from some Western NGOs.
"Western NGOs have been active in Africa for decades, while we are newcomers. Some of them think we are there to undercut their work," said Wang.
Once, local authorities told Wang that a Western NGO had accused them of smuggling elephants to China in the name of protecting wildlife. That NGO even provided authorities a photo of Wang's plane. "The ironic thing is that the plane in their photo is too small for an elephant," he said.
Wang's team also has to overcome the mistrust of locals. Some of them told Wang directly that they thought his NGO won't stay there for a long time and was there just for "image promotion." Compared with Western NGOs, local people's recognition of Chinese NGOs is generally low, according to Wang.
This, he said, is due to a lack of understanding. The West had colonized Africa long ago and the locals are immersed in Western culture. "While many don't like the West, they still consider the West to be superior. In comparison, they have limited knowledge of China. So they hold a prudent attitude towards us," he said.