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/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/shanghai_skyline_300154.jpgIn a city of 23 million people, Shanghai is the largest city by population in the People’s Republic of China. A stark contrast to San Francisco and even more to Madison, where I grew up where the entire state of Wisconsin’s population is less than 6 million.

A surprisingly easily navigated city, Shanghai has a cosmopolitan feel. For centuries a major administrative, shipping, and trading town, Shanghai grew in importance in the 19th century due to European recognition of its favorable port location and economic potential. Today it’s a global city of influence, a mecca of commerce, culture, cuisine, finance, fashion and technology, and serves as China’s major financial center not to mention the busiest container port in the world.

The motivation for my visit was centered around the launch of the SAP Social Sabbatical – the first of its kind in China. But thanks to my gracious host, Bo-ning Yang who heads up Communications for SAP China, I was also afforded the opportunity to visit many of the non-profit organizations with which SAP works in China and learn more about the third sector and its evolution.

Portrayed by some as a “quiet revolution” the third sector in China began to emerge about thirty years ago when the government launched economic and political reforms. Today, there are more than 450,000 officially registered non-profit and an estimated eight to ten million small, local, grassroots un-registered social organizations that are typically volunteer run and focus primarily on recreation and entertainment.

While the majority of registered non-profits serve a public- or mutual-benefit purpose, they vary in the extent to which they are autonomous and /wp-content/uploads/2013/10/sppech_300148.jpgvoluntary. In fact, many non-profit organizations currently registered with Ministry of Civil Affairs are government-organized nongovernmental organizations. There is also an informal alternative for registration that is becoming increasingly popular which patronage/sponsorship in alignment with The Communist Youth League of China (CYL), municipal volunteer federation or hub-type government-organized nongovernmental organizations in major cities that recognize selected NPOs as affiliates as a quasi-governmental alternative to non-profit registration.

We had the opportunity to visit with Junior Achievement China organized under a patronage model and Youth Business China which until recently was aligned to the Communist Youth League of China and now is managed through a foundation under a patronage model. Both organizations support SAP’s Corporate Social Responsibility vision to enhance education and propel emerging entrepreneurship to create sustainable economic growth and job creation and we are proud to partner with them as well as with Bright China Foundation, China Youth Development Foundation, Youchen Foundation as well as our assignments for the Social Sabbatical.

In a world where by 2030 1 in 8 people living on the planet will reside in a major Chinese city, it is clear that private-public partnerships will be required to help solve complex social issues. No one actor can do it alone. We must work together operating against a shared vision with open communication to effectively move the needle. Every third sector model has benefits and challenges and none is perfect. In China, I believe this collective approach is an exciting possibility. It’s the only way we can effectively create change. In fact, it’s the only way we ever have.

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