10,000 Specks of Light: Can Microgrants Promote Volunteerism and NGO Development in Urban China?
van der Mersch, Stephan
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Despite rapid and drastic economic transformation in contemporary China, civil society remains largely weak. The echoes of totalitarian Communism and present-day authoritarianism have undermined the development of strong civil associations. My main research question is whether microgrants can be used in China to promote volunteerism and non-governmental organization development in urban areas. That is, can grants of $50-$500 encourage greater volunteer activity and help form non-governmental organizations? Like wildly successful microlending programs, a microgrant program has the theoretical potential to unleash a large amount of human energy with a small amount of capital. I hypothesize that if an effective advertising and distribution method can be worked out, microgrants can fulfill their theoretical potential. My research will consists of interviews and case studies. I am securing interviews with the leading foreigners involved in civil society promotion in China, as well as Chinese with insight into this issue. I also plan to fund four to five microgrant targets as case studies, to track them and determine what challenges a microgrant program must overcome to be effective. The planned output of my research is three-part: a paper discussing the challenges and opportunities for a microgrant program in China, a detailed policy proposal for the implementation of a microgrant program, and a paper presenting descriptive data on Chinese urban volunteerism and small-scale NGOs.