Launching the Project Information Disclosure Index in China

This article is based on an August 29, 2013 story in the Beijing Times, which featured Xiao Rong, Give2Asia Country Representative for China, and Cheng Gang, President of the China Foundation Center.

In the last year, approximately 74 percent of Chinese foundations have publicly released information on their projects and donations though China Foundation Center’s Foundation Transparency Index (FTI). Initially, this seems to be a large conscription for the new program; however, 70 percent of project information disclosed by those foundations reads “like a riddle,” according to the Beijing Times.

The quality of publicly available foundation information in China is an important factor in reviving public trust in charities, which has decreased significantly in past years due to high-profile corruption cases. In an interview with the Beijing Times, Xiao Rong, Give2Asia Country Representative for China, said the lack of trust is like a tumor that is growing and detrimental to the healthy development of philanthropy in China. To remove the tumor it is necessary to be open and transparent, says Xiao Rong.

“Reading the information [on FTI], you still don’t know if the projects are good and whether they were well-implemented or not. Nor are you able to make a judgment on the authenticity and effectiveness of the projects,” said Xiao Rong.

In May, Xiao Rong approached Cheng Gang, President of China Foundation Center (CFC), to propose a program similar to FTI that would provide transparent information on project procedures, effectiveness and outcomes – the Project Information Disclosure Index (PIDI). Currently, the majority of the 1,648 foundations reporting on FTI disclose only project names, locations and rough expenditure figures.

PIDI, which began development in August 2013 with a $150,000 grant from Give2Asia to CFC, is expected to launch publicly in 2014.

One challenge according to Xiao Rong and Cheng Gang is that while foundations are legally required to disclose donor and grant information publicly, these regulations lack specificity and clarity.

Xu Jianzhong, Deputy Director of Social Welfare and Charities Department in the Ministry of Civil Affairs, said that there was no provision stating how information about philanthropic and charitable projects should be disclosed.

On the one hand, the government has no such regulations; on the other hand, there is not a strong willingness from philanthropic and charitable organizations to disclose their information, according to Xu Jianzhong.

Other challenges include ensuring the privacy of beneficiaries and controlling the cost in staff time and resources for publicly disclosing the details of every project.

Both Xiao Rong and Cheng Gang believe disclosing project information through PIDI is integral to regaining the public trust in the philanthropic and charitable sectors, and to combating corruption in the future.

“I hope that each philanthropic project in China can be effective in reaching its primary goals and in its use of funds and resources, including time and labor costs,” said Xiao Rong.

“There is still a long way to go in China,” added the Beijing Times.