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When a pandemic hits: How Chinese community foundations responded to COVID-19

A woman makes a contribution to the Lujiazui Community Foundation’s counter-pandemic fund while another woman looks on.

“When a pandemic hits: How Chinese community foundations responded to COVID-19” is reprinted from Global Fund Community Foundations.

When COVID-19 emerged in China, Chinese authorities took unprecedented measures to contain the virus. From mid-January, strict lockdowns were imposed across the country. Social organizations, including community foundations, were permitted to carry-out preventative measures in their local communities, and to work with other charities in this relief work—so long as these activities were not in conflict with any aspect of the government’s overarching counter-pandemic strategy or guidance.

We have almost recovered from the pandemic, though our counter-pandemic work continues. Communities continue to be at the heart of the fight against the virus, and the work of community foundations—particularly in their efforts to bring together diverse groups of actors as collective forces for good—has been critical and worth exploring further. At the Harmony Platform—a network dedicated to community foundation development in China which is the initiative of the Zhenro Foundation, Harmony Foundation, and the Narada Foundation—we are still observing and trying to understand the unique contributions of Chinese community foundations during the pandemic.

Community foundations spring into action—an overview

From the very outset of the pandemic in China, community foundations were mobilizing resources and their networks to support their communities, particularly those most in need. Generally, their pandemic response activities fell into five main areas:

  1. Providing supplies: Organizing donations of medical supplies and other essential items to frontline workers and vulnerable groups.
  2. Mobilizing resources: Establishing new charitable programmes and specific funds aimed at gathering donations and in-kind goods, particularly for individuals and families living in poverty.
  3. Encouraging volunteerism: Recruiting volunteers to assist on the frontlines of the fight against the virus.
  4. Protecting mental health: Organizing free, online psychological consultations for frontline workers, as well as any individuals struggling under the conditions of lockdown.
  5. Developing community governance plans: Partnering with community activists and local organizations to improve governance at the community level, ensuring that accurate messaging around public health and safety was disseminated.

Below, we offer a glimpse into the specific responses of nine community foundations in our network.

Beijing Anhe Community Foundation

Founded in 2016, the Beijing Anhe Community Foundation was established by a volunteer association on Anzhen Street. The foundation sees its role as bridging resources and needs, and it works to assist some of the most marginalized in its community: the elderly, individuals with disabilities, those living in poverty, etc. Specific COVID-19 responses included:

  • Online events: The foundation organized a range of topical online events for the local community during lockdown, including a webinar featuring tips on home schooling. It also offered free online sessions with psychologists and therapists for anyone who felt they needed support.
  • Together We Fight Against the Pandemic: The campaign raised 107,051 Yuan (just over $15,000 USD) from local organizations and individuals to support its anti-pandemic work on Anzhen Street. With the funds, the foundation was able to purchase essential supplies for community frontline workers.

Beijing Si Cheng Community Foundation

Collage of 7 people participating in the Beijing Si Cheng Community Foundation’s 20-Day boxing challenge.

The first community foundation in Beijing, the Beijing Si Cheng Community Foundation was established in 2015. Its COVID-19 response involved raising funds from a range of sources (companies, governments, social organizations, and individuals) to support a number of activities:

  • Essential supplies and support: The foundation donated 28 disinfectant machines, 2,000 bottles of disinfectants, milk, and anti-bacterial spray to various streets and local charities. It also made a small grant of 59,922 Yuan (nearly $8,500 USD) to the Beijing Fengcai Psychological Counselling Service Center to support its critical work during the pandemic.
  • Counselling hotline: In collaboration with the Beijing Maple Women’s Psychological Counselling Center, the foundation launched a crowdfunded project, Maple Listens to You. Individuals struggling with the stress of the pandemic could call into a hotline, which was staffed by experienced counselors who had previously assisted SARS patients and victims of the Wenchuan earthquake.
  • 20-Day boxing challenge: Working with other local partners, the foundation shared regular health and safety information during the lockdown. It also organized a 20-day boxing challenge.
  • It’s A Wonderful Life: This online campaign sought to shine a light on the brighter side of the lockdown period, and asked community members to share positive stories of how they had passed quarantine. The campaign also encouraged those at home to create poems, paintings, songs, etc. to express their gratitude to frontline medical workers, community workers and volunteers.

Shanghai Yangjing Community Foundation

Registered in 2013, the Shanghai Yangjing Community Foundation was able to mobilize funds and in-kind goods swiftly to respond to the pandemic:

  • Community counter-pandemic programme: The programme was quickly set up at the beginning of February and, by the end of the month, had raised 16,950 Yuan (approximately $2,400 USD) and collected goods worth 279,726 Yuan (just under $40,000 USD). This allowed the foundation to distribute more than 30,000 items of preventive equipment and materials to community health centres.
  • Mobilizing community volunteers: The foundation was also quick to establish a group of volunteers assisted with a range of activities during the lockdown, including translating government guidelines and news for non-Chinese-speaking residents, distributing flowers to female frontline workers on Women’s Day as a symbol of appreciation, and constructing makeshift tents to shelter volunteers and supplies intended for residents.

Lujiazui Community Foundation

Located in the Pudong New Area of Shanghai, the Lujiazui Community Foundation was founded in 2015. It responded to COVID-19 in a variety of ways:

  • Community counter-pandemic fund: The foundation launched the fund at the beginning of February which, by 13 March, had collected 362,271 Yuan (more than $51,000 USD). These funds were used to buy essential supplies and medical equipment for 31 communities in Lujiazui.
  • Translation: The foundation recruited four translation teams (English, Italian, Japanese and Korean) to keep non-Chinese-speaking residents up to date on the pandemic as it developed.
  • Help the Farmers: Many farmers from Hubei province chose to spend the lockdown period in Shanghai with families, but were reluctant to leave their farms unattended. Through remote negotiation, the foundation made agreements with village committees in Hubei, organizing volunteers to harvest and package vegetables from unattended farms in the region – a portion of which were donated to frontline workers.
  • Moral support for key workers: At the peak of the pandemic, the Shanghai East Hospital had sent many of their doctors and nurses to assist at medical facilities in Hubei. On 4 May, Chinese Youth Day, the foundation encouraged youth to submit paintings and other small works of art that responded to the theme Come on, My Hero. These were then sent to the doctors and nurses away from home in Hubei, along with small gifts.

Woman contributing to the Lujiazui Community Foundation’s counter-pandemic fund while another woman looks on.

Guangdong Shunde Community Foundation

Established in 2017 and active across the Guangdong Province, the Guangdong Shunde Community Foundation responded to the pandemic in several ways, focusing in particular on members of the community who were most isolated:

  • Food delivery: The foundation partnered with local village cafeterias to deliver food to vulnerable households—particularly the elderly—during the quarantine period.
  • Community counter-pandemic fund: Four foundations active in Guangdong, including the community foundation, jointly launched a counter-pandemic fund with an initial, pooled amount of 20,000,000 Yuan ($2,825,890 USD). The Guangdong Shunde Community Foundation alone rapidly disbursed 9,286,000 Yuan ($1,312,060 USD), funding 214 different community initiatives.
  • Anti-fraud campaign: The foundation raised awareness around new kinds of online fraud and scams that emerged during COVID-19, particularly targeted at the elderly, with tips and advice shared through WeChat.
  • One-on-one care for individuals with mental disabilities: The foundation supported a team of local community workers to visit members of the community with mental disabilities, to be a friendly face, provide updates on COVID-19 and check on any needs. 

Shekou Community Foundation

Founded in Nanshan District, Shenzhen in 2015, the foundation aims to build the capacities of local community organizations and to foster a culture of local giving. It responded to the pandemic in several ways:

  • Mutual-help campaign: The foundation launched a mutual-help campaign via an online fundraising platform, and within 40 days had raised 30,756 Yuan (just over $4,340 USD) from 228 individual donors. These funds were used to purchase 10,500 face masks and 720 bottles of disinfectant spray, which were distributed to traffic police, sanitation workers, street and community workers, nursing homes as well as vulnerable families.
  • Online courses and community building: A series of online courses were launched to keep residents entertained and engaged during the lockdown. One, for example, was on keeping indoor plants. Around 100 families participated who all received seeds so they could test out the techniques at home.

Harmony Community Foundation

The Harmony Community Foundation, the first organization in China with the words “community foundation” in its name, is active across Guangdong province. It quickly responded to the pandemic:

  • Counter-pandemic fund: The foundation launched the fund on 14 February, raising funds from the local community which were used to purchase N95 face masks for area hospitals where supplies were low. Disposable masks were also purchased and distributed to vulnerable groups as well as frontline workers in the Pearl River Delta.
  • Partnering with supermarkets: Together with the Zhenro Foundation and other philanthropic organizations active in Guangdong, the foundation worked with supermarkets in different cities to send food parcels to 174 frontline female community workers and volunteers.
  • Storytelling Relay: With the help of 143 volunteers, the foundation launched an online Storytelling Relay, which encouraged community members to upload short videos sharing their “quarantine stories”—what they did and how they felt during the lockdown period—onto an app. More than 1,000 people shared their stories, which were viewed more than 15,000 times.

Chengdu Luxelakes Community Development Foundation

The Chengdu Luxelakes Community Development Foundation was founded in 2019 in Sichuan Province. It responded to COVID-19 by providing essential supplies to key workers and developing creative ways to engage the community online:

  • Warm Our Society: A corporate donor set up a COVID-19 fund with the foundation. With the 1,000,000 Yuan contribution (just over $141,200 USD), volunteers distributed essential supplies to frontline workers and vulnerable families. In total they delivered 8,196 boxes of supplies to 49 communities and 4,098 workers.
  • Enjoy your quarantine: The foundation ran over 80 online events for more than 3,000 members of their community. This included readings, the What I Eat Every Day series, lessons on wardrobe organization, talk shows, lectures from artists, group singing sessions, etc. The foundation also funded the Xunlu Bookstore to build a Cloud Library so that residents could access books online.

Lixia Good Governance Philanthropic Development Center

The Center works in Jinan City, Shandong Province, supporting the development of social organizations in the Lixia District. Some of their COVID-19 response activities included:

  • Free insurance for frontline workers: In collaboration with the Shandong Counter-Epidemic Social Collaboration Network and Yibao, a social enterprise, the foundation launched a programme to purchase health insurance policies for all frontline community workers and volunteers.
  • Grants and other supports community organizations: In addition to its small grants programme, the Center launched two online courses during the quarantine period aimed at supporting its local community partners during the lockdown and in the longer term.

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