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President's views | China's all-out effort to alleviate poverty: Social milestones and basic challenges


China's achievements in fighting poverty are known all over the world. Since its social mechanism for fighting poverty was started in the 1980s, China has brought over 700 million of its rural population out of poverty, which account for a tenth of the global population. In 2013, General Secretary Xi Jinping specifically put forward the concept of "Alleviating Poverty with Precision" and laid down associated requirements accordingly. In the official report of the 19thNational Congress of the Communist Party of China, fighting or alleviating poverty with precision is further expounded systematically, and is treated as basic critical elements of China's strategy for fighting poverty. In recent months, an additional 26 counties formerly rated as poverty-stricken have gone through a series of assessments and examinations mandated by the state and gotten rid of the poverty-stricken label, the first time a large number of such counties had pulled off such a remarkable feat at one fell swoop in the country.

At present, the Chinese government is now implementing a major poverty alleviating social program, which has already made great progress. In fact, it is a poverty alleviating effort of global significance. Because despite all this progress there had been over 43 million poverty-stricken people in its rural areas by the end of 2016, China still faces daunting challenges as it works hard to fight poverty.

China contributes greatly to the world when it comes to alleviating poverty with precision

Not only is China the country that has brought the largest number of poor people out of poverty in the world, but it is the first country in the world to meet the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals. Since the 18thNational Congress of the Communist Party of China, China has so far lifted over 60 million of its population out of poverty permanently, averaging out to over 13 million people being brought out of poverty each year. As a result, the incidence of poverty has dropped to lower than 4% from 10.2%. At present, 26 poverty-stricken counties have gone through the assessments and examinations mandated by the state and gotten rid of the poverty-stricken label, the first time a large number of such counties had achieved such a remarkable feat at one fell swoop in China. All these remarkable achievements win the attention and approval of the international community.

In fighting poverty, China has based its effort on its actual situation and tackled its problems by employing a down-to-earth approach. In fact, China has already found its own unique path to success in alleviating poverty with precision thanks to many years of experience.

First, China places alleviating poverty with precision high on the party's and the state's agenda, and decides on an appropriate strategy that suits its situation. The strategic goal set for the broad effort to alleviate poverty at the 19thNational Congress of the Communist Party of China (or the 19thNational Party Congress for short) is to focus on longtime poverty-stricken areas and make sure that those people who live under China's current poverty level will be lifted out of poverty by 2020, that all poverty-stricken counties will have their poverty-stricken labels removed, and that the problem of rampant poverty in some regions will be truly solved.

This goal has in its sights such aspects of alleviating poverty with precision as critical areas, time, standards, and work, and suits the development needs of the country at the current stage. It is fair to say that after many years' work in fighting poverty, sufficient conditions already exist for China's poverty-stricken areas to come out of poverty. It is reasonable to expect that the strategic goal set for the work of alleviating poverty with precision at the 19thNational Party Congress can be achieved after a few years' great effort, if we build on our current progress.

Another thing China has learned in alleviating poverty with precision is that it needs to establish more systematic, more operable leadership and work systems. In fact, when it first began to fight poverty, the Chinese government set up criteria for national and provincial poverty-stricken counties and defined the management systems. The National Party Congress report further stipulates that the central government take overall responsibility for the poverty alleviating work and local governments take responsibility for the work assigned to them, that all forces of the society take part, and that in a government department the party and administrative boss take overall responsibility. In fact, the report has established a basic layout for the work of alleviating poverty with precision.

With respect to the work layout, China has chosen to adopt a large three-dimensional, online poverty alleviating layout, with a view to letting governments at each level taking the lead, and establish an east-west poverty alleviating collaboration mechanism. Advanced regions, including Beijing, Shanghai, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, and Guangdong, will undertake major tasks. Alleviating poverty with precision still needs the participation of various kinds of social organizations, which will promote the healthy social development of poverty-stricken areas. These measures are all based on past experience.

Moreover, deciding on a large layout and setting up an investment mechanism guarantee is another thing we have learned. China attaches as much importance to improving the mindset of poverty-stricken areas as to lifting them out of poverty. China uses a wide variety of ways to alleviate poverty, including making use of its wide range of industries and its social assistance and welfare mechanisms.

Such policy as alleviating poverty by engaging in industry and improving education and health is featured prominently in the poverty alleviating layout. These measures will perform well if they are combined with other livelihood and welfare enhancing measures, including the lowest livelihood guarantee system, medical assistance, new-generation rural medical cooperative system, education and welfare, social security, senior pensions, and safety nets for orphans and the disabled.

The key lies in the fact that not only is China's poverty alleviating work supported by the central treasury but also local and social capital is also mobilized to guarantee its success. In recent years, the central government has invested over RMB 1 trillion to alleviate poverty.

Social forces help the government fight poverty

To fight poverty effectively, it is necessary to enlist the help of the social forces. This is another thing we have learned from the work of alleviating poverty. The work of alleviating poverty, which began as early as the 1980s, particularly the effort to alleviate the poverty of targeted groups, not only represents its social nature, but also contains many welfare and philanthropic elements. In recent years, welfare and philanthropic organizations have started various kinds of poverty alleviating projects, thereby drawing attention from the public and encouraging the masses to participate in the efforts to alleviate poverty. In fact, such projects have become a platform and bridge by which private organizations and individuals participate in social activities.

As helpers in the government's effort to alleviate poverty, welfare and philanthropic organizations perform most prominently wherever precision needs improving and the government systems are insufficient. Government acts must conform to uniform standards while implementing standards normally help solve the problem as a whole. Many phenomena related to poverty, however, are complex and complicated and cannot be covered by a single standard.

At the same time, it takes some time and procedures to implement any policy; some poverty phenomena occur suddenly and by accident. For example, some of the expenses incurred as a result of seeking medical treatment for some dread disease fall outside the scope deemed reimbursable by the government, and emergency assistance is needed for a short period of time when such a disease strikes. Philanthropic organizations normally prove more effective in solving such problems.

Second, philanthropic organizations function more successfully when various kinds of poverty-related problems need solving, and social impact investment established. Enterprise innovation normally involves investment risks, which may be solved by seeking private equity and venture capital on the financial market. Social innovation also involves similar risks. For example, modern art, which may take some time for the public to appreciate, is of course something the government could not possibly invest in. In developed countries, philanthropic organizations have already explored all the aforementioned areas and had some success, and the government has proved willing to pay the bill. Alleviating poverty may involve improving the mindset of poverty-stricken areas, which demands social innovation. Philanthropic organizations can play a significant role in this respect.

Philanthropic organizations may even play the leading role in the field of social system construction. This is because philanthropic organizations have a wide social network. If such organizations establish contacts with poor villages, introduce philanthropic projects, start volunteer services, and form various kinds of partnerships, it is likely that an extensive, long-lasting social support system will form.

At the same time, alleviating poverty with precision will also bring philanthropic organizations new opportunities for development. Since the implementation of theCharity Law of the People's Republic of China, the entire society's philanthropic enthusiasm has soared to a record high. It is one of the major challenges of current philanthropic work to figure out how to match such enthusiasm with alleviating poverty with precision and make philanthropic acts more organized and larger in scale so that they possess the capability of solving many social problems. If by participating in alleviating poverty with precision, philanthropic projects may become firmly rooted in China's rural areas, it is possible that China's philanthropic organizations will transform themselves completely and improve their capability rapidly, thereby truly shouldering the historic mission assigned to them by the government and society. 

To give full play to its social function, philanthropic organizations have to form a benign interactive mechanism with the government. After many years' practice, the cooperation between the government and philanthropic organizations has gained a great deal of experience, which needs to be systematically summarized. In general, philanthropic organizations should take the initiative in joining the government's work platform, selecting advantageous projects, and forming complementary structural advantages, with a view to giving full play to their social function.

In the current era, when welfare and philanthropy and business blend with each other closely, China's work of alleviating poverty with precision will bring historic opportunities to the development of businesses. In many fields, like microfinance, harnessing sand, renewable energy, and environmental protection, businesses have already begun to be matched with projects for alleviating poverty with precision, and great achievements have already been made.

It has been learned by summarizing the experience of various areas that businesses may serve many functions in the effort to alleviate poverty with precision, including combining the solution of social problems with getting business returns; helping poverty-stricken areas run schools and helping poor families send their children to school and absorbing poor people into occupational training programs; giving medical assistance and funding the construction of hospitals; combining businesses with philanthropic organizations and innovating various ways of poverty alleviation.

In comparison, the practice of letting businesses help fight poverty still needs to be improved. If rich experience gained from impact investing can be introduced and the practice of letting businesses help fight poverty is combined with the state's universal financial and support policy, a new mode will be created for the practice of letting businesses help fight poverty.

Three major problems remain to be solved in fighting poverty

The cost of fighting poverty will increase as the fight lasts, and so will its difficulty. By the end of 2016, there had still been over 43 million poor people in Chinese rural areas. Three major problems remain to be solved before the goal of lifting all those who live under China's current poverty level out of poverty can be reached by 2020.

The first major problem is to figure out how to configure production factors. The basic goal of alleviating poverty is to make poor people become rich by working, which is just the hardest thing to do. How to discover, adjust, and configure the basic production factors that suit the characteristics of the locality according to market economy principles is a very complex system project, and it is necessary to rediscover the unique economic, cultural and social advantages of the poverty-stricken area and pay attention to cultivating special industries and industry chains.

At present, quite a few areas introduce tourism to poor rural areas, while some other areas adopt the "one product for one village" approach to development; microfinance service providers, led by CFPA Microfinance Management Co., Ltd., have already covered many poverty-stricken counties, and many large businesses and online traders have also joined in the effort to fight poverty there by making contributions in their respective areas of business. All these efforts must make more improvement in terms of communicating with poor families to be helped, and innovation is needed in all systems involved, which is a large challenge to tackle in the work of fighting poverty.

The second major problem is to improve living conditions. Many areas have begun to improve dilapidated farmhouses and improve poor people's living conditions and have made significant progress. But improving living conditions is a large social project and needs a deep understanding of the locality's culture and living habits and what matching infrastructure it needs. The building standards need to be standardized for such infrastructure, and so do how it should be used. Many cities have not been constructed perfectly in many respects, and this will affect how much the living conditions of the poverty-stricken areas there can be improved.

The third major problem is to establish social systems. Poverty-stricken areas are often rather remote and have poor transportation facilities and therefore lack interaction with the outside world. As a result, the social system there is rather closed. Changing poverty-stricken areas from closed ones into open, well-connected areas needs the work of a rather large social cultivation project.

After the Wenchuan Earthquake struck, a wide social network formed because a system was established where each province was assigned a county in Sichuan Province while some of those provinces then matched each of their cities and counties with a town or village in the county assigned to them. As a result, the effort to rebuild the disaster-stricken areas turned out to be a huge success.

Nowadays, many poverty-stricken areas are also similarly matched with supporters, which are not provinces or cities or towns but a wide range of organizations, including government departments and institutions and state-owned enterprises. There are only a small number of social organizations, however, and it remains a big challenge to establish contact between poor villages and the wider society.

To tackle the aforementioned major problems, the healthy development of the service sector of the economy, particularly the social service industry, is needed. In fighting poverty, the social service industry, which focuses on considerate service for humans, normally forms a mutually complementary relationship with the cities, thereby helping poverty-stricken areas give full play to their regional advantages. For example, the system of social workers for children, called the "Director of Children's Welfare" by peasants in poor villages, has already covered over 74,000 children in 120 villages in China, and what has learned from running the system is now being extended to other developed areas.

It is also possible to combine improving the living conditions of poverty-stricken areas with improving the skills of people there. At present, craftsmen are in demand everywhere in the society, and there is a shortage of labor for a great deal of work requiring skillful use of the hands, which is especially true in cities. If peasants in the poverty-stricken areas are trained so they master skills required for building various kinds of living facilities, it is possible to turn a large portion of the poor population into skilled craftsmen.

Moreover, it is necessary to develop socialized businesses so as to provide more social channels. The current wave of renewed interest in socialized businesses sweeping through the world views social problems as business opportunities and focuses on setting up nonprofit businesses. Socialized businesses are one of the most important carriers of the social bonds. If attention is paid to introducing fighting poverty, it is possible that social benefits may be felt in many respects.

System guarantees are needed to guard against false poverty alleviation

Alleviating poverty with precision needs openness and transparency. The central government has stressed many times that it is necessary to extend transparent, honest management to poverty alleviating funds and guard against all kinds of false poverty alleviation, including alleviating poverty only on paper. This is an important requirement laid down in response to issues spotted in some areas.

The central government demands that all poverty alleviation projects be based on the facts so that all the work is practical, all the processes are sound, and all results are real. If the aforementioned requirements are to be met, it is most important to comply with the central government's demands that the systems be modernized at grass-roots level, and build up a system that makes all forms of fraud impossible. This necessitates participation by the government, the village committee, and the philanthropic organization. In rural areas, self-government by villagers has been practiced for many years, and village officials who perform poorly or fraudulently are normally eliminated in the elections held every three years. It is necessary to combine this voting mechanism with the government's work deployment and the philanthropic organizations' participation. If peasants are treated as the subjects in fighting poverty, false poverty alleviation can be avoided.

Moreover, it is necessary to perfect the system of figure-based standards and indexes. To prevent some areas from increasing the poverty alleviating indexes step by step with the aim of showcasing their political achievements, those indexes found to be prone to unreasonable modification should be constantly improved. On principle, indexes should be operable, visible, and manageable on a regular basis, and be closely related to the life of the poor people, which will make it less insusceptible to fraud. Currently, many areas promote the practice of upgrading the management of public toilets so that a record is kept of such occasions as when the toilet is cleaned and when an inspector makes an inspection. A similar practice may be introduced into the management of poverty alleviation work.

Moreover, it is necessary to set up an open, transparent mechanism for ensuring proper supervision and accountability. The State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development once demanded that the new requirement that party discipline should be strictly tightened be applied to every link of the process of alleviating poverty, and that the government and social supervisory forces collaborate in establishing a strict, perfect supervisory, accountability mechanism. Any failure to offer help to the party assigned or fraud spotted with respect to poverty alleviating results will lead to strict disciplinary action, and all people involved will be held responsible for such failure or fraud and exposed if it is serious and has caused bad influence. All those who are found to have cheated by giving whitewashed figures or other fraud or have embezzled poverty alleviating funds will be severely punished.

It was stressed at a central government's meeting at some earlier time that poverty alleviating funds be transparently managed, and that a concerted effort be made to curb and root out crimes committed in the field of alleviating poverty so that whoever misappropriates, holds back, embezzles or wastes poverty alleviating funds will be severely punished. All these measures are meant to ensure by policy that the use of poverty alleviating funds will be effective and transparent and properly supervised.

Just as alleviating poverty is more complicated than giving some money to some people or running a business, making all associated work open and transparent is more than disclosing the accounts, because there must be subsequent estimates and comprehensive analysis afterward. This requires a sound examination and check procedure in place to prevent the effect of the work from being overlooked and avoid improper use of funds.

For example, the problem of false poverty alleviation may be minimized if representatives from the masses, from the village, and from the philanthropic organization are invited to participate in the design and management of poverty alleviating projects and discussions about them and administrative supervision is exercised from top to bottom.


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