Governance of NGOs and their Part in the Co-production of Public Services

China, 2007

The eye of the world is on China, immense “workshop of the globe”, the breathtaking growth of which stirs up admiration and anxiety in equal parts, in the West and beyond. But does the world really understand China and the deep shifts at work in its society? In 2006, the 6th plenary session of the 16th congress of the Communist Party called for the construction of a “more harmonious socialist society”; and yet, seen at close quarters, Chinese society seems riven with grave social conflicts, which frequently escalate into violence. What can be the part of “NGOs” in the quest for a new societal model and how much room for manoeuvre do they enjoy?

And the reverse is also true. For the way France – and more broadly Western Europe – is perceived on other continents is frequently rather crude. Dazzled by the glow of economic wealth, outside observers may not always pick up on the phenomena of financial insecurity and deprivation experienced here. And the reputation of our so-called European style welfare state all too easily detracts from the part played by associations and NGOs in the production of social services in Europe.

From the erstwhile Empire of the Middle to France, the role of nonstate actors in the organisation of society and in the production of general interest services counts indeed among the most relevant governance issues today. France has a long tradition of involving the third, non-trading sector in the provision of public services. China is an absolute beginner in this field. The confrontation, during the Beijing Forum, of practices on either side turned out to be a common necessity: for the fast-changing Chinese civil society and public authorities, the experience of French NGOs and associations is obviously a mine of useful lessons. But for the latter, there is no less to be gained from subjecting their often archaic practices to the scrutiny of Chinese partners seeking solutions applicable today to a society in the of throes a deep and swift evolution.