Ningxia charity programme improves prospects for disabled
Ningxia programme gives incentives to firms that do charitable work, and has led to more opportunities for workers with disabilities
Six years ago, when Su Xiaohong was just 19 years old, she lost most of her right arm in a Ningxia factory accident. Realising she had to earn a living, she got an artificial limb and took a less desirable job making toilet paper in Wuzhong city.
Today, however, she's serving happily as a personal secretary to the manager of a local halal food manufacturer, Jinrui Food. The manager, Yang Jinglan , also lost an arm in a factory accident and now employs several people with disabilities.
"I feel much better now that I have a decent job, and many of my co-workers also have body problems, so we understand and respect each other," Su said.
The factory, which produces, packages and sells more than 600 tonnes of Koran-compliant frozen food annually, is being held up as a showcase project for a high-profile government campaign to promote charity in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region , one of the mainland's poorest areas.
The Ningxia government says the programme of incentives, tax breaks and subsidies has since 2010 lifted more than one million of its residents - including some 420,000 disabled - out of poverty by encouraging more-inclusive hiring by companies.
With it, regional party secretary Zhang Yi has targeted six "charity valleys" in the poverty-stricken Yellow River basin, hoping businesses will engage in charitable works there.
Ningxia is hoping to help restore faith in mainland charities after numerous scandals and embezzlement cases. Charitable donations dropped 20 per cent nationwide last year after a young woman named Guo Meimei falsely claimed on her microblog to represent the Red Cross Society of China, and posted photographs of herself with designer handbags and luxury cars.
The Ningxia programme itself has not been without some failures. Spurred by the government's incentives, one poorly equipped bag factory hired a number of workers whose disabilities made it impossible for them to do the necessary labour.
But officials and regional business owners praised Ningxia's efforts as an innovative approach to a stubborn problem. Under it, an enterprise can be considered a "charitable business" if at least 15 per cent of its employees are disabled or it donates 5 per cent of its profits to one of several local-government-run charitable funds. Qualifying enterprises can access incentives, including tax rebates and lower rates for leasing land. Start-up companies can also apply for local government funds to help cover infrastructure costs.
"Disabled people have become especially precious here," said Yang Yulin , an official who works for the Lide Charity Industrial Zone in Wuzhong. "They used to be government's burden, but now the whole society is paying the bill to look after them."
The Wuzhong government had invested 50 million yuan (HK$61 million) in the industrial zone's infrastructure, hoping to attract entrepreneurs who were willing to "do good", Yang said. Some 37 companies have applied to enter the industrial zone, where they can use government workshops for up to 10 years before they have to start paying deferred rent.
A government analysis said the policy had successfully attracted several industrial projects to Wuzhong city, ranging from steel production to clothing manufacturing and facilities for well-known companies, like Shenhua and Sinopec.
Ningxia has yet to demonstrate whether such investments can have a lasting impact on the region's poverty problem, and questions remain about how the money raised will be spent. But the region has earned applause for encouraging giving in a country that does not have a deep-rooted culture of philanthropy.
The autonomous region saw 10 new foundations and 14 charity organisations set up last year, collecting a total of 450 million yuan, according to Wang Gang, deputy director of the Ningxia Civil Affairs Bureau. He did not provide details on how the money would be used.
Yang said cadres in Wuzhong were collecting donations for a charitable foundation run by a special committee under the city government. It aims to collect 910 million yuan by 2014.
"The foundation raised over 30 million yuan last year, with a major part coming from renowned companies all over the country, including state-owned power and tobacco companies," Yang said, adding that the special committee would decide what to spend the money on.
Acknowledging past scandals involving charities, Wang said the Ningxia government was committed to maintaining the integrity of its programme and would publish guidelines to ensure transparency.
"We hope the Ningxia campaign, on such a large scale, can actually boost the public's confidence in charity," he said.
Meanwhile, Su says that she is just pleased that she no longer has to work in a toilet paper factory.
"I'm lucky, for being able to have a normal job as a normal person," she said.