Nestled in the heart of the old city, Gongyi Xintiandi is set to become Shanghai’s mecca of social enterprise.
Nestled in the heart of the old city, Gongyi Xintiandi is set to become Shanghai’s mecca of social enterprise. Originally home to the Shanghai Municipal Orphanage during the early part of the 20th century, the more than 23,000 square meters of buildings have been repurposed into something just as charitable. Part non-profit incubator, part retail, part community center, part public green space, Gongyi Xintiandi seeks to foster the growth of the social sector in Shanghai. It aims to do so by offering space for non-profit startups and established organizations to grow. Classes, ranging from financial management to strategic planning, will also be offered to Shanghai’s now disparate social enterprise community.
This past weekend, what many affectionately refer to as The Nest opened its doors to the public with a street fair centered around philanthropy. I was amazed at the number of people in attendance. It was also interesting to look at the various “vendors” promoting their goods and services. One assumes that the social sector in Shanghai is principally run by large government-backed organizations, often termed GONGOs, but what I saw belied this. Many one-person operations were there promoting their causes. In fact, most were smaller groups with close-knit ties to the local community. When we think of grassroots philanthropy, these definitely fit the bill.
Why is this newsworthy? The social sector is China is only in its infancy. It suffers, unfortunately, from turf wars and a lack of communication between groups. There is often duplication of efforts or wasted funds going to events and programs that never get an audience. The Nest project can hopefully alleviate some of these growing pains by creating a center of exchange. It also adds a level of credibility to the Shanghai social sector, particularly as The Nest has the backing of the Shanghai Government.
The hurdle now is to identify and convince Shanghai’s social sector to use the vast space. Currently, occupants include Solar Ear, Habitat for Humanity, Hackerspace Xin Che Jian and The Shanghai United Foundation. On opening weekend, the spaces were mostly deserted. Speaking with the project director of The Nest, she indicated a huge interest from local Chinese organizations. She did add the caveat that it would be critical to work with Shanghai’s large expat community and get them involved as well. The exchange of ideas, best practices and collaboration is sorely lacking in Shanghai’s social sector. Perhaps The Nest will serve as the catalyst for not only dynamic growth, but also a change in public perception, of the more altruistic professions.
More information about Gongyi Xintiandi is available here.