Connecting Local and Global: Oxfam Hong Kong’s Strategy in Mainland China

Authors: Zhu Zhaonan; Liu Jiajun; Ye Li


Oxfam is an international confederation of 19 affiliates, with an aim to work together for greater impact on the international stage to reduce poverty and injustice. The name ’Oxfam’ is derived from the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief founded in Britain in 1942. Oxfam works together with partners and local communities in more than 90 countries to combat poverty and provide relief support. It implements long-term development programs in vulnerable communities. It is also part of a global movement, campaigning with others to end unfair trade rules, demand better health and education services for all, and to combat climate change.

   Oxfam Hong Kong (OHK) is an important member of Oxfam international[1]. OHK was founded in 1976 when a group of volunteers came together to open Oxfam second-hand shops in Hong Kong to raise funds for poverty alleviation work around the world. In the 1970s and 1980s, the initial work of Oxfam Hong Kong included advocating for justice to assist Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong at that time, and reaching out to famine victims in Ethiopia.

   Mainland China is a priority area of Oxfam Hong Kong. About half of OHK’s project expenditures are in Mainland China. OHK implemented the first Mainland China program in Guangdong province in 1987. The Oxfam China Development Fund was subsequently established in 1992. [2]Since then, OHK have been dedicated to fighting poverty and responding to emergencies in the Mainland. OHK’s projects include comprehensive rural development, disaster relief and reconstruction, basic education, urban livelihoods, gender and social organization development. By March 2018, Oxfam has carried out more than 3,500 disaster relief and poverty alleviation development projects in 31 provinces, cities and regions in the country for 31 years, with a total investment of more than 1.4 billion Hong Kong dollars. It has benefited more than 13.28 million people and the beneficiary groups are mainly included poor farmers, ethnic minorities, women and children, migrant workers, and people living with HIV. (Oxfam Hong Kong, 2018)

   Oxfam Hong Kong’s projects in Mainland China are coordinated by headquarter in Hong Kong. The Mainland China teams work with local partners to ensure that poverty alleviation and development work is effectively implemented in accordance with national conditions and social conditions. 

   In April 2016, a new Law on the Management of the Domestic Activities of Foreign Non-governmental Organizations in China has been enacted, which strengthened regulation of foreign nonprofits in China. According to the law, all the overseas NGOs must to registration and be regulated by the Ministry of Public Security. In addition, the foreign nonprofits need to find a professional supervisory unit if they want to establish an office (Sidel, 2019). Due to many years close relationship with Chinese government and great contribution for China’s poverty alleviation, OHK’s three offices in Mainland China all got certificate of registration in 2017. 

   Oxfam Hong Kong has made great contribution and got trust both by government and local community. This essay will describe the specific actions of OHK in China, and identify the successful experience of OHK. We focus on three questions as below:

(1)What are OHK’s action strategy and program approach in mainland China? 

(2)How did OHK interaction with other stakeholders in mainland China? 

(3)What are the influences of OHK in mainland China? 

[1] Oxfam HK is an independent nonprofit organization which registered in Hong Kong. 

[2] Oxfam HK established four offices in Mainland in Kunming, Beijing, Lanzhou and Chengdu since 1992 without registration officially. Chengdu office has closed in 2013.

Analytical Framework: Connecting Local and Global

Two Approaches: Top-down and Bottom-up

The connection between the local and the global have been enhanced by INGOs (Zunz, 2014). Due to mistrusting bureaucratic government in developing countries, the philanthropies began to support local community and local NGOs directly in the 1980s. “The strong ideological belief in the power of community has become the new orthodoxy in international aid circles as key figures in development (Zunz, 2014, p.279)”. This movement be called “maximum feasible participation” which aims to provide support and resource to disadvantaged communities directly while bypassing local government (Zunz, 2014). Inspired by this idea, more and more INGOs have bet much of their resources on empowering local communities and nurturing grassroots organizations from up to bottom. 

   Some researchers have pointed out that local knowledge is important for an effective development program. Lacking of specific information on local communities’ social, political and economic circumstance is a major barrier for many INGOs (Saovana-Spriggs & O’Collins, 2002). As a result, some INGOs employed bottom-up strategies to response complicated development problems in community. 

OHK’s Strategy and Program Approach

In order to achieve the mission of poverty alleviation and rural development, OHK combined the top-down and bottom-up approaches together, integrating different actions at local level, national level and international level in mainland China. 

   First, at the international level, OHK pay attention to advocacy and campaigns in collaboration with other INGOs and international institutions. It is a response to humanitarian campaigns to help people with their lives by implementing public education, which the initial target about why Oxfam existence. Second, at the national level, Oxfam respects the domestic policies of China. The campaigns and advocacy based on civic and social conditions, which help local citizens and governments accept them. Third, at the local level, OHK focus on program implementation.

   In addition, OHK in mainland China paid much attention to build partnership with government in different levels, instead of Gates Foundation’s strategy of bypassing government in India (Zunz, 2014). Just as Zunz (2014, p.293) “a strong civil society only exists in the context of a reliable state…returning them (government) to their proper role remains a challenge that global philanthropy cannot ignore in our new century.”

Case Analysis: OHK’s Specific Actions in Mainland China

Poverty Reduction through Development Projects

Rural development is the most important part of OHK’s work in mainland China. OHK have established offices in Yunnan and Gansu provinces in order to conduct rural development program in Southwest and Northwest China. OHK’s rural development programs have three major aims: first, it aims to improve the livelihoods of poor and disaster-prone communities; second, it also aims to empower the communities and enhance their organizing ability; third, OHK strives to influence government to improve and implement related policies. (OHK Reports: Rural Development Program Brief).

   OHK has developed a sustainable village development model based on many years work in rural area, including nurturing community organizations, supporting industry in rural area, and mobilizing resource worldwide. “Talented and Skilled Rural Women Program” is a very successful case in Shanxi province. OHK team helped a group of women in Miaodi village revival the local intangible cultural heritage, wheat straw knitting, and get income through e-commerce platform. OHK cooperate with a local women development NGO to supported women leaders in Miaodi village to set up the Wheat Straw Knitting Cooperative and help them to open up market channels. In addition, OHK trained women leaders to raise fund by themselves from other foundations. The income of women in the cooperative five-fold in four years. 

   OHK also partnered with various government departments to implement community-driven development projects. In 2006, OHK singed a collaboration agreement with Poverty relief office of the state council. According to the agreement, OHK provide 4,262,000 dollars every year for poverty reduction program in mainland China, and government will support these programs and match other resources. After that, OHK signed a collaboration agreement with the Yunnan Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development in 2007, which created a collaboration relationship with different level government in Yunnan province. 

   Align with the increase of China’s international influence in the world, China’s poverty reduction achievement has been reorganized by international society. OHK is playing an important role to share China’s successful experience and lessons with the other countries. Just as the director of OHK said on the World Philanthropy Forum, “Oxfam Hong Kong participant global climate and unequal development positively, and we got many praise worldwide.”OHK’s poverty relief approach provide a framework for other countries and areas.

Basic Education Program in China

Basic education program is a major part of OHK’s work in mainland China. The basic education program’s geographic focus includes Guizhou, Gansu, Yunnan provinces and Beijing. Equality and quality are at the heart of OHK’s basic education program. Through pilot projects, capacity building, policy research and advocacy, OHK strives to promote equal access to quality compulsory basic education for vulnerable groups in the western region.

   The main goal of Oxfam’s basic education program is to ensure that the poor people have an access to fair and high-quality basic education services. Through cooperation with government educational departments, pilots in Guizhou, Gansu, Yunnan, Qinghai, Beijing and other provinces and cities have been implemented to carry out projects such as schooling assistance, volunteer support, teacher training, rural curriculum development, bilingual teaching, and education for children of migrant workers. It is significant to explore and promote the experience model of education for children of migrant workers in the western region, promote balanced development of education, and formulate and implement multiple cultural quality education in accordance with China local conditions.

   At the local level, the major brilliant benefit of OHK is providing equal education opportunities for migrant children. Since 2006, OHK has supported the Lanzhou Chongde Cultural Services Center’s non-profit kindergarten. It mainly helps low-income families that are unable to send their children to public kindergartens due to stringent admission requirements or to private kindergartens because of expensive tuition fees. Through this initiative, the Center pioneered a model for community organizations to provide non-profit pre-school education in Lanzhou. Up to now, the Center has helped over 1,000 migrant children gain access to formal pre-school education. It has also nurtured a group of teachers and parents, thereby increasing support for the Center’s services. With its growing influence and social recognition, the Center has also set up a voluntary service platform. Furthermore, the model of “NGO setting up non-profit kindergarten” has been promoted and replicated this initiative in neighboring areas.

   OHK made great efforts on policy advocacy in national level related to domestic policies in China and achieved many goals. In 2012, through the endeavors of OHK and other actors, the State Council issued a policy document entitled “Opinions on Regulating Public School Mapping Restructure in Rural Areas”, which suspended the indiscriminating closing down and merging of rural public schools. At the same year, the OHK Multi-grade Teaching Model was incorporated into the National Teachers Training Scheme by the Education Office of Gansu Province. Oxfam allocated US$3.76 million to its Basic Education Program between April 2014 and March 2016. Based on gross counting, the following are some key outputs and outcomes of OHK from 2010 to 2018: 187,809 direct beneficiaries, 4868 school benefited, 1053 volunteers, 34 seminars and salons and 117 publications and research. (Year Book of OHK, 2010-2018)

   Oxfam also play an important role in world basic education development. For instance, China’s Education Blue Book published by the 2lst Century Education Research Institute with OHK’s support-was ranked third among China s Paper Series and was translated into English in the Netherlands in 2010. In addition, the project “Innovative Multi-grade Teaching Model” implemented by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Gansu Province with OHK’s support won the UNESCO Award for Educational Innovation in 2012.

Empowering Domestic Worker

According to conservative estimates in 2013, there were about 21.62 million domestic workers in mainland China. Domestic workers are the subgroup who are discrimination and labor rights violations because of traditional beliefs regarding domestic work and inadequacies in the legal system. Thus Oxfam Hong Kong(OHK) held Urban Livelihood Program to empowering informal workers and advocating for their rights.

   OHK made a lot of effort to protect domestic workers right in mainland China from 2004-2015. They held their activities among several cities in mainland China, like XI’an, Jinan and Beijing. We can specifically find that OHK applied three approaches to empower domestic workers in mainland China. First, they build a mutual support network among domestic workers to strengthen their capacity to protect their rights. OHK gave domestic workers a chance to training and service provision, as well as an opportunity of sharing leadership roles, which fostered mutual support among domestic workers. For instance, they also raise the awareness of the public to recognize the value of domestic worker through public education. OHK try to increase public awareness of think highly of domestic workers through thematic activities, dramas and press release. Further, OHK also worked with NGOs and academics to advocate for legislation and policy changes to improve legal protection for domestic workers. Finally, OHK also made an effort to enhance the capacity of their local partners through funds staff training and nurture new NGO partners. Apart from cooperating with experienced NGO, OHK also loves to accompany the latest organization to grow.

   From the strategies mentioned above, there is a positive effect that can analyze from three perspectives. From a personal perspective, domestic workers not only enhance their skills but also raise their awareness of their legal rights. Between 2001 and 2015, around 7000 to 10000 domestic workers were reached annually through outreach and publicity activities in the community. Since 2004, the Gichon Centre has provided computer training sessions to over 500 local workers, English classes to 100 participants, and other kinds of training and seminars than 5000 people. It give domestic workers more confidence and courage in their lives. From a society perspective, a lot of unions and mutual support networks are built to provide a base environment for domestic workers. In September 2004, the first trade union of domestic workers independent of domestic service companies in mainland china was established, which named Xi’an domestic workers union. Through the trade union, domestic workers learn to solve problems through this union, which can better protect their rights. This union also try to seek resource to provide better service for domestic workers. Building a mutual support network also bring significant influence.  OHK not only provide partner’s activities and services, as well as training core members to share their learned knowledge. And it is also draw government attention. Policies to protect domestic worker are considerate into government agenda, and standardized employment contracts for domestic workers in Beijing enforced. OHK used various means to give voice to the needs of domestic workers community and emphasis the need for legislation that protect their rights. By 2011, a recommendation in ‘Chongqing Domestic Service Sector Management Ordinance’ was scheduled to be considered as part of the Ministry of Human Resource and Social Security and Ministry of commerce’s policy plans. It is a sign of government begin to considerate domestic workers right.

   The program held by OHK give good experience for the future NGO. Not only focus on promotion of self – consciousness, but also used operational strategies. 


Combined the top-down and bottom-up approaches together, OHK integrated different actions at local level, national level and international level in mainland China. OHK’s success in mainland China mainly due to its good partnership with government, focus on real community needs and provide solutions for complicate social problems. Align with China’s increasing international influence in the world, OHK will take a leading role in global development area, sharing it experience with other INGOs. 


  1. Information department of Oxfam Hongkong (2010-2018, December). 
  2. Year Book of Oxfam Hongkong. Retrieved from
  3. Oxfam Hongkong (2018, June). About Us World without Poverty. Retrieved from
  4. Sidel, M. (2019). Managing the Foreign: The Drive to Securitize Foreign Nonprofit and Foundation Management in China. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 30(4), 664–677.
  5. Saovana-Spriggs & O’Collins,(2002). Insider/outsider perspectives on local-level aid to Bougainville and Papua New Guinea: Dilemmas for communities, NGOs and donors. Development Bulletin,61(5), 73-78.
  6. Zunz, O. (2014). Philanthropy in America: A History.

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