NGO Workshop Helps Solidify a Chinese Environmental Advocate’s Vision

February 2010

Zhou Xiang is the director of Green Anhui, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that has improved environmental protection in China’s Anhui Province by documenting illegal dumping, gathering citizen grievances, organizing petitions, providing environmental education and engaging in policy advocacy. To further his efforts, he has long wanted to develop a manual to help citizens respond to environmental disasters. He envisioned a resource that would provide critical information on reporting water pollution, suggest appropriate mechanisms in the absence of a governmental response, present tactics on working with the media and offer advice on seeking legal remedies.

NGO Workshop Helps Solidify a Chinese Environmental Advocate’s Vision

Following breakout discussions, a participant shares her group’s views on citizen advocacy on environmental health.

In mid-January, the two groups hosted a four-day workshop on citizen advocacy surrounding water and health in Beijing. The event gathered representatives from more than 20 Chinese NGOs, along with government officials, scholars, lawyers and activists. An ABA ROLI- and CANGO-developed reference manual for social policy advocacy on environmental health served as a basis for the workshop and was provided to participants.

The workshop featured both substantive presentations on issues surrounding policy advocacy and interactive sessions designed to facilitate peer-to-peer relationships. Experts presented on a variety of topics, including how local NGOs and civil society practitioners can influence and shape water policy and how NGOs can work with government entities and with scholars to exert greater influence in the policy-making process.

The event is timely, as NGOs and civil society are playing an increasingly prominent role in addressing China’s serious water scarcity and pollution problems, including their impact on health. Studies have shown that the majority of China’s cities have polluted groundwater, and that most of the country’s lakes, rivers and reservoirs are unfit for human use. This water pollution has a tremendous impact on the availability of safe drinking water and on public health.

Under these circumstances, Chinese citizens need organizations that can provide information about environmental laws and public participation outlets, monitor potential polluters and respond to citizen needs when water pollution disasters occur. As civil society in China continues to develop and political openings emerge, NGOs have a unique and powerful role to play in advocating for reforms that aim to prevent pollution and in protecting citizens’ health and rights in the event of a disaster.

A significant portion of the Beijing workshop was dedicated to identifying opportunities for NGOs to addressing these challenges, with participants suggesting ideas, discussing their feasibility and, ultimately, developing action plans for selected proposals. You can view presentations of selected proposals here.

After Zhou Xiang’s manual proposal was selected, he and other participants spent an afternoon developing an action plan, ultimately constructing a content outline and identifying potential partners for the project. During the last day of the event, representatives from the Society for Entrepreneurship and Ecology expressed an interest in funding the project. Zhou was ecstatic that his long-held hope to develop the manual was much closer to becoming a reality—thanks to the passion and ideas contributed by other workshop participants.

Several attendees expressed their appreciation for the workshop’s networking opportunities, which allowed for deeper understanding of the perspectives held by varying stakeholders. The workshop was part of a Rockefeller Brothers Fund-supported program to develop a social policy advocacy coalition in China. Future projects include providing technical and financial support for two NGO pilot projects in the area of environmental health advocacy.

Video Clips

VideoThis group uses a lively skit to present their action plan for cleaning up water pollution in rural areas. View Clip (06:02)

VideoA group that discussed strategies NGOs and citizens can use in response to water pollution incidents demonstrates how their action plan of developing a manual presenting such strategies could be used in practice. At the end of the video, one member recites a poem she wrote about their action plan. View Clip (09:32)

VideoA group that focused on strategies and approaches that NGOs and citizen activists can employ to influence policies presents their action plan by singing a song in a local dialect. View Clip (02:57)

VideoUsing a mock television program, this group presents their action plan for how NGOs can participate in the prevention and clean up of pollution by heavy metals. View Clip (09:09)

VideoA group that discussed how to make a documentary film about water and health in China presents their action plan through a role play demonstration of the making of the film. View Clip (11:26)

To learn more about our work in China, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at