Apart from the free school lunch case, there have been more successful policy transformations recently, especially in the metropolis such as Beijing and Shanghai, “New metropolis” including Zhejiang Province and Jiangsu Province (Wang, 2017; China NPO, 2018). It is worth a deep analysis on how civil societies receive political attention, alter the policy agenda and keep informing the implementation and evaluation process. I try to sort these factors into three dimensions, namely the macro level of political context, median level of policy making mechanism and micro level of case specific.
4.1 Macro Political Context: The Ideology Acceptance of Neoliberalism
China has now taken many features of the neoliberal countries (). The rise of the NGO has taken place:
According to (Overseas Development Institute, 2006: 29~30).
It has been argued that the most effective policies those that directly affect personal well-being, are based on the results from quality studies (Ohemeng, 2015). However, the quality researchers in developing countries encounter many difficulties, ranging from lack of data to lack of capital. This does not stop the idea of “new public management” from spreading worldwide (Cairney, 2012). Hooghe and Marks (2004) reported that a survey of 75 developing countries suggests 63 have undergone a process of decentralization (H M)
a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well- being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets and free trade. Recent decades, China has been reaching out globally for social welfare and policy learning inspiration, and its search is constantly mediated by global policy actors. For instance, the Chinese pension system closely resembles the recommendations of the World Bank at the time, a fact which some have tracked to connections between World Bank staff and reform-minded Chinese officials (Frazier, 2010; Salditt et al., 2007). Unemployment insurance was set up after a Chinese review of the systems of more than 40 countries (Leung, 2005). The extension of social assistance certainly also falls in line with the global trend to extend assistance-like poverty schemes, as has been identified by, for example, Leisering (2010). Public Employment Service Centers for the unemployed were made nationwide policy in the beginning of the with its social welfare system (Hong and Kongshøj, 2014)
4.2 The mechanism application of MLG and ACF
the term multi-level governance (MLG) has been frequently used by European and American researchers to demonstrate European governance (Stephenson, 2013), indicates that a wider variety of actors are involved in the policy process than the only national executive. Originated in the 1990s in the European Union (EU), the concept sees European policy as the result of a constant coordination across different territorial levels including supranational, national, regional and local level. The main characteristics of the relationship between these different tiers are overlaps and interdependence; coordination not only takes place across different territorial levels but also within them. Decision making authority is dispersed and the policy outcome is determined by a series of complex negotiations between different actors (Cairney, 2012).
Governance, when being introduced by the World Bank, carries the meaning of “the exercise of power to manage national affairs” (The World Bank, 1989). In most countries, developed and developing alike, the government is the largest landowner and the largest employer, thus there are risks when the government is authoritarian in decision making (). Since the 1990s, starting with the welfare states, states began to welcome the idea of MLG, for the authority alone is insufficient to address all issues with given resources. Entering the 21st century, MLG became the most discussed topic in political science, and its influence has spread globally (Stephenson, 2013).
Multi-level governance is “the dispersal of power from national central government to other levels of government…and non-governmental actors” (Cairney, 2012). The term has been used to describe a wide range of practices and conditions, including:
• State downsize—the idea of “small government, big society”.
• Good governance. In the corporate world this refers to full disclosure, integrity and accountability, linked to the clarity of roles for man- agers. In government, these aims are combined with a diffusion of power to the judiciary and external auditors, a free press and respect for human rights.
• The ‘socio-cybernetic system’. Central government is one component of a wider system of governance, within which different actors have different types of impact.
• Policy networks. Policymakers in government cooperate with other public and private sector actors to negotiate and make collective decisions.
As NGOs constrain centric power and deal with imperfect resource allocation, some see the civil society as the substitute for government provision (Besley, 2007). Although this has been challenged in the literature, Besley gives the reason as to why civil society can enhance the government implementation outcome: the government is more accountable for the electors, and the NGOs, in principle, are subject to all manners of mechanisms. In other words, civil society can cover the services for population groups that have not been given priorities in the government agenda.
When the mechanism of MLG and the related “good governance” came into China around 2008, there was conflict in presumption: the Chinese ruling party was not selected based on the voting groups, so it was useless to argue whose interests they were representing.
Since the marketization reform starting from the late 1970s, the Chinese state began to withdraw from the social welfare provision stage and more private actors came into play (Li and Greve, 2011).
The current government’s desire to drive forward ‘open source policy making’. Open source policy making would use information technology to widen the inputs to the policy making process, along the lines of ‘open innovation’. But if open source policy is just a matter of widening inputs to the policy process, there is a danger it will simply become a form of ‘enhanced consultation’ that does not challenge the status quo. The Treasury Select Committee has recently raised concerns about the limited impact of the Spending Challenge website, which operated along this model. As already noted, open source policy making will come up against some powerful pressures: the pressure to make decisions early and defend them, the cultural perception that the generation of policy ideas is a zero sum game.
ACF is another renowned coalition framework on policy making, being applied in US and the EU in particular. In policy analysis, the key aim is to understand the role of multiple actors (shareholder or stakeholders), and the influence they have on the
4.3 Global lessons from US and India
The program was also informed by international lessons from the US and India, and these were applied to the Chinese Free Lunch program in its developing stages. As the Free Lunch visiting scholars suggested, China should learn from the lessons from the US and India, considering the size of country and population level. Here will be outlines on how their model help ease student hunger with partnership of social associations and philanthropy third sector.
America: The very first program of free school meal provision started in the US in 1946, marked by the release of National School Lunch Act, to tackle the problem of children hunger. This policy was not well-received due to its fragmented administration, and in 1969, the Children Nutrition Act ensured children’s right to have school lunch for free or at lower price, based on the eligibility criteria or national poverty line (Himmelrich, 2011:1~6). The School Lunch program was under the Food and Nutrition Service executed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and it was required that school lunch must contain a minimum of 1/3 of the recommended daily allowance of calories, protein, vitamins, calcium and trace elements for children (USDA, 2018). The US federal government also introduced School Breakfast Program, Special Milk Program later on to fully cover the nutrition needs of children (USDA, 2018). In 2017 alone, there were in total 20 million children receiving free lunches, and 2 million had school lunches at reduced price, with 11.7 billion dollars being invested for 9 month of meal delivery (USDA, 2018.)
This series of nutrition enhancement scheme takes huge amount of government expenditure, and considering China’s status quo, the Chinese Free Lunch program is established for as food safety net rather than nutrition supplement scheme, so it does not make sense to compare the investment per head. However, what China learnt from this case is that the school lunch program also actively partner with the community CSOs. Through this program, besides the nutrition supplement for children, parents are also being educated in schools by experts from health organisations on wholesome food choices (USDA, 2018), which have been globally recognised that could have a long-term effect on children’s health and wellbeing in the form of family meals (Skafida, 2013: 906-923). The communities too serve as important venues during summer time, for the community-based organisation will provide healthy cooking courses for parents (USDA, 2018). The lunch program also boost local economy for food companies hires more labour force and purchase large volumes of fresh fruit and vegetables from local groceries and markets. In light of this, China has taken the model of “local provision” to maintain food freshness and promote local economy.
India: As the second most populated country in the world, India shares many of its challenges with China, especially in the issue of feeding billions of people. The free school meal scheme in India is an inspiration for the Chinese Free Lunch Program, so it is crucial to illustrate this carefully. To start with, the India central government started the “national project for primary school nutrition supplement” in 1995, which guaranteed 100 grams of rice or wheat or each student per day. The central governor also demanded state governments should provide staff, lunch ingredients and facilities (NetEase news, 2011). However, since the 29 state governments are autonomous, the state administrators can decide themselves on scheme implementation, so the free lunch scheme was not widely well received within the country. By 2000, hunger still troubled Indian households, and dropout rate in compulsory education institutes did not show considerable differences (NetEase news, 2011). In 2001, a civil society called Akshaya Patra Foundation (APF) began to take part in this program. APF is a regional Hindu charitable body, upholding the mission that “No child in India shall be deprived of education because of hunger” (Akshaya Patra, 2018). The organisation processes and cook grains allocated by the central government and sends the prepared food to the schools in the capital area, feeding 1,500 students in 5 schools. Within months, the APF foundation received millions of applications from other schools, wishing to be covered by this service. Since then, the foundation has cooperated with nutrition research institutes and generalized this practice throughout the country. The foundation also received governmental support from the Ministry of Health and Family welfare to meet hygiene standard (Yuan, 2012). So far, the APF team has been backed by federal capital, domestic donations and international funding, and has built 16 central high-tech kitchens to provide free lunch for more than 1.7 million Indian children, reducing dropout rate by 15% (Akshaya Patra, 2018).
To summarize, in India’s case, the civil society advanced public good by generalizing local services, and helped tackle the national hunger problem with partners from the state. China also replicate the model of building canteens locally,
4.4 Case Specific Factors
There are three main factors that promote the successful policy transformation of the Free Lunch program: historically, the rise of grassroot organisations; socially, the fully use of digital media, and personally, the ability and charisma of the program leader.
4.4.1 External factors
Politically, since 1998, when the student movement stoked the Tiananmen Square protests, the Chinese government has been highly alarmed by any political change rising from bottom to top. This is one reason why they civil societies in China are under strict control. Since 2009, seeing the positive effects of CSOs in the Wenchuan earthquake and Olympic games, the restriction on NGOs were loosened.
The rise of the free lunch foundation benefited from the social recognition of grassroot civil society. Right before the foundation of Free Lunch in 2011, there was a massive trust crisis among the charitable bodies. A twenty-year-old girl named “Guo Meimei” on the Sina microblog, posted numerous photos of luxurious cars and bags in her personal account, and claimed that she was the CEO of Red Cross Business Association. This quickly became an online sensation and millions of net citizens questioned whether Guo’s exaggerated expenditure was from public donations. This scandal kept simmering and triggered public rage, for many renowned GONGO were reported to be corrupt, such as the China Charity Federation, one of the largest Chinese charity body at that time. Although the investigations into the Red Cross did not find it was guilty, the egregious effects of corruption remained. Since then, the individual donors were rather skeptical about the government-led charitable foundations, and they have turned their eyes to grassroot civil society organisations. The civil organisations began to post their account balance to the public to be more transparent in their capital allocation. In other words, this scandal over charitable NGOs in China has indirectly promoted the overall civil society environment, which sets an appropriate social environment for the newborn and up-coming civil societies.
The important social incentive is that the program was assisted by the mass media. In the information age, only sensational and frequently mentioned topics can attract public attention. On microblogs, the hashtag of “free lunch” has been used millions of times, as people from all walks of life post their contribution to the program. The Free Lunch team also partners with Chinese Top500 enterprises such as Baidu and Tencent, which greatly influence the Chinese public. The team also runs Taobao shop and register Alipay account to receive donations, which triggered the interest among youngsters, who are quite familiar with the online shopping and payment platforms. Deliberation is targeted partly to the state and partly to the public. As Guobin Yang puts it, the Chinese NGOs’ use of public debates and media campaigns has a discursive outcome, since they introduce new discourses into the public sphere. Hierarchical forms of communication are central, often even dominant. A tendency towards hierarchical modes of organisations seems to prevail, even when NGOs engage in communication with other societal actors. This model fits well with the traditional communist mass-line model. Likewise, information flows channeled through NGOs are in many ways similar to those that the Party expects of traditional mass organisations (Salmenkari, 2008).
Overall, due to urgent social needs, service profession, and popularity of this program, the government soon took notice of it and decided to offer financial support.
4.4.2 Internal factors
When Free Lunch program was been used as CSO executive model, many Chinese scholars have summarise its advantages.
The leader Ability and Reputation makes the program accountable.
While the parents in cities are concerned about obesity, the children in rural areas are suffering from extreme hunger. The program leader Deng Fei, accounts for a large part of the program success. As an investigate journalist, Deng is fully aware of the problems in depth and being a journalist gave him with the unique way of communicating with the authorities. Beside the free lunch program initiated in 2010, he led many other well-known national projects, including the “shut down child-trafficking” campaign and “compulsory medical insurance for rural children” program. These campaigns have brought him a good reputation in grassroots social protection, so it is easier for him to cooperate with the public sector as well as the other actors, as people trust his ability and sense of responsibility.