A Friend of a Friend

Author: Emily Vincent

During the past eight weeks of conducting my independent research about foreign NGOs in China, I’ve gotten the opportunity to meet a number of people who are, quite honestly, really cool. It takes a certain type of person to decide to live and work abroad, especially in a place as culturally different from America as China is, but it takes several extra measures of dedication and perseverance to build an organization dedicated to helping others. Even pre-regulation, starting a foreign non-profit NGO was incredibly difficult. It required (and still requires) a delicate balance of well-placed interpersonal connections, discreet loophole finding, and a commitment to creating a way when one can’t be found.

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My research here has been focused on what I think of as the “human” side of public policy. I’m not interested in the numbers and statistics of giant international charities; although they do great work in the world, I want to focus on what these new regulations mean for the groups that have grown from a young couple fostering a child into an established organization that touches hundreds, if not thousands of lives each year.

For the majority of lot of the organizations that I visit and speak with, I’m introduced to someone connected through another contact. I’ve found the foreign NGO network in China is delightfully interconnected, and everyone knows someone else who has a different perspective and experiences to draw from. I’ve learned that the most important thing to do is simply ask for advice from everyone I can. At worst, it’s a dead end; but at best, I am led to a new opportunity to be curious and listen and learn. I’ve gained a dynamic understanding of my research through this “friend of a friend” approach. One day, as a Notre Dame alumna, I hope to be one of those links for someone else!