Smiling Saturday

Fresh Saturday – Jan 14, 2006.

The day started from the Qixiu Middle School of Si’nan Road. I love Si’nan Road greatly. It is almost the quietest street I can find in downtown Shanghai. You feel so especially at the moment when you turn into the road from crowded Huaihai Road.

This morning is the annual meeting of Smiling Library. It is the third year of their meeting. There are just too many meeting requests coming in every day, I believe it is my commitment to join their annual internal review meeting, as their consultant. I have been doing the job for almost three years with 2 hour commitment every 6 months.

Previous events:

The logo from 2005

Smiling in 2006

Several moments I remember during the annual review meeting. One child from Anhui arrived in Shanghai the day before and cried immediately when she arrived in Shanghai Railway Station. The primary school child said: “How a city can differ from the place the live so greatly!”.

The President from a village school also described the situation in his school. It is even more unbelievable from my imagination. It is a very good educational time for me.

Doing NGO in China?

I am so happy my new friend Sarah from National Kidney Foundation accepted my invitation to the panel and shared the practices in Singapore. NKFS is one of the most successful NGO in Asia, with huge amount of donated dollars and effective execution team.

I was impressed by the way NKF treated their customer – the donator. Sarah mentioned every donate, no matter how big or small they donate, will receive a hand-signed thank you letter from the CEO of the organization. The beneficial will come and join the celebration of their birthday or important events. They treated their volunteers so well. They pay them basic amount of money but show care to them and meet their emotional needs. Smiling Library should learn a lot as an organization.

My other friends (who also worked for Microsoft) suggested the best way to do charity organization in China is to register a FOR-PROFIT company. Since it is impossible for Smiling Library to register as a not-for-profit organization under the current legal framework, I would say, it would be better to register as a company instead of nothing. At least someone takes legal responsibility of the money they get. For some individual to hold large amount of money from donators will eventually prevent the organization from growing.

Talked with Xiao-Ling

21st Economy Review is one of my most favorite magazine. I had a short lunch with their editor on IT and Finance. I understand why their articles stand out from all the similar newspapers.

Photos at Night

I accepted the invitation to write something for National Graphics magazine in China. Their professional photographer, Zhang Qianli, came and shot a lot of pictures of Zheng Ziying, Tang Xiaomin. Poor Cheng Liang was not able to join due to emergency. Best wishes to him, the one I never meet.

I didn’t know that at 6:00 PM, when Xujiahui is completely dark, the photographer can still shot wonderful pictures with both clear and bright foreground and background pictures. The foreground was lightened with 3 flash lights (remote control), and the background appears because of the additional 1.6 second exposure after the foreground is taken.

The dream of my nice camera started to appear in my mind again. I have persuaded myself that for a photographer, the sensation for light and color are more important than the equipment you use. I learnt this from the text book of the New York Institute of Photography, but I changed my mind. It is really hard for my Sony P8 to take a picture similar to this Nikon.

Night with Smiling Library

I had a nice chat with Breezee, Stonesee, Jing Jing and Dan Zhu today. They are Smiling Library founders and key persons in this project. I am proud to be a consultant to help Smiling Library to grow and solve the problems they meet. Smiling Library is helping schools in the poorest areas in China to build libraries with the public donations. They have helped 21 schools to build libraries with 10,000 books. What an achievement! This is the beginning of the third year of its operation.


Image in courtesy of Smiling Library

They gave me the honor to be a part time consult to help them on the direction and management. The last time I talked deeply with them was in Jan of 2004. Another year pasted. I am excited to meet them again in a small restaurant. Their passion is still there and the problems they met keeps coming.

Here are two points I suggested today.

  • Make it clear that Smiling Library is an organization that provide services for the donators. To serve the donators and help them deliver their book and money to those who need them is the mission. We need to treat donators well and reward them for their good will. I got this idea from the story of Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library.
  • Feel free to accept commercial sponsorship and don’t shy away from using the money donated as operation cost. In the last two years, all the work has been done by volunteers and volunteers have to spend both time and money to participate. I suggest opening for public about the cost of certificate printing, library management, school assistance. If people are willing to sponsor that, we give back publicity. By this way the organization can survey. No one said a not-for-profit organization cannot has its own operation cost.

Meanwhile, I worried a lot that organization like this is still not legal in China. There is no account to hold this money. They can only open private bank account and this is not legal. There are many charity organizations in China that is helping people, but the current law framework does not allow this. This is the biggest barrier for NGO to develop in China, which I cannot help too much on.

Any Advice for Smiling Library

Last Friday, talked with breeze and stonesee on the smiling library project. It is a very nice charity organization to gather old books and send it to very poor schools in the less developed areas in China. It started with an idea and now has less than 7 organizers. However, they have successfully setup 6 libraries in Yun Nan.

Breeze asked about the operation practices to run such a charity program. This kind of Non Government Organization (NGO) is not a common practice. They are very interested to learn how people in other countries run this kind of organization? What is the organizational structure? Who make the final call for decisions? How to ensure the quality of the libraries… there are many questions there. I shared my thoughts with them, but definitely need to learn more. Do you have any advice to make the project more successful?