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Don't become famous

How does GBCHealth China cement its members to the organization, invest government agencies in the work that it does, reward sponsors for monetary and in-kind support, inspire other possible sponsors to do the same, grow and strengthen the guanxi (connections) between private companies, NGOs, civil society, and government agencies, make Ministry of Health leaders look good, and shine good publicity on the work being done by governmental workers on the municipal and provincial levels (in front of their own bosses)?

It creates a charity event. For little money – which can usually be shared by other interested organizations – recognition events can serve multiple purposes, not the least of which is getting continuing governmental support, increasing private and NGO investment in these initiatives, and making our clients receive well-deserved accolades and feel supportive of GBCHealth China. My GBCHealth China colleague Michael Shiu invited me to accompany him to a charity event raising support for an HIV/AIDS project for Liang Shang, Sichuan Province. It was not a glitzy evening affair with red carpet, food, drinks, and extravagant displays of conspicuous consumption. I arrived around 9AM at a nice hotel in the Haidian district to meet GBCHealth China colleagues, along with the GBCHealth China client, the public relations person for a multi-national device company. The lobby of the hotel had been taken over by a large billboard with the event name and sponsors’ logos emblazoned on it. There were several men and women wearing the traditional ethnic clothes of Sichuan province assembling to one side of the lobby – the women resplendent in their colorful dress and topped with an elaborate tinkling metal headdress and the men in dark suits with a turban-like hat with a feather perched forward over their foreheads. Approximately 250 people were settling into their seats in the grand ballroom off the lobby. Reserved for the speakers at the front of the ballroom and facing the stage was a line of overstuffed chairs with teacups balanced on the chair arms. The event emcee, a well-known Chinese TV anchorwoman, brought the assembly to order, and the ethnic-costumed ushers led the speakers to their chairs. At least thirty cameramen recorded every move. A large red banner at the back of the stage proclaimed the name of the project initiative and the list of sponsors in white letters. Michael pointed out to me where GBCHealth’s name was on the banner. Three speakers from governmental institutions spoke representing the national, the provincial, and the prefecture levels of government. They were effusive in their praise of those who had supported the HIV/AIDS project in Liang Shan: GBCHealth, a medical equipment company, and several pharmaceutical members of GBCHealth. Following these speakers were one major donor, three GBCHealth member-sponsors, and the head of a children’s health foundation who summarized their contributions to the project. After the speeches, the Vice-Minister, China Ministry of Civil Affairs, returned to the stage to give awards to prominent supporters and donors who were led up to the stage to general applause and had their pictures taken with the Vice-Minister. The festivities lasted a little over an hour. Afterwards in the lobby, the director of an NGO with a continuing HIV/AIDS initiative in Yunnan province came up to Michael Shiu. He remarked that Michael and GBCHealth are quite famous with all of the praise they had received that day. Michael turned to me and said, “Rule #1 in a charity organization is, ‘Don’t become famous.’ If you do, people think you don’t need them anymore – and the money dries up.” While the GBCHealth sponsor continued to mingle with other sponsors and to receive accolades for the efforts of her corporation, my GBCHealth colleagues and I quietly returned to the office and the work awaiting us.

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