Name: Giovanna Miracca Machado
University: University of Sussex
Host Company: Kanghua Community Development Center, Chengdu
Before leaving for China, I was not sure of what to expect. I had read about the dynasties and studied about Communism, but other than London’s China Town, it was all a great mystery to me. I also knew that it was one of the largest countries in the world, and the most populated, but it was not until I started working at an environmental NGO, that I started questioning some of the things that were important to me, such as the relationship between economic growth and waste. Looking at the world’s largest consumer class, I was interested in what exactly China’s government was doing about its trash. This paper explores my understanding of the capacity of public organizations, in the form of environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs), to compensate for declining central government influence and shifting local government priorities regarding environmental protection.
From my first few days in China, I could already see how it was the undisputed world leader in everything from low-cost manufacturing to urban growth. Chengdu, specifically, was an emerging city of international investment in Western China, with new buildings and stores under development in every neighbourhood. For a communist nation, I was astonished at its high level of entrepreneurship, and 24/7 unrivalled drive for financial success. I could also already see how easy it was for environmental protection to lose to the more attractive goal of economic development.
Working at an environmental NGO in China was an interesting experience. I was aware that non-profits and environmental organizations had limited power and influence in China, but as I was placed in Kanghua Community Development Center, a small-scale NGO, I soon recognized their role as an alternative to state intervention, carrying some of the environmental protection burden. As they explained their short-term and long-term goals regarding projects from rural sustainable development to corporate social responsibility partnerships, I was especially interested in their water source conservation project at the Yunqiao Wetlands.
For this project, my tasks as an intern were primarily organizing volunteering days at the Wetlands, spreading awareness through articles and social media, as well as applying for grants so that Kanghua could continue to fund their efforts in the area.
The opportunity to work at an environmental NGO in China has been of immense value to me, as it has not only intensified my criticism of the consumerist lifestyle which produces tremendous quantities of waste, but also made me realise the importance of developing public management services. This experience further motivated me to pursue a Master’s Degree in Public Policy.
Regarding my personal experiences, there is no doubt that China has tested my limits. I have become more patient, but also more persistent in fighting for what I believe in. No one can prepare you for such an experience, although no one could have done so better than Generation UK. I was fearful of the cultural differences and language barrier, but with the constant support from the British Council, I came with an open mind and I believe I have found a home away from home in Chengdu. I feel extremely fortunate to have had this opportunity to work and live abroad. I have found life-long friends here, created an exciting network, been to places I had only dreamed of, and even managed to learn a little bit of Mandarin. I would like to come back to China in the future, perhaps to continue taking Mandarin classes, or even to study my Master’s Degree. Despite all the differences, the country has been welcoming, and has provided me with key skills which I am sure will be valuable for my career, and incredible moments which will be unforgettable for the rest of my life.