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Serve for China: Connecting University Graduates with Grassroots Communities

By Bolun Li

· Asia,Community Assistance,Grassroots Champion

During my recent two-day visit to Biancheng Commune, Huayuan County of Western Rural Hunan in China, I had the chance to learn from ‘Serve for China’ team, the newly established service program to send young college graduates to serve as an “innovative change maker” in the underprivileged communities of China. I am humbled to say I have got a lot of inspirations from this trip, and the ‘Serve for China’ model does have the potential to scale up to other countries as well.

Traditionally, serving in the villages in China means joining the grassroots government and standing in life-long career in the government. Most of the ‘village governor’ started with a huge passion to change the situation of the rural communities, however, majority of them lack enough connectivity to the outside world, with every limited work support and career opportunities during and after their services at the grassroots levels. This has made this career option less attractive for university graduates. This is part of the reason why “Serve for China” has been designed recently.

Bolun Li with Serve for China volunteers

Photo from Bolun Li

On September 2016, 30 college graduates aged between 20 to 24 were divided into different groups to serve in 15 villages from 4 provinces in China. They will be serving in rural China for 1-2 years on innovation and entrepreneurship to help poor communities become richer.

The 30 youth were given a 2-week orientation in Beijing in August on rural development and entrepreneurship, and respected leaders in business and technology were invited to the orientation to train and inspire the youths for at least a year. All the youths are paid by the program rather than the village government. The monthly salary comprises of a basic wage for around 3500 RMB (550 USD) and a performance-based wage for up to another 3500 RMB. This means ideally the “young changemakers” will be paid almost as such as the average salary in Beijing even though they are based in the villages.

Photo from Bolun Li

The program “Serve the China” also strives to provide a comprehensive professional development package after the “young changemakers” finish their term, and ensure them priority to be accepted by some well-known companies and organizations in China.

The program has attracted some of the most talented and passionate young college graduates to join in China. They started to learn humbly as soon as they arrived in the villages and discussed every day and night how to improve the livelihood of their assigned communities. In their eyes, it is not simply a job, rather they consider it as a platform to support their dream in social entrepreneurship. And what makes the “platform” different is the opportunity to work together with like-minded people: they have a team to work towards a shared goal, instead of fighting individually in the past. So far, many of them have initiated micro-level poverty reduction projects with assistance from Serve for China, showing rural households great potential to improve their livelihood, and gradually changing people’s mindset In working for a better life.

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