Geneva Global’s commitment to supporting grassroots NGOs in China not only helps the organizations but the people who are devoted to changing the social sector. Scott Sun is a great example of this type of dedication.
The birth of a career
Scott Sun’s interest in the nonprofit sector uniquely started while he was still in undergraduate. While pursuing a degree in social work, Sun was first exposed to the NGO community through various meet-and-greets with founders and key players in the nonprofit sector. After much deliberation, Sun decided to combine his background in social work with his passion for the nonprofit sector. In 2002, he started working for Stars & Rain, a nonprofit organization that helps children with severe Autism.
“I used to volunteer at a nursing home but I realized that many were gone when I went back to visit again in about two months. That really upset me. However, children are different. They make you think positively. They bring hope to the future. I will be a father some day so I decided to choose an organization that serves children as my long-term career commitment.” Sun said.
Sun faces big challenges when he first started at Stars & Rain. His family and friends did not understand this career move. They constantly asked him “What is autism? Why did you choose to work for this type of organization over becoming a government officer or a job that has a more long-term stability?” This was also when SARS was spreading through China and someone in the community Stars & Rain serves was infected. This caused panic in the organization. Parents pulled their children out of school and Stars & Rain nearly shut down. During the epidemic, Sun insisted that the school remain open and in the end, he persevered. When he recalls this event, he believes it was actually a blessing in disguise. “What we experienced during the SARS epidemic strengthened our faith and strengthened our team and organization. Interestingly, our turnover rate has dropped dramatically since then. Most people who joined Stars & Rain during the year of SARS are still working with the organization today.”
Taking the organization to the next step
Soon after joining Stars & Rain, Sun and his colleagues participated in a capacity assessment program sponsored by the Ford Foundation. This assessment gave Sun great insight into how Stars & Rain could improve especially in the operational side of the organization. For example, the organization could greatly benefit from having a full-time fundraiser or a staff member whose primary focus was to manage the volunteer program. This is when Stars & Rain set up their development department, which focuses on improving the organizations operations and infrastructure. Sun was appointed the head of this department and eventually was promoted to Managing Director. As head of the development department, he helped the organization expand its scope from serving the needs of an individual child to serving the autism community on a larger level. Stars & Rain started working with peer organizations, raising awareness of autism, organizing teacher trainings as well as other trainings and programs. Sun’s department became more and more vital in the organizations programing. As the projects grew, the manpower to support the projects did not. Though implementation of these programs became more and more difficult, Sun’s commitment to the organization and the cause did not waiver. He began to reach out to peer organizations to help implement programs when Stars & Rain lacked the resources.
In response to the development of China’s social sector, Sun has an optimistic outlook. He believes external factors will greatly help the nonprofit sector to grow. He states the rapid development of China’s NGOs has helped draw attention to the social sector. Legislation and accountability are also factors that will greatly affect the nonprofit community and Sun believes this change will be positive. More and more resources are being reallocated from GONGOs (government-organized non-governmental organizations) to grassroots NGOs. The competition that once developed between peer organizations due to a shortage of resources is now being converted into collaborative and supportive relationships.
Sun is not only optimistic but also confident that Stars & Rain is growing in the right direction and will continue to expand especially in the area of technical training and supporting the autism community as a whole. Meanwhile, he will continue to emphasize the need for public awareness and research in order to draw more attention to the disorder and ultimately changes in policy. Sun states “With autism, we need to not only support autistic children as medical treatments are still being developed, but we need to support the families, communities, schools, and the legal system to create an environment that better fosters healthy living for children with autism.”