The diverse understandings of Community Development in East and South-East Asia

In this study, Chinese community building and community services are described and explained, using Beijing as an example. ‘Linking up the three ‘socials’: the community (shequ), social organizations and social work profession’ is considered unique to community building in Beijing (Zhang, 2015). Despite the implementation of various strategies to professionalize community services and promote community building in Beijing, there are many challenges in the areas of social work manpower, the definitions of roles and responsibilities of social workers as different from community workers who are residents, and funding support for services and manpower. The issue of university teachers running social work organizations that receive funding from the government is also controversial.

As the Beijing government is inclined to use social work to raise the quality of community services, social work teachers interviewed have proposed different strategies, including strengthening the input of knowledge and skills of community practice in the social work curriculum. Other suggestions include clear definitions of social work roles and functions in the community, improving work conditions and increasing salaries and greater investment in POS. They also expressed a need to segregate the duties of community governance and the provision of community services, with residents’ committees mainly responsible for the former and community service stations for the latter. One or two social workers are usually employed in each station, and this should be increased to build up a team and create a clear division of labour within community work stations.

Issues of social work professional development and community services in China are clearly now linked. Under the directive of central government, social work is a rapidly developing profession, but it is as yet under recognized in the community and among political leaders of different levels. Many community workers do not have social work qualifications, and have not passed the central social worker licensing examination. The future professionalization of community services in Beijing, or the emergence of a separate community work profession, depends on the commitment of the city government to provide resources for the development of social work in line with the Beijing strategies to strengthen community services. Communities in Beijing, similar to other large PRC cities, have been subject to a growing number of complexities, due to rapid social changes. Increasing diversity means that residents include the unemployed, migrant families and middle class homeowners.

Community governance is a key method for the party-state to ‘manage’ communities for political and social stability. The rise of social organizations, mainly SWAOs, has added new players to the community scene, who are expected to improve service quality and community integration amidst increasingly conflicting relationships, such as those between the migrants and locals (those holding ‘hukou’), the poor and the rich and homeowners and residents’ committees and/or estate management companies. The roles and relationships of these different players are critical to community building. Social workers in Beijing working at the grassroots/community level, and in other parts of China, are expected to provide quality community services as part of the community governance structure, to enhance the stability of the community.

This small-scale research study reveals that the achievement of both these goals has been constrained by many factors. Community work or community building, which globally involves the goals of empowerment and political influence, has different features in the PRC. While Chinese characteristics should be recognized, and are dependent on the unique political, economic and social/ cultural national context, the potential of community services delivered by social workers to contribute to social changes is recognized by many within the profession, as borne out by the opinions of the interviewees.

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