Gingko Partner Interviews: Mei Nianshu

China Development Brief, no.49 (Spring 2011)

中文 English

This article profiles Mei Nianshu, founder of the environmental NGO, Green Kunming, in Yunnan province and one of five Narada Foundation Gingko Partners for 2010.

Editor’s Note: In 2010, the Narada Foundation (南都公益基金会), a private charitable foundation, selected five individuals for the pilot “Ginkgo Partners Support Plan”. Each Ginkgo Partner will receive funding of 100,000 yuan (approx. US $15,700) per year for the next three years and support for tailored learning programs. Four of the five Gingko Partners were interviewed in the Spring 2011 issue of China Development Brief. We hope that the stories of their personal and organizational experiences lead to better understanding of this personal support program.

Mei Nianshu: Enjoying the Pursuit of Goals, Step by Step

When she was 13 years old, Mei Nianshu saw a CCTV news broadcast about an international environmental organization. Greenpeace’s volunteers on the high seas were attempting to stop Japanese whaling, tying themselves to the deck of the whaling ship without any trace of fear on their faces. A clear impression of this event stays with Mei to this day.

When Mei was at university she decided to study environmental engineering. After graduating in 2002, she decided to enter the Hubei Academy of Environmental Science where she was involved in setting up environmental impact assessments.

“NGOs are outspoken and cool! Totally different from the feeling you get in a public institution.”  [Editor’s Note: Public institutions in China are government-supported universities and research institutes such as the Hubei Academy of Environmental Sciences where Mei worked.] Mei believes technical personnel engaged in environmental protection and impact assessments do not see protecting the environment as their vocation. This leads to many companies being given a green light to pollute. This situation makes her feel guilty, since she did not achieve her original ideals.

One event in particular was hard for her to forget. To promote investment, local authorities built a large iron ore pellet plant upwind of a city. This factory discharged serious air pollution, threatening hundreds of thousands of residents that lived downwind of the project in clear violation of the environmental impact assessment. At the time, Mei felt she needed to speak out against the project, but her advice was not adopted. She says this stemmed from an insufficient environmental impact assessment system. In this case, the construction agency hired a company to write the environmental impact assessment for the project. Due to this business relationship, the company raised few concerns about the environmental aspects of the project.

During this time, Mei actively sought out local environmental NGOs and became the leader of a World Wildlife Fund volunteer discussion group in Wuhan. She also proposed and organized a campaign to “reduce white pollution and institute city-wide shopping bag fees”. [Editor’s Note: The term “white pollution” refers to litter, in particular plastic bags.] During this time, the Chen Lake Nature Reserve in Hubei Province had over 20,000 mu (1,333 hectares) of poplar trees planted illegally, seriously damaging the winter habitat of migratory birds. With the support of volunteers who appeared in the newspapers and supervised the process, the trees were uprooted. She says this experience was “so cool…really satisfying” and was the kind of work she wanted to do. It also showed her what NGOs are and the power and social benefits they can bring. Experiences like these shaped her thinking when she established her own NGO, Green Kunming.

In 2004, Mei decided to leave the Academy of Environmental Sciences, but was not yet feeling confident enough to work on her own. Fortunately, at that time [the Kunming office of] Oxfam Hong Kong was hiring a new project manager, which gave her a chance to try NGO work that could lead to other job opportunities. However, the interview required her to elaborate on her understanding of rural development and review a project proposal in the space of half an hour. Having never come into contact with project management, she had to improvise answers. The result of the interview was predictable.

Making matters worse, not long after Mei returned to Wuhan from Kunming, she suffered a sudden recurrence of chronic stomach problems, causing her a lot of pain. She had to have duodenal diversion surgery. The experience led her to “think less about pursuing material desires and more about the meaning of life,” and confirmed her interest in NGO work.

In July 2005, only one month after the surgery, Mei was already impatient to return to Kunming, thinking that Kunming was the place where she could realize her goals. Her parents were uneasy about this choice, but Mei stood firm: “Let me decide my own future; my life is my responsibility”.

This time, through contact with some environmental NGOs, she found that few ENGOs in Kunming worked in volunteer training and public participation. She found a job in Kunming, once again working as an environmental impact assessment engineer. At the same time, her idea of an independent ENGO began to take shape. In 2006, Mei formed a Green Kunming volunteer corps in her spare time and began to work on environmental rights and education. In 2007, after she officially registered her organization, Mei invited many environmental experts to become board members of Green Kunming. This was intended to both overcome suspicions from the government and also to gain support from local researchers, enterprises and institutions in Kunming.  [Editor’s Note: Inviting noted scholars and experts to be on the board gives the NGO greater credibility because it brings in people who are “inside the system” (tizhinei) and thus more likely to be trusted by local authorities.]

For a long time, Mei was the only full-time Green Kunming employee. This, by necessity, led her to rely on volunteers. Together, they  launched an investigation to protect groundwater in Kunming, protect trees around Dianchi Lake, and other activities. In 2009, Green Kunming won the “SEE – TNC Ecological Award” from the Society of Entrepreneurs and Ecology (SEE) and the Nature Conservancy, which came with 100,000 RMB in prize money. After this, Green Kunming’s staff increased to four full-time employees.

In 2010, Green Kunming implemented a total of ten projects, half of which had no budget for staff. In February 2011, the project Mei was responsible for concluded, meaning she no longer had a source of income. She decided to use part of the Narada Foundation’s 100,000 RMB award as her salary, enabling her to devote more time and energy to improving the organization’s strategic planning, project management, team building, fundraising, public relations, collaborative projects, and overall social services. In addition, she hopes to use some of her time to study Buddhist meditationand participate in NGO meetings and Drucker Institute trainings to increase her knowledge of social issues outside of environmental protection.

With the organization’s growth, Mei has begun to consider internal management issues such as staff incentives and communication that needed addressing. She credits the advice of friends as well as eight months of environmental leadership training for helping to identify some of these issues. During her interview for the Narada Foundation Gingko Partners Plan, three experienced interviewers also offered helpful insights.

The interviewers commented that her personal goals were “too ambitious, goal-oriented and results driven.” It was only then that Mei realized that the combined personal and professional goals she had set for herself left her with no time to enjoy the joys of the environment and life. She discovered her perseverance was driven by a strong sense of responsibility and a stubborn personality, and had nothing to do with happiness. This was certainly the wrong approach for sustaining team morale and momentum.

Mei says about her future that she hopes to enjoy life more and to “cherish the successes as well as the twists and turns in the process”. She will also continue to offer more understanding, support, and space for her colleagues.

Relaxed, confident, and smiling, she says, “The dream is the end goal, happiness is the road there!”

2010年南都公益基金会试点“银杏伙伴支持计划”,入选的银杏伙伴在未来的3年内,将获得每人每年10万元的经费和量体裁衣的学习计划支持。 该年共有5名NGO人才入选。 《中国发展简报》采访到其中4位,希望透过此组文章与各位分享他们的个人和机构成长经历,并借此及时跟进了解他们的个人支持计划。
不知是否因为这个缘故,读大学时梅念蜀填报了环境工程专业。 2002年毕业之后,她顺理成章进入了湖北省环境科学研究院,从事建设项目环境影响评价。
“NGO很率真很酷!全然不同于事业单位给人的感觉。”坐在我面前的梅念蜀这么评价NGO给她的第一印象。 她感觉不少从事环保的科技人员视环境影响评价为职业而非自己的事业,为不少污染企业开绿灯。 这让她有“负罪感”,觉得没有实现自己当初的理想。
有件事情让她难忘。 政府为了招商引资,在某城市的上风向建了一个大型球团矿厂,排放的废气将严重威胁到处在下风向的数十万城市居民,该项目选址与环境评价标准明显违背。 当时,梅念蜀觉得“不吐不快”,但她的意见还是没被采纳。 她说,这源于环境影响评价制度的不合理,建设单位聘请环境影响评价公司做评价,二者之间存在雇佣关系,所以环境影响评价公司很少对那些有环境问题的项目进行干涉,彻底推翻的项目就更少了,环境影响评价的监管作用并没有很好地发挥出来。
那段时间,梅念蜀积极寻找当地的民间环保组织,并成为了世界自然基金会(WWF)武汉论坛的志愿者和版主。 她提出并组织了“减少白色污染,建立全市超市购物袋收费制度”活动;湖北省沉湖自然保护区被非法种植2万亩意大利杨树,严重破坏冬候鸟栖息地,在志愿者们不断上报和监督下树苗被拔除。 她说,这段经历“太爽了”,这才是她要做的事情,“真的很喜欢”。 而这也让她认识了什么是NGO以及NGO行动力和社会价值。 这深刻影响到她后来创办绿色昆明的想法。
2004年,梅念蜀决定从环境科学研究院走出来,但她对自己能做些什么并不十分清晰和自信。 正好乐施会昆明办公室招聘项目经理,想想也可以找机会尝试做NGO,便前往应聘。 可面试要求是阐述对农村社区发展领域的理解以及在半个小时内指出一份项目计划书的缺陷并提出完善建议。 从没接触过项目管理的她彻底蒙了,面试结果可想而知。
祸不单行的是,梅念蜀从昆明返回武汉后不久,前几年患上的慢性胃病突然发作,让她的身体遭到重创,不得不去做了十二指肠改道手术。 这段经历,让她“少了对物欲的追求,有了更多对人生意义的思考”并树立了从事NGO的坚定信念。
2005年7月,动完手术才一个月,梅念蜀便急不可耐地再次返回昆明,想在那里继续实现自己的理想。 父母对她很不放心,梅念蜀很坚决——“让我自己决定未来吧,我的人生我负责”,就这么说服了父母。
这回的她,在接触了一些环保NGO后发现,昆明当地少有环保NGO在做志愿者的培养和公众参与。 她在昆明谋得一份生计,再次成为了环境影响评估工程师的同时,独立做一个环保NGO的想法也渐渐成型。 2006年,梅念蜀在工作之余组建了绿色昆明志愿者队伍,开始在昆明开展环境权益和环境教育工作。 2007年,机构正式注册的时候,梅念蜀邀请了很多环保专家成为绿色昆明的理事会成员,这既打消了政府的不信任,也让机构获得了昆明本地部分科研工作者和企事业单位的支持。
很长的一段时间里,绿色昆明只有梅念蜀一个专职人员,这让她发动并依靠了更多志愿者的力量。 她和志愿者们开展了昆明地下水调查和保护、滇池周边古树保护等行动。 直到2009年获得“ SEE ? TNC生态奖”有了10万元奖金后,绿色昆明才增加了一名正式员工,如今机构很快要有第四名同事了。
去年,绿色昆明一共实施了10个项目,其中一半的项目不带人员工资,整个团队超负荷运转。 2011 年2月,梅念蜀负责的项目结题了,这便意味着她没有工资收入了,所以她打算将南都公益基金会支持的10万经费中的一部分用于自己的工资,让自己有更多时间和精力放在机构的战略规划、项目管理、团队激励、筹资以及对外联络与合作上,帮助机构全面提升社会服务能力和影响力。 除此,她希望可以有时间去学习“内观”,参加一些NGO聚会和德鲁克学院的培训,帮助自己开拓环保之外其他社会发展领域的视野。
随着机构人数的增加,也让梅念蜀开始考虑机构的内部管理,以及人员激励与沟通等之前从未考虑的事情,并开始做调整。 她说,认识上的这些转变得益于一些朋友的帮助以及持续8个月之久的绿色领导力培训。 后来,在南都公益基金会银杏伙伴计划的面试中,三位行业内资深面试官的提问和建议也给了她很多启发。
面试官指出,她的个人成长计划 “安排太紧”、“目标性太强”、“太在意结果”。 梅念蜀这才真正意识到,自己制定的个人成长计划以及平时的工作计划几乎压得自己没有一刻时间停顿,去享受环保的快乐、生活的快乐。 也正是此时,她才发现自己一直以来的坚持是出于强烈的责任感和倔强的个性,与快乐无关。 真的能让团队拥有持续的激情和动力吗?

CDB Staff Writer

Translated by Andrew MacDonald

Reviewed by Andrew Wells-Dang

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