Nonprofits & Philanthropy:

USC Price student interns at Gates Foundation in China

February 11, 2015

MPA student Qi Yan in Guangxi province, China

By Cristy Lytal

“I’m more interested in creating an impact on society rather than just making a living,” said Qi Yan, a master of public administration student at the USC Price School of Public Policy.

This simple philosophy has taken Yan many places — including the Gates Foundation’s Beijing office, where she worked as a summer intern.

At the foundation, she joined the policy advocacy team and helped promote philanthropy in China.

Yan also worked on China for Africa, a program to leverage the Chinese government’s resources and experience to promote development in Africa and help identify potential partners in both the public and private sectors.

Yan used her bilingual skills to translate documents ranging from academic papers to budget materials from English into Chinese and vice versa, and contributed knowledge and ideas that she gained at USC Price. In addition, she had the opportunity to attend meetings between the foundation, academics and representatives from Chinese government ministries.

The Gates Foundation experience gave Yan a better understanding of both the opportunities and the challenges for philanthropy in China.

“I see there are a lot of opportunities,” she said, explaining how wealthy Chinese citizens are more and more willing to take part in philanthropy. “On the other hand, I also see we need some improvements on the policy side, because we don’t have a comprehensive institutional infrastructure to encourage donors and organizations. The donors, organizations and government need to work together to promote philanthropy in China. This is the most important takeaway from this summer.”

The internship also provided introductions to professionals and experts in this field. “They gave me a lot of advice about working in the philanthropy world,” she said.

Yan also witnessed the power of leverage. “The Gates Foundation puts a great emphasis on leveraging the resources of different countries and fields to maximize the effectiveness and impact of their programs,” she said. “Collective work is much more powerful than that of any individual or single organization. As one of the most influential foundations in the world, the Gates Foundation has a profound understanding of this idea, and we can see it in their daily work.”

Yan credits her strong academic grounding with helping her earn this coveted summer internship. As an undergraduate at Beijing Foreign Studies University, Yan majored in Chinese language and literature, and discovered her passion for volunteering. Before long, she began connecting with likeminded volunteers at other universities in Beijing.

“We all loved doing volunteer work, but we did not have a community or a platform to share our experiences or all of our information,” she said. “So we often gathered together to talk about these things.”

Yan joined an organization that posted various nonprofit volunteer and internship opportunities on a website for college students in Beijing. She became a strong advocate for civic engagement, especially among young people.

Yan noted that in China, many college students “don’t realize what power they have to change their environment or change their society. It is not only the government’s responsibility; it’s also everybody’s responsibility to do that.”

Because the Chinese nonprofit sector is still emerging, Yan recognized that she could learn a lot from the more established American nonprofit sector. She decided to attend a graduate program in the United States.

Alumni from her undergraduate institution recommended USC Price as one of the most highly ranked public administration programs in the U.S. By the time she received her offer letter, it was already “my dream school and my dream major,” she said.

“The Price School has many great professors and great academic resources,” she said. “And we have lots of great students that have a lot of work experience. It’s really nice to communicate and network with them.”

One of her favorite courses has been Contemporary Issues in Philanthropy, taught by Professor James M. Ferris.

“It’s really opened the door of philanthropy for me,” Yan said, “and given me very comprehensive and great knowledge in this area. This class actually provided me with an academic background, so when I started working at the Gates Foundation, I did not need time to adjust.”

Yan made an equally positive impression on Ferris.

“We have a number of students from other countries come to USC Price because of the reputation of our center and academic programs that focus on philanthropy, nonprofits and social innovation,” said Ferris, who directs USC Price’s Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy. “Philanthropy and the nonprofit sector are hallmarks of American society, and while the context will be different, there is much to learn from our institutions and public policies that foster the nonprofit sector.”

Yan is now parlaying her USC Price education and valuable summer internship experience toward achieving her future professional goals. She hopes to work for a foundation or corporate foundation in the United States, or to build her network in the government or nonprofit sectors as a stepping stone to entering the nonprofit world in China.

“In the future, I would like to offer more of my professional knowledge to help those people who have the power and who have resources and who have the willingness to make social change,” she said. “We can work together to really make some change in society. That’s why I’m interested in philanthropy. I think philanthropy is a more sustainable way to make social change.”