NGO is an abbreviation for Non-Governmental Organization, and refers to social nonprofit entities with a formal organization that fall into the sphere of the non-governmental system. Though these organizations have certain ties with the government, they have little administrative overview, and are quite independent.
Grassroots NGOs in China started in the area of environmental protection. At the beginning of the 1990s, with the switchover of economic systems and the change of the functions of the government, the environmental consciousness of the Chinese people gradually became awakened. On March 31, 1994, the first environmental-protection NGO in China, the Academy for Green Culture affiliated to the Academy for Chinese Culture, was formally registered with the Ministry of Civil Affairs, becoming the basis for the later greatly influential, Friends of Nature.
With the progress of the reform and opening-up policy, and the country's emphasis on sustainable development, many voluntary organizations with environmental protection and raising citizens' environmental consciousness as their tenets, have emerged in various areas. Among them, voluntary organizations for environmental protection in Beijing, Guangzhou, Chongqing and Fuzhou have been comparatively active, and in Beijing alone there are many such organizations, like the Friends of Nature, Global Village, Green Homeland Volunteers, Green Student Forum, and the College Student Green Camp.
Over the next decade, more NGOs will flourish in various spheres, with their range of activity expanding from environmental protection to various other fields such as AIDS prevention, women's safety, rights for migrant workers, and community services. According to preliminary statistics, there are now nearly 100 grassroots NGOs in China involved in AIDS prevention. They provide powerful support in various areas such as relief of children, mutual support of HIV patients, therapy, and care for gay people. In the field of services for the disabled, nongovernmental organizations such as Beijing Xingxingyu (Stars and Rain), Huiling, Fengtai and Lizhi provide specialized services at different levels for the disabled, and effectively fill up deficiencies of the marketplace and government.
In recent years, NGOs have enjoyed rapid development in China. By the end of 2007, there were 381,000 NGOs of various categories in China. Through their charitable activities and social services in fields such as environmental protection, sanitation, education, scientific research, culture, poverty reduction, legal aid and social welfare, these NGOs have made important contributions to economic and social development in China, and have promoted the progress of civil society in China. While NGOs have changed from single orientation towards multiple orientation they have started to pay more attention to cooperation and orderly development between themselves, and begun to reflect a noticeable influence on decision-making in the country.