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Habitat extending mission in world’s most populous country

HFH China taps Hong Kong leadership, resources, legal system

HONG KONG (Jan. 17, 2006) – Habitat for Humanity’s presence in Hong Kong and China is being transformed into a larger and more integrated entity to be simply known as “Habitat for Humanity China.”

The move, which was approved by the board of Habitat for Humanity Hong Kong this month, enables the resources and business acumen of Asia’s premier international city to become more directly involved in promoting Habitat’s mission of providing decent housing for those in need in the world’s largest developing economy.

“This is an exciting change as Habitat will be much better placed to develop and support sustainable programs for China as well a whole,” said Darwin Chen, the head of the Hong Kong board, who will now be the first chair of a new China Council overseeing Habitat’s activities in China.

“At the same time, we will be able to more effectively broaden the reach and impact of Habitat’s many supporters in Hong Kong.”

HFH Hong Kong was formally established in mid-2004 primarily to mobilize funds and volunteer. In 10 months, its high-powered volunteers raised some US$1.2 million for tsunami rebuilding and China projects.

HFH China was established in 2003 and operated as a branch of Habitat for Humanity International. It recently extended its building activities from Yunnan, China’s most southwesterly province to nearby Guangxi, and also Guangdong, the province bordering the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, as the former British colony is now called. To date, HFH China has helped more than 200 families with decent homes.

The newly-reconstituted HFH China is now registered as a non-for-profit company limited by guarantee in Hong Kong. Operations in China will be registered as branches of the Hong Kong entity. Under these new arrangements, Habitat is following a well-recognized path used by enterprises operating. Gaining permissions to operate in specific locations across China, operating bank accounts, tax matters and employing staff will become clearer as the new Habitat for Humanity China will be able to follow recognized mainland rules and regulations.

“We will be able to focus on our mission, helping those in need rather than worrying about our legal status,” said Matthew Williams, regional program advisor at Habitat’s Guangdong project office.

Housing, poverty relief and social welfare are directed by official local, provincial, national or other bodies in China, even if actual implementation is carried out by private bodies. However, the non-profit sector is a relatively new concept and the laws governing non-governmental organizations are still not fully operative. This constraint hindered the development of Habitat’s operations.

“In the past, our strategy was determined in part by our ability to find official partners prepared to work with an entity like Habitat rather than our desire to work with communities in need,” said Williams.

Habitat’s work in China is now expected to grow substantially as old impediments fall away.

The leadership of HFH China will rest with the HFH China Council. This advisory body, currently led by Chen and other members of the old Hong Kong board of directors, will be eventually include Christian-focused representatives from the mainland China, overseas Chinese communities and Habitat for Humanity International.

Instead of traditional affiliates, Habitat’s mainland China operations will be based on Habitat Resource Centers with local advisory committee. Habitat Resource Centers broaden the reach of Habitat home-building programs by providing expertise in such areas as construction management; production of low-cost, high-quality building materials; construction skills training for local people; disaster response; volunteer mobilization; and microfinance opportunities. The services are available to support local Habitat activities as well as partner organizations and Habitat homeowners.

Hong Kong will remain focused on mobilizing funds and volunteers, especially building teams, for China, as well as other countries. In addition, a home safety and improvement program is scheduled to be launched in March 2006, in part to provide hands-on experience for local volunteers within the SAR. Habitat expects to work with like-minded community development organizations on repairing and renovation homes for elderly people living on their own and other vulnerable groups. This program is expected to serve 100 households in 12 months.

In the coming months, a dedicated China program director will be recruited as well as an East Asia resource development manager will be based in Hong Kong.

For further inquiries, contact Habitat for Humanity, Peter Witton, Asia-Pacific communications director, + 66 (0) 6 105 1767, or pwitton@habitat.org.