Enabling Progress and Building Sustainable Economic Recovery with Bamboo
By Lingzi Liu, Head of Corporate Citizenship, Citi China August 18, 2016 02:00 PM
As Citi’s representative in support of The Sustainable Bamboo Enterprise Program, which creates sustainable livelihoods for disaster-torn and disadvantaged communities through the use of locally-sourced bamboo resources in the Szechuan province of China, I was personally gratified when the program was named a winner of the ‘Most Responsible & Innovative Case of the Year’ at the “Invest in Green Future – CSR and Innovation 2016 Shanghai Summit” in July 2016.
The program was launched by the Citi Foundation and Citi China in partnership with the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), in response to the devastating Wenchuan earthquake of 2008, which claimed more than 80,000 lives and destroyed the homes of more than 5.5 million people in the southwest region of China. While many organizations, including Citi, responded generously with financial support, at Citi China we were determined to make a more meaningful and sustainable contribution to the impacted communities than a one-time grant would have allowed.
Together with our local partners we explored and identified a vehicle to revive and rebuild the affected communities. While China’s Szechuan province is best known for its pandas and spicy food, it also boasts a rich supply of bamboo. Fast-growing bamboo is widely used throughout Asia as a food source, a medicinal ingredient and building material with a higher compressive strength than wood, brick, or concrete and a tensile strength that rivals steel. Locally-sourced bamboo offered an opportunity for an innovative nonprofit to help build small and medium-sized bamboo-based enterprises, support impoverished bamboo farmers in establishing businesses with better farming and production technology, and improve the bamboo production chain to support a more sustainable ecosystem.
Since its inception seven years ago, the program has achieved a number of significant milestones, including the establishment of nearly 300 small and medium-sized bamboo-based enterprises. It has also enabled economic progress for disadvantaged people by providing employment for villagers left behind in the wake of disasters, seniors excluded from the job market who need a livelihood to survive, and the disabled and those unwilling or unable to leave their families behind to find work in the big cities. In total, the program has benefited more than 60,000 people to date.
One of my most inspiring recent experiences occurred on a visit to a village in a remote area of Zhejiang Province on a rainy summer’s day, where we met with a few program beneficiaries, many of them fairly elderly, in a rural administrative office. One gentleman with a walking disability sat next to me and volunteered that he how had the money to support a son suffering from mental illness. “I’m filled with hope, thanks to the trainers and support from the program. You’re all such good people,” he concluded. I still remember his wrinkled face, and the light of hope in his eyes.
The program has received widespread support from local governments and other organizations. In 2011 it won the “Innovation Award” at the World Conference on Post-Disaster Reconstruction and the first Rotary Leadership Award in Shanghai.
Throughout the program’s seven years, the Citi team has worked closely with our local partner on planning for grant applications, strategizing the organization’s long-term goals and identifying and improving its impact. This year, the program was successfully closed, as it has established a sustainable model that will continue supporting communities with three bamboo training centers serving as a platform for businesses and employees to share best practices.
Thanks to the nature of my job at Citi, I’ve been afforded a unique opportunity to witness at close range the extraordinary impact of our commitment to supporting people and communities and people in times of need not just for the short but also the long term. I am truly humbled by our ability to bring changes to people and communities that are struggling and need a helping hand. Although the program has concluded, its progress and accomplishments will stay fresh in my mind for a long time.