KuoRay Mao builds unique partnership of CSU, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Research Center for Rural Economy, and NGO Green Camel Bell to address community environmental governance in rural China

Since 2014, Dr. KuoRay Mao, Assistant Professor of Sociology, has been an official consultant of Green Camel Bell (GCB), a grassroots environmental NGO based in the Gansu province in northwest China. The CSU-GCB partnership helps build important relationships among rural communities in Gansu that are addressing severe watershed pollution, grassland degradation, and environmental health threats caused by unlawful hazardous waste dumping. Dr. Mao very actively contributes to GCB’s community-based activities by supporting strategic planning, fundraising, project implementation, scientific research, connection building, and more.

“Being a grassroots organization, we lack professional and academic ability to conduct social research,” says Zhao Zhong, Chairman of the Board, GCB. “With his support from a sociological aspect, we are able to recognize the key social issues by questionnaire, interview, qualitative and quantitative analysis, policy review and other methodologies of sociology in the community. We also work out a feasible model to effectively solve social and environmental problems at community level, as well as timely evaluate the cost and benefit in the whole lifecycle of projects under his guidance.”

Dr. Mao has also helped GCB and other civil society organizations establish a bottom-up channel to policymakers as well as an official think tank for feasible policy advocacy. Like many grassroots NGOs, GCB faces funding challenges. Dr. Mao not only facilitates project design, but also proposal writing and prospective donor contacts. Together, he and GBC have been awarded grants from the National Geographic Air and Water Conservation Fund in China, the U.S. Embassy Small Grants Program, and the Oxfam Hong Kong.  

“Not like most other researchers who are only external observers, Dr. Mao deeply participates in these community-based activities as an active practitioner, innovator, mover, advocator, and ambassador,” says Zhong.

The multi-sectoral, interdisciplinary engagement partnerships that have emerged through KuoRay Mao’s work in Northwest China and involvement with the Green Camel Bell project have facilitated and supported development of new multi-sectoral partnerships within China and across international boundaries to include the U.S. and Ethiopia,” says Dr. Pete Taylor, Professor and Chair, Department of Sociology, CSU. “KuoRay Mao’s sustained work over several years with rural Northwestern China communities, the Green Camel Bell NGO and their diverse institutional partners shows clearly the power of engaged scholarship to bring together scientific and local community knowledge to co-create effective solutions to social problems.”

Thanks to Dr. Mao’s professional networking efforts, social scientists from American and regional and national Chinese academic and policy institutions have joined the CSU-GCB partnership to conduct research, develop education initiatives, apply for funding, implement programs, and generate substantial political support regarding environmental health issues. “The Chinese central government think-tanks Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) and the Research Center for Rural Economy (RCRE) at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs benefit from this partnership through having the opportunity to participate in and learn from community-based research about the effectiveness of current government policies and how policies might be designed for better results in China’s rural regions,” says Taylor.

“My colleagues at CASS regard this cross-sector collaboration to be highly promising in studying environmental and health issues in hinterland communities,” says Dr. Qian Zhang, a Deputy Director at CASS. “The community engagement scholarship also demonstrates to us an excellent research approach that may contribute to the establishment of an ecologically friendly rural development model.” 

CSU’S Department of Sociology and Office of Engagement have also benefited in many ways from Dr. Mao’s collaborative efforts. Chinese and CSU delegations have made multiple visits to CASS-Beijing and CSU-Fort Collins through a CASS-CSU Visiting Scholar program supported by The Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice. Dr. Lou Swanson, Professor of Sociology and CSU’s Vice President of Engagement and Director of Extension, facilitated a partnership around rural extension issues between CASS’s Institute of Sociology and three Ethiopian universities. CSU Sociology and CASS co-organized a symposium at Shanghai University on “Revitalization and Technological Transformations of Rural Communities: Agricultural Extension, Rural Development, and Agrarian Change in the Developing World” in which six CSU Sociology faculty members traveled to Shanghai and Beijing to share research with colleagues from China and other countries. Dr. Mao also facilitated direct formal ties between CSU’s Office of Engagement and China’s Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Affairs that resulted in a 2019 Memorandum of Understanding that gives CSU-based sociologists rare access to the Ministry’s extensive rural development database. 

Many of Dr. Mao’s activities have been reported on in the media.

Selected Media Reports on Community Environmental Governance conducted by the CSU/GCB Partnership 

Sep. 20, 2018: “Protect the grasslands in the source of Yellow River”, Taiwan Environmental Information Center 

July 21, 2018: “Why ‘Citizen Science’ Faces an Uphill Climb in China”, Sixth Tone, Fresh Voices from Today’s China

June 4, 2018: “The construction of beautiful country in Nuanshui village”, Wushan County Government website 

May 15, 2018: “Pilot rural tourism in Nuanshui village”, Gansu Provincial State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission official website 

Apr. 25, 2018: “Pilot pesticide packaging waste recycle in Nuanshui village”, Wushan County Government website 

Apr. 17, 2018: “Green Camel Bell Annual Report”, New West Magazine 

Feb. 9, 2018: “Drying Out: Climate Change and Economic Growth Drive Water Scarcity in the Third Pole”, China Environment Forum 

Jan. 16, 2018: “Green Camel Bell organized voluntary teaching activities in Nuanshui village”, Wushan County Government official website 

Aug. 29, 2017: “Ecological demands by herders”, Green Earth Volunteers Blog 

Dec. 9, 2016: “A Story of Grasslands Villagers Designing Their Own Development – With a Very Happy Ending”, Pacific Environment website 

Selected Media Reports on CSU, CASS and RCRE 

Shanghai Symposium Conference Reports Link 1, Link 2

CSU Department of Sociology visits CASS and RCRE

CSU Vice President of Engagement visits CASS and RCRE

CASS delegation visits CSU as reported by CSU’s Office of Engagement and Northeastern Junior College’s local paper, Journal-Advocate