Volunteering: Your Guide to Giving Back in Shanghai

By Michaela Fulton 2018-12-20 23:26:08

Make a difference today.

Whilst Shanghai encourages the fast-paced work hard, party harder lifestyle, there's no denying that we can all take some time to give back to the causes that we care about the most. In Shanghai, there are some really meaningful ways in which you can donate, sponsor or volunteer to. So, whether you're looking to give back to the community or want to do something to reduce your carbon footprint and save the environment, there's no time like the present. To start you off, here are some inspiring organizations doing their bit and what you can do to help.

Support people



Founders of the Essential Learning Group, Monte and Shari Rosen and Andrew Hill have dedicated themselves to setting up one of the first special needs schools in Shanghai. Before ELG was founded in 2006, finding a special education center was almost impossible. Now, more than a decade later, the Essential Learning Group has become one of the most successful and established international institutions providing special education, development, behavioral and mental health services to Chinese and expat families. In addition to providing a clinic, ELG offers a learning center, in which children have an individualized learning program that caters to their special needs. This clinic offers a wide range of therapy sessions and consulting services for parents and children. chinaelg.com

Shanghai Healing Home

Shanghai Healing Home

Want to make a difference in a baby's life? Part of non-profit orgnization Charity Dream Shanghai, Shanghai Healing Home (SHH) helps the local Chinese Children's Welfare Institute care for abandoned children. They provide pre- and post-surgical care for babies suffering from surgically correctable medical conditions, such as cleft palates. SHH provides a natural, home-like environment catering to the babies' emotional and social needs. This sanctuary features caregivers who are trained to care for babies with these medical problems. They look after the children for as long as it takes for them to go back to the orphanage, giving them the best possible chance of being adopted. People can help through sponsoring an operation. In addition, SHH has an active volunteer program for most ages. Baby development classes, music classes, sign language classes and more are available. shanghaihealinghome.com

WILL Foundation

An eco-learning center on Chongming Island, WILL Foundation aims to give children who are left behind a chance to flourish. In 2006, WILL was born out of founder Pilar Tan's personal experience with her foster son. He needed several surgeries to correct a cleft palate among other issues and she realized he would not fit into traditional educational institutions. She dreamed of creating a learning center for kids like her foster child, slow learners but totally capable of learning and succeeding in life. The "Walk into Life and Learn" journey emphasizes character and skills building according to each child's potential. They empower the WILL kids (all orphans with physical challenges) by giving them the opportunity to experiment and create. The mission of this center is to le the children to a more independent future. There are many ways to help, with opportunities for mentors, student interns, medical and dental visit assistance and even administrative duties. willfoundation.org

Heart to Heart

Heart to Heart

This outreach group provides support and financial assistance to underpriveleged children with congenital heart defects. Heart to Heart aims to raise funds by soliciting donations from companies and individuals, as well as through the sale of various items. Their trademark product is the Heart Bear. All proceeds from the sale of Heart Bears go towards sponsorship of heart operations for Chinese children in need. Since the organization's initiation in 2003, 17,844 Heart Bears have been sold. Outfitted in special cardigans knitted by volunteers, each of these teddy bears wears a name-tag with one of the beneficiaries' names, as well as the child's encouraging new health status: "A good doctor repaired my heart and now I can walk to school!" Besides knitting cardigans, assembling and purchasing Heart Bears, volunteers can participate in regular play sessions with children receiving operations in the local hospitals and donate necessary food, clothing and supplies. heart2heartshanghai.net

Shanghai Young Bakers

As a charity program that provides free training in a French bakery to marginalized Chinese youths aged 17 to 23, Shanghai Young Bakers (SYB) enables them to find qualified jobs and lead independent lives after graduation. They empower young adults who have had to drop out of school because of family situations (death, sickness, disability, or imprisonment). SYB students follow a one-year training where they learn valuable skills, combined with practical internships at 5-star hotels. At present, 30 students each year start a new life as bakers or pastry chefs, and are able to support themselves and their families. To help, you can visit them at weekend markets; order bread, cake or finger food; volunteer to help; intern; donate, sponsor and more. shanghaiyoungbakers.com



There is no health without mental health, yet a void can be seen in the programs, campaigns and support offerings worldwide alongside a stigma behind addressing mental health concerns. That is where Lifeline comes in. Operating as a non-profit for over 13 years, Lifeline has been providing confidential, anonymous support to anyone in need. They employ a number of volunteers who have been carefully selected and trained in crisis management who provide emotional support, referrals and a myriad of other services. Lifeline Shanghai is the only English-speaking helpline in China and offer support to people in the country via calls or online chat. Lifeline Shanghai addresses the fact that many of us struggle in our daily lives and they are committed to helping diminish the feelings of frustration, loneliness and isolation through friendly conversation as well as discussing a range of options, choices and plans tailored to individual needs. lifeline-shanghai.com

Stepping Stones

Stepping Stones

The mission of this not-for-profit organizatin is to better the education and welfare of disadvantaged students. More than 350 proficient English speakers provide free language instruction in migrant schools and communities throughout the city. Having recently celebrated it's 10th birthday in Shanghai this year, they respect the Chinese teaching methodology as well as follow the Shanghai curriculum to develop a large collection of lesson plans that introduce elements of Western pedagogy (encouraging active participation). Volunteers consistently teach 4,500 students in 30 migrant schools and community centers in Shanghai, alongside taking groups of volunteers to rural schools outside of Shanghai. Volunteers do not have to be native English speakers, but must be over 16 years of age and are encouraged to contribute between three to six hours per week. Stepping Stones supports its volunteers through regular training, workshops and social events. steppingstoneschina.net

Habitat China

Founded in 1976, Habitat for Humanity International is a world leader in addressing the issues of poverty housing. Through the work of Habitat, thousands of low-income families have found new hope in the form of affordable housing. Churches, community groups and others have joined together to successfully tackle a significant social problem – decent housing for all. The vision? A world where everyone has a decent place to live. Having helped over 1,300,000 families, built 200 homes per week and more than ¥8,700,000 raised, you too can get involved through volunteering locally, joining volunteer programmes and fundraising. habitatchina.org

River of Hearts

Established in 2003, River of Hearts is an outreach program of the Community Center Shanghai. ROH has provided expatriates living and working in Shanghai the opportunity to donate new and used items for years and donations delivered to communities in need across China – providing a way for people in mainland China in need to receive clothing, shoes, bedding, toys and other items in good condition. Over 15,000 boxes of donated items have been sent to provinces such as Yunnan, Anhui, Heilongjiang and more. Everyone can help by volunteering at sorting parties – where adults and children work together to sort, pack and load donated good to be shipped – or you can support financially by providing funds when you donate. communitycenter.cn/about-roh

Shanghai Sunrise

Shanghai Sunrise

This non-profit, volunteer-led organization was established in 1995 under the Shanghai Charity Foundation. The organization's mission is to equip disadvantaged students through education, enabling them to lift themselves out of poverty, achieve meaningful careers and inspire them to give back to the community. Through a vetting process, Shanghai Sunrise considers students who cannot meet the financial burden of continuing schooling after middle school. Students must qualify based on financial need, academic standing and either be from a single parent household or a family in severe debt from medical costs due to chronic or terminal illness. The organization relies on fundraising events and selling merchandise, but its true success of the scholarship program, by supporting students' academic success. shanghaisunrise.com

LIH Olivia's Place

Providing world class, multidisciplinary paediatric therapy services to children of all abilities and ages, LIH Olivia's Place was inspired by the need for high quality services in China. Through consulting services in speech therapy and psychology; educational outreach and foundation initiatives, they work to help kids reach their full potential. If you're interested in giving a helping hand, you can register to contribute as a volunteer or intern. oliviasplace.org

Home Sweet Home

Every Saturday afternoon, Home Sweet Home reach out to the homeless by providing a place where they can take a shower, get some clean clothes, enjoy a meal, games and fellowship as well as internship and vocational programmes to help them reintegrate into a more sustainable living. This Care Day program provides an opportunity for trainees to give back, and for volunteers to get involved. To help, you can donate or volunteer your time. homesweethome.org

Support the environment

Roots & Shoots

Roots and Shoots

Being environmentally conscious and raising awareness for action is more crucial now than ever. Founded by the Jane Goodall Institute, this global grassroots non-profit organization has a branch in Shanghai, which was among the first international NGOs in China. Through community activities and education, Roots & Shoots works to motivate young people to engage in environmental, service and wildlife causes. The Shanghai branch has a variety of long-term projects, such as KidStrong – which works with five migrant elementary schools and one migrant kindergarten around Shanghai to introduce a curriculum to the schools which includes a positive emphasis on nutrition, health, hygiene and dental hygiene. Organic Garden is another program, which plants gardens at schools. There are a great deal of opportunities via service or donations, so it's not surprising that many international schools have Roots & Shoots clubs. The organization is best known for the Million Tree Project, which not only combats desertification by planting trees but also helps to improve the livelihoods of people living in Inner Mongolia. jgi-shanghai.org



With a mission to empower students through social innovation, cultivate sustainability and create positive social impact, Upbeing work to generate and scale up action in social innovation areas. They accelerate progress towards a sustainable and fun society, permitting the full realization of human potential. Working through different programs, school projects, facilitators and more, middle school and high school students can take part by: joining a project team; initiating a project; or join the Upbeing United-Actions Academy – all whilst receiving the help of experienced facilitators and mentors along the way. They're looking for supporters for their next big event – Shanghai Pyramid Impact Collective – that focuses on the eradication of poverty, focusing on urban poverty in Shanghai. Visit upbeing-en.sxl.cn/ to find out more.

Hands on Shanghai

Hands On promotes volunteerism by matching the needs of NGOs with individuals, students and corporate leaders. Their goal is to allow volunteers to discover (and harness) their power to make a difference, by participating in the development of healthy, vibrant and resilient communities. This group provides support in the form of direct donations, fundraising and community project implementation. Founded in 2004 by young foreigners with previous experience in the Hands On worldwide network, the organization has built many long-term relationships with charities in the area. They organize short-term projects that are sensitive to the schedules and interests of volunteers. While project length and scope vary, volunteers typically commit two or three hours on weekday evenings or three to four on weekends. handsonshanghai.org


Established in 2014, Xiersen is a Children's Service Center and official NGO in China founded by special education professionals. Working to ensure that more children and young people with developmental challenges and their families can thrive, they take part in special education consulting, research and the localization of expertise from around the world. xiersen.org

Support animal welfare

Jaiya's Animal Rescue

Animal Rescue

JAR was founded in 2009 and named in memory of the founders' daughter, Jaiya Kristina, who passed away because of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). It is a non-profit, small animal rescue group committed to protecting and improving the health and welfare of animals. Since their beginning, they have rescued more than 1,200 animals. They offer education, pet health care and actively promote foster care and adoption as alternatives to purchasing animals in Shanghai. The group does not have a physical building or shelter, but works with dedicated volunteers to carry out their goals. They focus on domestic animal population control and working to reduce the number of incidences of animal abandonment. Fundraising supports local animal welfare projects, cooperation with sponsors and education the public about animals. Volunteers can help by adopting, fostering, offering transportation or donating towards the costs to care for the rescued animals. jargroup.doodlekit.com

People for Pets

People for Pets

Helping friends in need, People for Pets are dedicated to facilitating the adoption of companion animals from shelters, private rescuers or the street that are deemed "unadoptable" due to untreated medical conditions, some of which are caused by abuse or neglect. A small group of experienced rescuers work to bridge some of the crucial gaps in animal welfare and protection in China. Tackling problems at their root and aiding those that need help the most, they believe that every companion animal has the right to a life free from emotional and physical suffering. Volunteers can help by joining the 300 club to make monthly donations or becoming a foster and offer a temporary home to rescued animals. people-for-pets.org