Non Profit Incubator

Like the updraft that enables an eagle to fly high, we are dedicated to release the potential in people to improve the society in China.

Non Profit Incubator


Established in 2006


The Journey

NPI is the umbrella organisation for several intermediary agencies support the emerging third sector in China.  It operates several programmes such as “Non-Profit Incubator”, “Community Service Platform”, “Venture Philanthropy Fund and Competition”, “Shanghai Social Innovation Park” and the “Shanghai United Foundation”.

When NPI established in early 2006, The founders: Mr.Lv Zhao and other board of directors of NPI detected that the non-profit sector in China had difficulty finding support and resources despite offering services that were in high demand. NPI identified the need for more civil society organizations, a more effective social service provision and more dynamic social innovation. A specialised programme rooted in social innovation, to provide support to newly established, early stage NGOs and social enterprises, was created: the Non Profit Incubator. The first incubator started operating in Shanghai at April 2007 with support from the Ford Foundation and the Narada Foundation.

A strong board of directors was in place and had close ties with international incubators. Such as Mr. Shang Yu Sheng The Vice chairman of the NPI board , who is founder of an established NGO supporting organization called NPO information center, and serial entrepreneur Mr. Lv Zhao provided a profound understanding of the sector and what needed to be addressed. They were able to learn from others experiences – such as Taiwan and Japan Non-Profit Incubators and adapt the model to a local context.

Between 2007 and 2013, the Non Profit Incubator programme has supported social entrepreneurs in four regions across China and worked to inspire more people to become social entrepreneurs. The support model evolved and was scaled up: it was adopted by the Ministry of Civil Affairs in 2010, then copied and replicated by other incubators.  Since 2012, based on its learnings, NPI has provided consultancy services to other incubators a China has witnessed a giant leap forward in terms of support for social entrepreneurs and civil society organisations.

In 2012, NPI had recognised the need to refresh the model of its Non Profit Incubator programme, but it was not clear how to proceed. But then, during a conference to encourage dialogue between China and Europe, Ms. Ding Li – vice president of NPI met with Cliff Prior, CEO of UnLtd in the United Kingdom. After an in-depth conversation, both realised how similar the missions of their organisations were – and identified an opportunity for a strong strategic partnership. NPI decided that adopting the UnLtd support model would allow for increased impact in China. An exclusive partnership agreement, lasting two years, was signed and as of June 2013, and NPI began to adapt and adopt the UnLtd model to create the Non Profit Incubator 2.0.

UnLtd and NPI have been working closely together to build this new support model in China – via email and phone correspondence, through exchanging helpful templates and documents, and through face-to-face immersion sessions with staff members. NPI has already started recruiting and is in the process of convincing current staff members and partners of the value of adopting the new model.

The first trial will be in Shanghai – and this will then be rolled out to other cities.

Watch this space!

Support for Social Entrepreneurs

Before adopting the UnLtd model , the Non-Profit Incubator Program provided start-up NGOs and social enterprises with essential resources, ranging from co-working space, shared facilities, capacity building programs, micro-grants, and fundraising assistance.

The new support model now looks like this:


Top tips for supporters around the world

ü  Every country has its own set of challenges so when starting up, it is essential to have developed a deep understanding about the local situation.

ü  Ensure that your organisation has an essence and a deeply engrained philosophy.

ü  There are many different ways of providing support to social entrepreneurs: work out which model is the right one for your organisation and/or programme and that is has been adapted to the local context.

ü  There are so many learnings out there already. Learn how to leverage them!

ü  Don’t underestimate the importance of inspiring people outside the social entrepreneurship circle in order to achieve scalable impact.

Challenges & Opportunities

Before adopting the UnLtd model for its Non Profit Incubator programme, NPI encountered a few challenges. The dependency on government funding resulted in a lack of autonomy and creative innovation often caused by heavy bureaucracy. Also, incubators were being copied too hastily, without the necessary detail and attention.

A continuing challenge for NPI is the immaturity of the SE sector in China and the lack of interested and knowledgeable stakeholders. The notions put forward by NPI are completely new – and people need to be educated.

Adopting the UnLtd model presents an important transition for NPI and the staff need to be convinced and educated about the changes so as to facilitate its implementation and build a committed team. Time needs to be invested in inspiring staff and stakeholders that this is the way forward.


For now, NPI collects data by asking the NGOs and SEs directly, but recognises that the system can be improved and they are looking for funding. 

Key impact data:

  • Incubated 200+ Civil Society Organizations (including NGOs and SEs)
  • Non-Profit Incubator Model became part of a national policy to support CSOs
  • Supporting  1000+ CSOs annually in China
  • Influenced government agencies and corporations to provide funding support to grassroots CSOs
  • Managing 60,000 m2 of public facilities
  • Mobilized GBP 30 Million for 1000+ CSOs in past 7 years

Partnerships & Financial Sustainability

NPI’s annual operating budget is around USD 4 million.

Funders include Chinese Government agencies, International and domestic charitable foundations, multi-national and domestic Corporations, multi-lateral organizations such as the European Union, among others.

NPI is in the process of setting up a fundraising platform to encourage the mobilisation of resources inside the country – with support from other partners. NPI organises an annual fair in China to engage donor partners and connect them with civil society organisations.

NPI continually seeks out cross-sector collaboration with government agencies, corporations and foundations to mobilize more resources to better serve the needs of civil society organisations and social enterprises. 


Ding Li

The Global Social Entrepreneurship Network is an initiative launched and incubated by UnLtd                                 Get in touch by email or on twitter 

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