Reflections on Lester Salamon: Zhang Yuanfeng

By on September 24, 2021

This is part of a series of posts from colleagues and friends around the world reflecting on the life, work, and impact of late Center Director Lester M. Salamon. A collection of additional remembrances from colleagues, online tributes, and photos can be found here

Thank you to Yuanfeng Zhang for sharing these reflections.

Gratitude and Remembrance: In memoriam of Dr. Lester M. Salamon

I have not contacted Dr. Salamon for a long time. I wrote an email to greet him on August 22. The day after that, I received the news that he had passed away on August 20. He was one of the most influential scholars in the field of nonprofit sector studies and enjoyed a high reputation in the academic community in China. I was fortunate to be a visiting scholar at the Center for Civil Society Studies (CCSS) hosted by Dr. Salamon twice in 2013 and 2016, and I had the opportunity to participate in a research project led by Dr. Salamon. The bits and pieces of being with Dr. Salamon are still vivid today.

I met Dr. Salamon at a turning point in my academic career by luck and by chance. My major from bachelor to PhD was business administration. One day when I was a PhD candidate in  Wuhan University the late 1990s, I read a book by Peter F. Drucker. Drucker said in this book that it was proven that the government cannot solve social problems; in fact, every success we have recorded is made by nonprofit organizations. I was shocked by his words because I had never heard such concept of “nonprofit organization.” Since then, guided by curiosity, I gradually quit my research on business administration and entered the unfamiliar field of nonprofit organizations.

In the fall of 2007, I received funding from the China Scholarship Council and came to the University of Pittsburgh as a visiting scholar to study nonprofit organization management. My tutor at PITT was Professor Louise Comfort who has deep attainments in the field of nonprofit organizations and disaster management. Among the book list that Professor Comfort recommended to me was The Tools of Government by Dr. Salamon. In reading this book, on an impulse, I thought I could translate it into Chinese and publish it in China. So I wrote an email to Dr. Salamon. He replied my email and agreed to my request! However, this book is a large tome of more than six hundred pages. I had tried to translate part of it, but finally I gave up my plan. At that time, Chinese editions of several books by Dr. Salamon had been published successively in China. I read those books, and I couldn’t help but have the idea of ??visiting CCSS.

At the beginning of 2013, I boldly wrote an email to Dr. Salamon, expressing my desire to study at his center. The timing was just right. At this time, Dr. Salamon was organizing a group of graduate students from China to translate the book The Tools of Government, headed by Xiao Na. Dr. Salamon said that the students encountered some problems in the translation work and asked me if I could help them as a consultant. I was very happy to accept the job. The translation team packaged and sent me relevant questions several times, and I answered some of the questions by myself and the others with the help of my friends. After the team finished the translation, I reviewed the entire manuscript. Due to this small contribution, Dr. Salamon agreed to accept me as a visiting scholar as part of the International Fellows in Philanthropy program.

In September 2013, I came to CCSS at Johns Hopkins University. My plan was to select several local nonprofit organizations in children’s services to conduct case studies. Dr. Salamon had a strong performance-oriented leadership style. He clearly told me that my research plan must be completed during the visiting period, and the research report must be submitted before the end of the visit. Two months passed quickly after I arrived at CCSS, and I did not know how to contact the local nonprofit organizations. At the end of October, Dr. Salamon held a small conference in Washington, DC. Dozens of CEOs of local nonprofit organizations attended this meeting. I also attended this meeting, and I got the courage to introduce myself to the CEOs and asked them for help. Dr. Salamon recommended a few more organizations, and finally I identified five nonprofit organizations as the research subjects. I met several members of the translation team of The Tools of Government at the Center and two of them helped me to do interviews and process data. Dr. Salamon carefully read the draft of my research report and proposed detailed comments and suggestions. I finally completed the research report at the end of my visit, and later composed a paper based on this report and published it in the journal China Non-profit Review in 2015.

During my visit in the fall of 2013, Dr. Salamon also asked me to give a lecture at the center to introduce my recent research in China. I presented a short lecture on the Rural Renewal in China. Prior to this lecture, Dr. Salamon and I discussed my presentation twice; each time I sent the slides to him in advance, and he gave me feedback page by page face to face. At the end of the first discussion, he said, “Do you mind my way? I prepare very seriously every time before I give a speech. When I was required to present a lecture to President Clinton in the 1990s, I revised the presentation dozens of times and practiced numerous times in advance.” Because Dr. Salamon was such a great leader, his colleagues at CCSS were very kind to me. Especially Megan and Chelsea, they are always ready to provide me with help.

In January 2014, I ended my six-month visit and returned to China. In June, I received an email from Dr. Salamon. He told me that he was invited to serve as the founding Scientific Director of the International Laboratory for Nonprofit Sector Studies at National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, and he was carrying out an international research project for the Laboratory. He asked me if I would be willing to participate in this project. I was very happy to join him. Taking advantage of the opportunities provided by this project, I participated in two seminars in Moscow in 2014 and 2015, and gained a little understanding of the nonprofit sector in Russia. Both meetings were in winter and the weather was freezing cold, but the colleagues were elated. The result of participating in this project was an article published in Voluntas in 2016. The title of this article is Dependent Interdependence: The Complicated Dance of Government–Nonprofit Relations in China. The development of the concept of “dependent interdependence” was inspired by Dr. Salamon. This article had been revised three times before being accepted by the journal with the generous help of Dr. Salamon.

In September 2016, Tsinghua University hosted the “World Philanthropy Forum” and invited Dr. Salamon to participate as a keynote speaker. I asked Dr. Salamon if he could visit my university, Zhongnan University of Economics and Law (ZUEL) in Wuhan City, after the forum. He said that there was just a chance. He originally planned to visit Kyrgyzstan after the forum, but it was cancelled, and he was able to spare three days to visit my town. Dr. Salamon delivered two speeches in Wuhan, one at ZUEL and the other at Wuhan University. The speech in ZUEL was later transcribed and translated into Chinese by Dr. Wang Qun and shared in the WeChat group online. During his stay in Wuhan, a local industry association happened to hold a general meeting. The CEO of this association, who is my friend, invited Dr. Salamon and me to attend this meeting. Dr. Salamon was glad to see this event and my CEO friend was very happy. In the evening of the next day, I drove Dr. Salamon to see the Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge. Unfortunately, we were stuck in serious traffic jams on the highway near a railway station that is only one or two miles to the bridge, and we finally had to give up.

During the “World Philanthropy Forum,” Dr. Salamon asked me to translate his book, Leverage for Good, into Chinese and publish it in China. I agreed. When I contacted the publisher, I found that Dr. Ye Tuo had already purchased the copyright of this book. So Dr. Ye Tuo and I worked together on the translation and he paid the all the fees. Now, I am finalizing the Chinese translation of his book Explaining Civil Society Development: A Social Origins Approach, and working on its publication in China.

Since his trip to Wuhan, Dr. Salamon has visited China several times, but I never had the chance to meet him again.

Dear Lester, rest in peace, I will miss you forever.

ZHANG Yuanfeng
School of Public Management
Zhongnan University of Economics and Law
Senior International Philanthropy Fellow, 2013, China

 

Dr. Salamon presents Dr. Zhang with a certificate of completion following her 2013 Fellowship at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies in Baltimore. Photo from Center archives.

 

Chelsea Newhouse is the Communications Manager for the Center for Civil Society Studies and manages the Center's Nonprofit Economic Data and Philanthropication thru Privatization Projects and the Nonprofit Works Interactive Database. Prior to joining the Center in 2008, she worked for the Johns Hopkins University Department of Molecular Biology & Genetics, the Baltimore Sun, and as a community organizer for Clean Water Action and the Democratic National Committee. She holds a degree in Philosophy from the University of Virginia. Chelsea can be reached at chelsea.newhouse@jhu.edu.