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University of Iowa News Release


Feb. 25, 2009

Law student reports to help nonprofit groups working in Asia

International nonprofit and development organizations will have an easier time working in Asia thanks to research by a group of University of Iowa law students.

The students researched the nonprofit legal systems in Hong Kong, Pakistan, Singapore and Taiwan as part of a Law in Asia class offered last fall semester. Their reports will be used as country notes by the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law and published in the Center's International Journal of Not-for-Profit Law.

The Washington, D.C.-based center maintains country reports on many countries outside the United States that are used by foundations, donors, development banks and other organizations. The reports help the organizations familiarize themselves with a country's legal, political and cultural landscape.

"Many organizations rely on the ICNL and its country reports in their own work, so this was a good way for our students to produce research that's really useful for a lot of people," said Mark Sidel, the law professor who taught the course and who also sits on the ICNL's advisory board. "These reports will be widely read, and they will be used."

"I was very impressed by the students' work product," said Doug Rutzen, president of the ICNL. "Their reports will provide a useful guide to academics, lawyers, foundation representatives, and others interested in the legal framework for civil society in Hong Kong, Pakistan, Singapore and Taiwan."
Civil society organizations are nonprofits, nongovernmental organizations, social service agencies and other groups that provide various types of services to help strengthen a society. They often augment government services, and frequently fill in gaps by providing services that governments are unable to provide.

"The civil society sector is an indispensable part of moving society forward," said Dora Wang, a second-year law student who took Sidel's class. "They can supplement the government, and sometimes provide services better than the government."

Wang worked on the Taiwan report with third-year student Maria Pin Gao. A native of Taiwan, Wang said her homeland emerged as a functioning democracy only about 20 years ago, so their report notes that organizations with a presence in Taiwan will find a civil society culture that is still young and unsettled.

"It's a new area of the law and, like its democracy, is still in development," she said.

Despite that, she said the country's emerging civil society is looked up on favorably because it played a crucial role in Taiwan's path from dictatorship to democracy in the late 1980s.

"My work refreshed my history of what Taiwan went through to become a democracy," said Wang. "There was no revolution or civil war. It was a mild and peaceful process, compared to what a lot of nascent democracies go through, and the country's civil society organizations played a significant role in galvanizing the necessary social and political will to make that transition possible."

Rutzen said ICNL will publish the country reports later this year in its journal, "International Journal for Not-for-Profit Law," and post them to its Web site at

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