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Research Consultant, MSMEs, China

Location: China
Program area: Inclusive Economic Growth
Deadline: August 27, 2021

The Asia Foundation (the Foundation) is a nonprofit international development organization that improves lives, expands opportunities, and helps societies flourish. We work with innovative leaders and local communities to build effective institutions, advance policy reforms, improve international cooperation, and drive sustainable and inclusive development. Informed by more than six decades of experience and deep local expertise, the Foundation’s work across the region focuses on five core program pillars—good governance, women’s empowerment and gender equality, inclusive economic growth, environment and climate action, and regional and international relations. The Foundation’s work in these areas is informed by eight key strategies that define and distinguish our role as a trusted partner, facilitator, and innovator: nurture leadership, inform public policy, strengthen institutions, expand access to information, mainstream gender, leverage technology, forge strategic partnerships, and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion.

In China, the Foundation focuses on inclusive economic growth, environment and climate action, regional and international relations, gender equality and women’s empowerment, and the development of the charitable sector. The Foundation has been programming in the economic empowerment area in China for over a decade. Our work has focused on improving the entrepreneurship capacity of migrant women in developed coastal areas and returned migrant women in rural areas. The Foundation has developed a women’s entrepreneurship support model, established strong local networks, and has successfully piloted and expanded this model to multiple locations.

Terms of Reference

The Asia Foundation seeks a consultant to research and write a position paper that provides insights on the micro, small, and medium-sized enterprise (MSME) landscape in China. The paper will prioritize the needs of MSMEs in China and their pain points that innovative approaches, including fintech solutions, could potentially solve. The primary audience for the paper and its recommendations are entities that serve MSMEs, with a lens toward fintechs with MSME business solutions. TAF will also convene a workshop to promote the position paper. Participants of the workshop may include representatives from MSMEs and MSME associations, government officials, academia, civil society organizations (CSOs), and fintechs that serve MSMEs. The contract duration will be 1 September–15 October, 2021.

The consultant will collaborate with Foundation staff to develop and produce a position paper in English, which will be subsequently translated into Chinese outside of the contract period, for a global audience. Specifically, the paper should:

  • Provide a brief analysis of the Chinese MSME landscape, particularly in areas outside of main urban centers (Tier 2, 3, 4 cities);
  • Map existing policies and initiatives that support MSME growth, which may include the enabling environment for start-ups and non-financial business development support programs
  • Identify key challenges and gaps to MSME growth, including the role of rural-urban integration and diversification of economic value chains;
  • Identify and prioritize the needs of MSMEs in China, particularly those based outside of urban centers, and their business and operational pain points that innovative fintechs could potentially solve; 
  • Present recommendations outlining ways to better support small businesses particularly approaches that the NGO sector and the private sector’s fintech industry can take to help accelerate MSME growth. 


The research methodology will include a desk review of relevant literature including policies regarding support for MSMEs and the small business sector (e.g., medium-term policies of the National Development and Reform Commission and others, short-term measures in response to Covid-19 impacts) and key informant interviews of MSME owners, MSME-representing associations and organizations, MSME experts, Chinese fintechs, and other key stakeholders, including local government and community leaders. At key junctures prior to drafting the report and before the final report is delivered, the consultant will meet with the Foundation staff for their guidance and feedback.


  • Detailed work plan and tentative outline
  • First draft of the written report
  • Final report


  • At least 15 years of relevant technical experience in MSME development in China, including regulatory frameworks and enabling policies.
  • Demonstrated familiarity with and knowledge of international development programming around inclusive and sustainable economic growth in China.
  • Experience with and knowledge of the fintech landscape (key actors, policies, domestic fintechs) in China is highly desirable.
  • Candidates must have an advanced degree in a field relevant to the Terms of Reference.
  • Strong analytical skills
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills in English.
  • Demonstrated interpersonal and communication skills including interviewing with tact.