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Technology empowers philanthropy in China

Xinhua | Updated: 2021-09-09 15:57
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Residents take water at a makeshift water distribution site after strong rainfall hit Zhengzhou, capital city of Central China's Henan province on July 22, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua]

BEIJING - When Central China's Henan Province was hit by severe rainfall and floods in July, money poured in through online charity platforms.

The Chinese Red Cross Foundation received 67.3 million yuan ($10.38 million) through 1.84 million donations via online platforms as of Aug 10.

Early September is the climax of China's philanthropy, with the country's official charity day falling on the fifth of the month every year, followed by the "99 giving day," an unofficial public welfare occasion. Increasing attention is being paid to the growing role played by online platforms in philanthropy in China.


More Chinese are taking part in charity through the Internet thanks to unprecedented convenience, based on China's widespread broadband -- including wireless coverage -- and popularization of mobile payment.

Chinese charity groups registered a 20-percent annual growth in donations in recent years on the 20 online charity platforms approved by the Ministry of Civil Affairs, said Wang Aiwen, a vice minister, in May.

In total, charity groups received 8.2 billion yuan via the platforms in 2020, a 52-percent increase from 2019, and there were 10 billion clicks on the platforms in each of the two years, he said.

Internet giants now routinely display ways to make charity payments in popular apps such as WeChat, meaning donations are often a few clicks away in the same apps Chinese people have overwhelmingly relied on paying for their grocery and everyday commutes.

People can donate with just a cellphone and charity projects can be updated timely through social media platforms like WeChat and Weibo, which significantly improved accessibility, said Deng Guosheng, deputy director of the School of Public Policy and Management at Tsinghua University.

That makes donations more interesting, interactive, social, and easier for young people, added Deng.

Small-dollar donations enabled by technology are another attraction - for example, money worth just a simple meal. A philanthropy platform hosted by Chinese Internet giant Tencent has received over 13.4 billion yuan from nearly 500 million individual donations, averaging a little over 20 yuan apiece.


Made easier by accessibility, telling the story behind philanthropy is also easy as many online charity channels feature pictures and first-person accounts of what or who ultimately benefits from the donations.

As Chinese universities kick off the new academic semester in September, three new undergraduates from impoverished families received 5,000 yuan each in a decade-long project by an alcohol brand from southwestern China on an online platform. "Wishing you a great future," wrote an Internet user named "rocky" after reading the students' qualifications and background in a social media post.

Jonas Wolf, a Forbes 30 under-30 Social Entrepreneur, said he was impressed after participating in an online project named "planting 100 million Haloxylon ammodendron," a plant to curb desertification.

"The project is in particular close to my heart as I recently visited Ningxia and Inner Mongolia," two regions on the frontline of desertification, Wolf said. "There, I could see the result of desertification which the project combats!"


Tech-based transparency provides a badly-needed chance to rebuild Chinese confidence in philanthropy, when fake donation scandals lead to mistrust in traditional means of doing charity and skepticism of philanthropy groups, another reason for the wider adoption of online channels.

But as the easy access and low threshold of the Internet enable charity projects to flood digital fundraising platforms, the difficulty to evaluate the real effects of the numerous projects has also increased, said Tao Chuanjin, professor at the School of Social Development and Public Policy of Beijing Normal University.

"It's feasible to let professional and credible third-party organizations evaluate charity projects," said Tao, suggesting a system of applying independent accountability checks when necessary, so as to reduce problems and support good projects.

As China puts increasing emphasis on "common prosperity," a euphemism for a fairer and more equal society, private tech companies that have prospered in recent years are now making eye-catching direct donations or sponsoring wider trends in philanthropy.

"Many other countries can learn from the massive platform-based charity events," Jonas said. "Such massive events create a momentum that smaller companies or organizations cannot achieve on their own. In turn, this influences the next generation of donors and change-makers."

"Most other countries are still lagging in the platform economy and their ecosystems," he said, referring to the digital infrastructure and the habit of using them in China. "It will still take time for other countries to catch up."

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