Deng Fei’s Speech in Wharton Summit:
Mix philanthropy and business to help “left-behindchildren”
Hello, I’m Deng Fei. It is a great honor for me toshare a story about “fish”, “fish rod”, and “collaborative fish farming” with all of you.
In the spring of 2011, I witnessed a group ofstudents who couldn’t afford lunch fees, suffered extreme hunger andbecame emaciated and sallow in the remote mountainous regions of Guizhou. Mostof them were left-behind kids, whose parents were making a living outside ofrural areas. In China, the population of this group of students, who werehistorically called “left-behind children,” has reached at least 61 million.
I felt sympathetic to these kids and aspired tohelp them. I was only an ordinary reporter without money or power, let alonehaving the knowledge and experience of public welfare activities. What should I do?
Fortunately, we were situated in a noble period ofwireless Internet. We presented the obstacles that these left-behind childrenexperienced and our dreams on Weibo (the China-based microblogging services),promptly achieving the connection between personnel and property. We commenceda system from the bottom to the top, made the whole aid process open andtransparent, and further had the entire society to witness this process.Therefore, the overwhelming participations, either in monetary or physicalways, were positively inspired in the Chinese society. In other words, everyparticipant not only donated money but also made pragmatic efforts.
In addition to the immense bonus generated by theInternet, I also introduced sociological ideas into our nonprofit organization:equality, freedom of speech, democratic autonomy, and operation under lawenforcements. In China, nonprofit organizations lack funding. We are forced toadapt our organization and policy to the new changes continuously to maximizethe benefits of the policy, such that the people could be emancipated and couldarise to create and develop freely.
Thus, we are functioning well. "FreeLunch" created a model to solve problems of lunch preparations in ruralschools, and duplicated the model throughout the nation; the model serves morethan ten thousand children per day, and it has made an impact on the country'saction on a larger scale. To date, our country has invested at least 200billion RMB in nutrition enhancement for children in poverty-stricken areas.
However, we have also noticed other difficulties ofrural children while doing “Free Lunch”. So we started to conduct a series ofnew activities.
We have been doing “China Rural Kids Care”, aimingto help raise fund to save children who have serious diseases.
We have been doing “Warm Current”, aiming toprovide living and sports goods to rural schools.
We have been doing “Children Safety”, aiming toprotect rural children from abduction and sexual assault.
We have been doing “The Flying Box”, aiming tooffer warm and comfortable dormitory to kids living in high and cold area.
We have been doing “Gleaning Action”,hoping to take good care of every single-parentchild.
Over the past five years, we have raised 260million donations from four million donors, serving 1 million left-behindchildren. Although we have received many commendations from local governmentand nation, we see the limitation of doing public welfare activities. If theparents of those children are not at home, our efforts will finally go in vain,because we do not resolve the root of the problem. Besides, we also have towork very hard to give “fish” to those children.
However, how can we help the rural poverty-strickenfamilies to increase their income and attract the parents to go back home? Wefound that those small towns are in poverty due to their isolated locations,but, on the other side, it was their isolation that helped preserve the freshair, water and foods, and they are becoming the scarcest things in China. So,we only need to resolve one last problem – how can we help those small townsturn what they own into cash?
I believe that we’ve found a new model – let thephilanthropy partnered business to support the poor regions in multipleperspectives.
Philanthropies go first. We connected the smalltowns that we were supporting to the donors from the urban areas by telling allthe donors at where their money was spent. After that, we posted the breathtakingsceneries and unique local products of that town to draw attentions from thedonors.
Second, the voluntourism. We encouraged donors toshow their kids around the country. We have already attracted a lotof families to involve in ourvoluntourism projects. They continuously donated money after seeing andrealizing how hard those children in the country living a life while standingfirm.
Third, sales happen. None of them were willing togo home empty-handed since witnessing the gorgeous beauty. No surprise, theywere amazed at local natural subsidiary agricultural products and bought a lot.
Fourth, we set up and ran an e-commerce platformfor the program. Through the platform, those families who visited the smalltowns could easily purchase the agricultural products again. In this case, theycan stay in touch with our philanthropic programs. Now we have founded a socialenterprise, which is an e-commerce platform called “Hope Farm” in English. In Chinese, it is called “E NONGJI HUA,” the literal meaning of an e-commerce plan for farmers. So far, we onlysell farm products from poverty-stricken counties.
We took various actions to keep sale grows. Wehelped the rural cooperatives and the businesses in the small towns improvetheir capabilities of production and logistics. Additionally, we strengthenedthe complete network to support the “Hope Farm” program by teaching the knowledge of loans andagricultural technologies to young people in the counties. In this case, therural economy could grow steadily with the help of the stable inner network. We do not just give fish to people; we assist them to fish with ustogether. We look forward to catching more fish with individuals in the future.
In sum, we redistributed resources within thecurrent structure, softly reforming the old rules.
First, we turned those children’s families who werein need into producers, providing them with capabilities, the “fishing rods”,to encourage them to “learn fishing”by themselves instead of just giving them “fish”.
Second, we turned our donors into consumers, and wepromoted that consuming was doing public welfare activities and helping thosechildren.
Third, we encouraged cities’ elites to take aninitiative. People who launched this social enterprise were my alumni of CEIBS(China Europe International Business School) and well-known entrepreneurs fromdifferent cities. They will speak for various products and group-purchase our products for the benefits of their employees aswell as their companies’ clients to maintain the relationship, andconsequently, promote sales.
Fourth, when the local government becomes a friendto support thepoor, not only does thegovernment help the local children, but also promote a better relationshipbetween the officials and residents. That is beneficial to develop localeconomy friendly, steadily, and systematically, increasing the GDP in a impoverished county. At the same time, this rural area becomes our closerfriend, letting the government, cooperation and social organization to solvethe poverty issue and left-behind children together.
Starting from helping children to assisting theirparents, and to promoting economic self-growth in the area where theleft-behind children live, we are continuing to innovate, to break through andto better development. That is all about fishes, fish rods, and cooperated fishfarming story.