By Deng Fei    translated by Ruichao Liu&Amber


Someone has said it was a miracle that I’m still active in the public welfare since I set foot in it in 2011.

At that time, I had no power or money, nor my own team or any experience in the field. On seeing those hungry children in rural China, I made an impulsive decision to quit my job as a journalist and devoted myself to public welfare.

It has been 7 years. We have not only survived, but also thrived. We grew up from the Free Lunch for Children program to the current four big sections, including a cluster of rural children welfare programs, ecological protection and economic development in rural area, as well as vocational education and training for young people in low-income regions. These four sections stand independently but interconnect and support each other at the same time, which have raised over 500 million yuan that served 1 million kids in over 5,000 schools.

Many people wondered how we made it. Our secret, in fact, is one word--innovation.


Author: Deng Fei, Initiator of Free Lunch for Children Foundation

In 2011, we started the Free Lunch for Children program which luckily attracted the public’s attention with the help of the explosively growing social media, Sina Weibo. Without this social media, no matter how ambitious we were, it was almost impossible for us to spread the words out so fast.

Why? It was because Sina Weibo helped people really see and connect with each other massively for the first time, which enables us to join all kinds of resources swiftly and act at any time.

This is how Weibo empowers an individual: You can obtain help, such as money, materials, and even human resources via Weibo, and all you need is a valuable idea. This is actually the first time where Chinese people empower themselves in the era of the Internet.

Therefore, we posted our ideas and activities on Weibo to let people in the nation know them, draw their attention and encourage their participation and promote cross-boundary cooperation.

Through cooperation, I only need to do what I'm good at. As a journalist, my advantages are good writing skill, a firm value system and systematic thinking.

Based on that, I mainly did the following three things.

First, naming the programs. Similar to give a title of my article, I named the welfare programs as "Free Lunch for Children", "China Rural Kids Care", "Let Birds Fly". A good name impresses people and help them remember the program. I wrote articles to articulate our missions, plans and activities clearly and effectively, and communicate them to others.

Second, giving each program a vision of value to cohere efforts from all sectors of society. A good example is the Free Lunch for Children program. It is not only about providing free lunches to the children in the rural areas, but also giving these kids an opportunity to change their life and fight for their dreams. Each and everyone of them has the dignity to enjoy quality medical service.

Finally, being a golden thread which strings seemingly irrelevant people and things that forms a system to generate new potential energy.

At the beginning, I didn't know what would lead to success, but I knew what would definitely lead to a failure.

Being an investigative journalist is to investigate, study and record what resulted to a failure, which could be abuse of power or embezzlement. We just do the opposite.

People in media industry love to write. We write as we do things on Weibo, Wechat moments, Jinri Toutiao(Today’s Headlines), and any other places that we could write and attract the public’s attention. For us, there's no such thing as hiding the balls, business secrets, or vested interests. We can spread ourselves out to be monitored by the public.

In this way, we achieved complete transparency of our practices in public welfare, which has been a benefit we didn’t expect. We got applause when we did a good job, otherwise we quickly got suspected, criticized, or scolded, which actually pressed us to correct our mistakes quickly. The Internet is akin to the ocean, where everything comes and goes fast, the weather keeps changing and waves constantly beats us. the keys to survive is to stay alert, robust and compassionate.

On the mobile Internet, numerous business organizations created numerous new tools and technologies to realize commercial profits by resolving users' pain points. We know how to do this, therefore, we follow closely and find businesses to leverage these new tools and technologies to enhance our communication, fundraising, organizing and implementation.

Mobile Internet is the cornerstone of our development. It is also our basic platform for continuous innovation.

In 2014, we saw that the Shanghai-Kunming high-speed railway connected eastern and western China, we believe that the high-speed rail would once again empowers people. We moved south to Hangzhou immediately and take root in the Yangtze River Delta. We gathered resources from the rich areas first, relying on high-speed rails, and flowed into the Midwest through social channels.

In the past three years, we have been self-evolving, from a single public welfare product of Free Lunch to a joint welfare of rural children’s interest. A strategically synergistic and mutual-nourishing charity ecosystem is generating, including water bird protection and coordination, helping children’s parents with economic development, and supporting the rural county’s human resources.

To innovate is to gain insight to a trend and harness its power quickly before others do. But as all things are produced from trends, innovation can also be achieved by embracing trends to access and penetrate the market.

It seems that we always see the trend and continue to innovate to gain energy. But how can we achieve innovation?

I believe that innovation is a kind of intuition. It is not instinct, but a rare ability attained through long-term training.

Prior to engaging in public welfare, I was an investigative journalist with Phoenix Weekly. I had a working principle, which is never climb like any other turtles. In elegant terms, before we doing one thing, we should think about whether we can do it in another way. The first reason is that we just start to climb while others have been climbed for a long time; second, we’re new in doing this while others have had a lot experience; finally, we would never surpass others if we just follow them and  climb.

Then why we followed them and climb if it looks like we can’t win the race?

When I look back, I think it is related to my experience as being a journalist. Not like other magazines, Phoenix Weekly publishes three times monthly, so it takes longer for a story to come out. This tortured me since each time I would likely to be the last reporter to break the news. The editor would compare my articles with those of other media, and if I can't differentiate my work from others, I'm dead. Because no one would read my articles, which would also ruin the reputation of the magazine.

If I can’t grasp more facts, or my insight, questioning and thoughts cannot exceed others’, my article will be thrown out by editors. The news articles are written to been read by the whole world, and any loophole in it would make the relevant parties face a lawsuit. The news articles must be accurate, readable and impeccable. Therefore, I was going through a high-quality self-training each time I wrote.

For a long period of time, China’s public welfare industry was almost dominated by government-sponsored foundations. Lacking of elites, the industry was isolated and stable. Occasionally, programs like “Project Hope” and “Water Cellar for Mothers” caught people’s attention. The dramatically-developing mobile Internet makes it possible for new comers who obtained resources through good marketing strategy or small fundraising events to upset the industry, as long as they have some tricks on hands.

Recently, however, the long-standing foundations have recovered from the previously losing battle. They are stabilizing the support from the government and enterprises, and, on the other hand, recruiting young writers to meet the tastes of young generation. The young writers are using their unique methods to occupy WeChat and Alipay as donation channels. They also mobilize learning methods and organize their special funds for multi-centered fundraising, in an effort to consolidate their dominance in the public welfare industry.

In addition, the elites in the business world are retiring in large numbers or they have achieved financial freedom. They enter into the public welfare industry to discover a new realm of life. This force is organized, rich, disciplined and has a strong sense of honor as well as inborn competitiveness. They bring tremendous effectiveness to the public welfare industry. They operate individually or jointly to form a highly effective and efficient existence, which pose a great threat to small fellows of public welfare.

Those in the Internet industry don’t want to be outsiders and they also enter into public welfare. They know how the Internet's new generation think, so they’re able to make public welfare products that are smarter to blow your mind, melt your heart, make you donate in seconds, and have you share their products happily, by which a virus fission is achieved.

Although they have been criticized as leaning too much on technology against value systems and civilizations, they are like the golden dragon in Gu Long's novels, comes quickly to knock you out and leave without a trace.

More importantly, governments at all levels realize the value of public welfare, and thus opened up the society to release energy. Public welfare organizations at the regional level in different provinces also appear like bamboo shoots in spring, seizing resources from all over the country. It’s similar to the economic reforms and opening up in 1978 when companies were opened all over China. If norms and regulations are established and clearly defined, while clear rule regarding incentives and punishment are in place, then this kind of organizations is bound to become an enormous force in China's public welfare industry. Being multi-centered, self-organizing, and mobile Internet-bound, they quickly empower themselves and develop rapidly in the region.

The surging fierce competition means that no improvement equals to going backwards. This is true for any non-profit organizations. What should we do? How can we innovate?

In a nutshell, the ultimate goal of innovation is to satisfy people. We are not worried because we have many people on our side, and people means everything.

The new question is how can we satisfy people?

While sticking to the values of public welfare, we need to learn from business organization once again. The key for a business organization to survive is to satisfy its customers. Once the customers are satisfied, they will continue buying, and business organizations gains profits. Similarly, nonprofit organizations provide products and service to the community. However, unlike daily necessities, nonprofit products aim to effectively solve a social problem and their surrounding plans and actions should attract relevant and unrelated people to donate. After getting the donation, nonprofit organizations are entrusted to promote solutions of the social problem.

For donors, donating to a nonprofit organization is also a kind of purchasing. What he buys is in fact an experience that makes him feel happy, calm, satisfied or gratified. If the experience is bad, he will not donate again, or even give it a bad review and discourage others from donating, which may lead to an interruption in the funding chain. The nonprofit organization is then endangered.

Therefore, the next innovations that we are going to do are:

First, keeping doing a good job. Consolidating the existing nonprofit products that are reliable, while developing new ones to solve social problems effectively and efficiently to make the donees satisfied. We also make donors satisfied by making effective use of their money.

Second, let people see. We continue to innovate ways to display the value vision, action efforts, and achievements of the nonprofit organizations, spread them out to tell more people, and make donors satisfied.
Third, including more people. Now that donors are not satisfied by only being audience but want to participate and gain a higher level of life experience. Therefore, we must continue to innovate, remove the walls of the nonprofit organization, hand over the rights of be informed, participating and supervise to the society. In this way, we turn “me” into “we”, and me-dominating into the common participation. Letting the donors feel at ease that the money is from the society and works are done by everyone. Letting the participants take the initiative to create that good things will grow by themselves.

Innovation is to do unprecedented things. In this process, we must overcome difficulties of all kinds and withstand failures or disgrace to keep on going. We stay true to ourselves, persist in loving and serving people, support and develop people, and let they solve their own problems. As a result, our way to innovation is fearless, free and happy. On this way, we see good things blossom like beautiful flowers.