There are hundreds of millions of internet and mobile phone users. Few outside of China can imagine the huge potential and dynamism created by internet and social media and how they have been shaping Chinese society, spanning across different sectors throughout China. Currently, there are 618 million internet users, 500 million mobile users and 600 million WeChat users in China (WeChat is similar to WhatsApp, and the market leader in China). To put it into perspective, WeChat has reached its expansive coverage in just the last two years.
Giant social media companies are investing in free apps and tools. Leaders like Jack Ma, Pony Ma, Robin Li, Charles Zhang, and many others are kin to apply the “internet mindset” to change traditional industries for the better. They are transforming the industries of retail, manufacturing, media, finance, and education, to name a few. Additionally, they have made huge investments into the development of digital apps and other technology tools, and have even set up platforms for social giving such as Tencent Monthly Donation Platform and Wei Gongyi of Sina.com, which are almost all free for foundations and NGOs.
Internet and social media have made it possible for individuals to launch social initiatives
Individuals can lead fast and positively. The rapid adoption of internet and wide-spread influence of social media has empowered individuals to lead and influence society in a very positive way. In the digital society, individuals such as journalist Mr. Deng Fei, have a far more influential role in directing social resources and raising public awareness on certain social issues than do traditional organizations. For example, Fei and 500 media reporters initiated the Free Lunch Initiative for Children, which has raised RMB 81 million yuan (US$12.9 million), and covers 360 schools in 21 provinces across the country. This initiative has benefited 780,000 poor school children and leveraged government matching funds of about RMB 160 million yuan (US $25.6 million). Other similar initiatives have also been launched, including “Soft Power Changing China” and Walk for Love. Walk for Love was launched by One Foundation as a public engagement initiative for fundraising while promoting a healthy lifestyle, and social media played a critical role in its mobilization and promotion efforts.
Another example is Chinese celebrity, Ma Yili, who is using social media to promote breastfeeding in China. Currently, only 28% of babies in China are exclusively breastfed, so Yili is leveraging her 50 million social media fans and the mobile app “10m2 of Love”to help Chinese women locate and use public breastfeeding spaces.
The potential implication for funders and NGOs with internet and social media is vast. Given the popular use of internet and social media, it presents both opportunities and challenges for funders and charitable organizations. Digital use requires not just creation of brand programs, but also new forms of engagement with end users, partners, and the general public, as well as fresh norms and governance framework. A clear and concise mission statement and program introduction will help each individual understand the social issues, raise funds to address issues, and mobilize his or her own network to catalyze change.
Internet and social media are, however, only tools. It is the organization or people who use it to make a difference. Organizations such as CreditEase, rely on on-line and off-line services to deliver impact, with off-line credit management and evaluation crucial for its success.
Internet and social media require new wisdom and policy framework to govern the charitable sector
Third Plenum Communiqué, released in November 2013, represents an important opportunity for China to reassess the role of social organizations in society and determine what policy framework would best encourage their growth and development, particularly in the provision of social services and social governance.
There are over 50 laws, regulations and policies governing the philanthropy and charitable sector in China, and there are numerous inconsistencies and contradictions. This is further hindered by a lack of inter-ministry coordination in implementation. The direction set by the Third Plenum to “Revitalize Social Organizations” has created the best-ever macro environment for the sector. However, policies and regulations are lagging behind current development of the sector. Internet and social media require new wisdom and policy framework to govern philanthropy and charitable sector.
It is time for China to prioritize its legislation and policymaking for the sector.
What is on my wish list for 2014?
One of the participants at the panel on 21st Century Perspectives on Philanthropy and Civil Society posed this question to me, and I would like to share my answer. I replied honestly that I believe that open data and the sharing of data among four leading organizations in China will help change the information infrastructure of philanthropy and the charitable sector in a significant way. If the China Foundation Center, China Charity Donation Information Center, Red Cross Society of China, and China Foundation could open up and share their information on charitable donations through partnerships with one or two social media giants such as Tencent and Sina.com, it will shape the information infrastructure and the effective flow of information and funds in a shaping way. Critical in this partnership would be the creation of consistent criteria and an index for information disclosure which I believe would help advance transparency within the philanthropic and charitable sectors in the most constructive way.
My second wish is that the government would create a consistent coding system for all its charitable organizations and combine all forms of registration in one – to incorporate, fundraise, and claim tax benefits. China has an opportunity to create its own model for philanthropy and overall charitable sector development, which could be influential among emerging economies around the world. Additionally, China can leverage its heritage and long tradition of charity, coupled with the fact that it is now the second largest economy on the globe (and growing), to have tremendous impact.
In conclusion, being part of change in China is exciting and I am more optimistic than ever that philanthropy and the charitable sector is poised for positive change in robust and impactful ways for years to come.