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  • Writer's pictureTingbin Tang

Social innovation design to help the poor

Many charity organizations have been criticized for lack of transparency; on another side, many charity organizations are struggling to do the good thing yet be sustainable. My idea on Qifang was to create a transparent social enterprise, instead of a NGO, make money under the sunshine yet helping the poor students.

Some background about this project: Qifang was the first P2P banking site in China, however, at that time, the market had not been educated yet, because lack of credit system, people were not willing to lend money online to a stranger. Qifang received 1 million USD angel investment, but there were not many people using the site and the investment was almost used up. So they came to me, and want me to refine the user experience, and thought that would help.

To my understand, the user experience not just about how intuitive the task flows are and how friendly the interfaces are, it is also about the business model, if target users accept your model and willing to involve. So I actually redesigned Qifang's business model, and the site design itself, is just a representation of the business model.

1. Lend to help

I kept the P2P banking model, for those college students who has the ability to pay back in the near future, they still can ask for a loan with interest. We worked with the colleges, so the students' identity were verified. This way, trust can be built.

2. Donate to help

I added charity features. For those little kids in the developing area, they can raise donation from this site for their tuition. Not like many other NGOs who will take a cut, since Qifang is a P2P model, we will make sure every penny of donation will goes directly to the poor kids who need it.

In China during that time, even Red Cross China had scandal, and people lose their trust on NGOs. Since Qifang is more transparent, more and more donations will go through Qifang.

3. Shop to help

Shop to help means people can also buy something here for the poor kids, and the merchandise were donated to Qifang by some manufacturers who has left overs in their warehouse that can not sell. By doing this, the manufacturers get rid of their left overs while gain public recognition. Yet the poor kids receive the merchandise like stationaries, clothes, etc. Of course, Qifang states clearly that they will charge small amount of fees for these merchandise to cover their manpower and operating costs. Never make money under the table, which is important to keep the trust from the public.

4. Game to help

This is an genius innovation from me, yes, you are right. For those who want to help the poor kids but without money to support them, they can simply play online charity games on Qifang to help the poor. How?

Let me give you one example of the charity games I designed. At that time, people in China do not trust local milk manufacturers, something that should not be added to the milk were found in some product brands. So I designed this game with the sponsorship from Mengniu, one of the biggest milk producers in China.

By playing this "Milk Factory" game, the players will need to choose an avatar, then step by step producing a virtual milk. After a virtual milk is produced, the sponsor - Mengniu will actually donate a real bottle of milk to the poor kids in rural area.

With this charity game, the players and public will find out, that Mengniu's manufacturing process is trustable; thus Mengniu rebuild their brand image; the web users helped the children without paying money but just playing game; Qifang received sponsor money from Mengniu; and most importantly, the kids received milk. So it is a four wins business model.

5. Ads to help

Further more, what if a person want to help the poor kids, but he/she just does not have the money to lend or to donate or to shop; nor does he/she has the time to play the game? Simply, they can just click the ads at the ads wall. Every time when they click an ads, the sponsors will donate a small amount of money, e.g. 1 cent to the poor kids. With this model, web users will be encouraged to click the ads; while the sponsoring companies also receiving great publicity. Also, the kids will receive donation. And what is for Qifang? Of course, advertisement fees from the sponsors. Another four wins model.

A social enterprise is an organization that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in financial, social and environmental well-being—this may include maximizing social impact alongside profits for external shareholders. -- Wikipedia

What is interesting is the story after. Since I designed the new business model for Qifang, the board was so happy at me. As a result, though I was came in as a design consultant, I was appointed firstly as COO and then CEO of Qifang. Below were the pictures when I was giving speeches at Sustainable Summit of United Nation on behalf of Qifang. Also some media reports.

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