Smartphone app RiceDonate taps into self-serving impulses to get Chinese to give

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 July, 2016, 2:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 January, 2018, 3:44pm

Mo Zihao and Wang Zi graduated from university three years ago with an ambition to tackle a basic problem that stops most mainlanders from donating to charity – a lack of incentive.

People had too many demands on their time and money, and as one person told Mo: giving simply wasn’t fun.

So they considered what people did without much motivation and decided to reward that behaviour. And RiceDonate was born.

By using the app, people earn virtual rice by engaging in any of four activities: getting up early, jogging, answering encyclopaedia questions or regularly contacting family members. Charitable causes are listed on the app and users can donate their “rice” to the one they choose.

The projects are supported by companies and foundations but a certain amount of “rice” must be earned by users before a donation is made.

“When I was about to graduate from Peking University, I was thinking about how I could do something to help others since I have received plenty of help from society over the past few years,” said Mo, co-founder of the Beijing start-up that developed the app.

“But I found doing charity was difficult in China and the biggest problem was that no one was interested in what we did,” he said at a philanthropy conference organised by Alibaba and held this weekend in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. Alibaba Group, founded by Jack Ma, owns the South China Morning Post.

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Mo spend two hours every day communicating with the app’s users on why they might become charitable.

“One of our top customers who donated the most rice told me he did not think of philanthropy at first. He said the four activities we encouraged people to do were fun, and he was helping others in the meanwhile. So he gained quite a lot of positive energy by using our app,” Mo said.

The model aims for a “win-win” situation among individuals, businesses, charities and recipients. About 50,000 people use RiceDonate every day, with between a half-dozen and 10 projects currently listed, according to Mo.

Wang Zhenyao, president of Shenzhen-based China Global Philanthropy Institute, said at the conference that unlike Christians or Muslims, most mainlanders were atheists and did not feel an obligation to regularly donate to society. To get more people’s taking part, charity groups needed to improve their professionalism, Wang said.