Free lunch, a Chinese crowd-sourced fund, took off amid charity scandals and public skepticism about giving money. Internet watcher Tricia Wang describes in UKWired how a former journalist free lunches for thousands of malnourished kids by building trust and transparency.
We often think of internet-powered revolutionary change as enacted through a model of forcing political change through civil disobedience, such as the Arab Spring or Occupy Wall Street. But, here in China, I’ve been documenting the emergence of a model that uses crowdsourced fundraising, social-media transparency and social pressure to forge a collective action that is apolitical and effective in changing policy from below. It’s called Free Lunch.
On Sina Weibo, China’s largest microblog, more than a million Chinese citizens have raised RMB ¥30 million (£3m) to provide free lunches to malnourished children in over 160 rural schools in one year.
The programme originated with Chinese journalist Deng Fei, who made a name for himself exposing child kidnapping and organ harvesting. When he received a tip from a teacher that schoolchildren in the countryside were too impoverished to eat lunch, he investigated the situation and realised that the problem was nationwide. He quit his job as a journalist and dedicated his time to solving the problem. He started posting pictures of children, accompanied with requests for donations from his estimated 200,000 followers at the time (he now has two million)…
Free Lunch has proved itself as a model. Seven months after it launched, the government invested ¥16 million in a similar programme.
Programmes such as Free Lunch are introducing new cultural values and practices to China. They also reveal that crowdsourced fundraising that doesn’t track real-time effectiveness may not be suitable for non-Western contexts. Free Lunch leverages people’s compulsion not just to do good, but to engage in shared responsibility.
This kind of innovation builds the foundation for future macro-innovations in transparency. It hacks the system using existing tools, creating viruses of hope that even one person can contribute to social change.