Elyse Ribbons, the founder of GeiLi Giving, spoke to Insight about her innovative WeChat app that connects Chinese netizens to reliable and trustworthy NGOs. It serves as a gamified social platform that encourages users to participate in public service activities. This week we spoke with Elyse to learn more about her WeChat app and how it’s making a positive impact in China by providing the public with an entertaining way to donate and volunteer for a good cause.
Insight: Can you explain the gamified social platform? How does this app promote participation in public service activities through games?
Ribbons: Gamification is typically defined as the application of typical elements of game playing (e.g., point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity. We have created a social media app that distributes points to users for donating to charity, as well as for getting their friends to donate, thus increasing the motivation to donate and the sociability of the process in general.
Insight: Are these games targeted to a certain age group? Can everyone have access to the NGOs you recommend?
Ribbons: Any WeChat user who has WeChat payment set up in their account can participate in the GeiLi Giving Challenges. Each challenge (of which there are two monthly) highlights a different project with a different NGO. All of our past challenges will be listed in our app and on our website, as well as links to the NGOs if users wish to further contribute.
Insight: Do you find it difficult to find reliable NGOs in China to make connections with?
Ribbons: Of course it is difficult as this is not only a new field, but also one that is heavily influenced by an ever-changing government policy. Fortunately even though there is much corruption and poor NGO management, there are still many amazing organizations run by good people who want to make their communities better. So it requires a lot of leg work, a lot of conversations, and a good feel for people and situations.
Insight: Do you have certain criteria when you are reviewing the NGOs?
Ribbons: Yes, we need to see a history of good bookkeeping, the ability to follow through on promises and project management. We also need to see that they have a good relationship with the local community (ie: that past projects have been received well).
Insight: Can you monitor or measure the social impact or change that has come from starting this app?
Ribbons: Of course. The social problem that we are targeting is the general apathy that Chinese people feel towards charitable organizations — there are almost zero private donations, so some numbers that we work with are based on the WeChat platform. Last year 5% of WeChat users participated in the WeChat Charity micro donation platform, GeiLi Giving will be measuring the success of our social impact based on increasing this number – the increase in our users (aka: donors) will be one factor, as well as the consistency of donation (aka: users who donate every campaign). By creating the habit of charitable donation, increasing the peoples’ trust in NGOs and grassroots organizations, slowly but surely the Chinese philanthropic marketplace can develop in a healthy manner.
Insight: What is the motivation behind the GeiLi Giving app?
Ribbons: In my work as a radio and TV host, I often would be asked to MC charity events and galas, where I would happily donate my time in the hopes that I would be able to help these organizations garner more funds. However, several of the organizations that I previously hosted for have been involved with scandals large and small. Much like the general populace of China, I felt jaded towards philanthropy and stopped working with any of the larger organizations in general. However, as a Beijing resident for more than 13 years, I felt chagrined that I couldn’t contribute more to my own community. After reading Half the Sky and The Blue Sweater, I was inspired to create this social enterprise with the hopes that it could sustainably engage and encourage the Chinese marketplace.
Insight: Where do you see the future of GeiLi Giving?
Ribbons: We hope to create a trustworthy brand, where the average citizen can see that an organization has successfully worked with us in the past and is therefore worthwhile to continue to contribute to. Kind of like an FDA for NGOs here, if it has the GeiLi stamp of approval, the organization is relatively transparent. Furthermore, we hope to engage with more campaigns and more organizations. We are starting with only two a month, but it would be wonderful to have more targeted campaigns far more frequently. Ultimately I hope to see China transcend America in charitable donations.