As the battle to eradicate poverty rages on, the Chinese government is increasingly using big data and the internet to land that killer blow. And it is already starting to reap rewards.
In October last year, the State Council launched an online platform that aims to bolster efforts to improve the quality of rural residents’ lives by boosting nongovernmental involvement and attracting more private capital.
The project allows families in poor areas to crowdfund projects or sell goods, such as produce or handicrafts, while people nationwide can register to offer financial assistance one-on-one or donate unused food or household items.
The internet-based platform－with a name that translates as Social Participation in China’s Poverty Alleviation and Development－is accessible via zgshfp.com.cn, a mobile app or WeChat.
It is designed to help those in need as well as those who want to contribute to the country’s poverty campaign but don’t know how, according to the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development, which instigated the project.
Ruan Kaili, the website’s executive vice-president, said the platform already has more than 5 million registered users, half of them from impoverished households.
“We’ve achieved some preliminary success,” he said. “More than 60 percent of users have either received help or helped others, and the total amount of funds donated has surpassed 30 million yuan ($4.54 million).”
He said the platform uses government databases to verify the status of those who register as impoverished, ensuring its credibility, which is essential in attempts to attract nongovernmental capital to worthy projects.
“In addition, we also have over 100,000 information management personnel in towns and villages whose job is to verify each member’s identity and assess their income level,” Ruan said. “If we want to achieve our targets for eradicating poverty, we simply cannot ignore big data,” he added.
Authorities in 10 provincial areas, including Hunan, Jiangxi, Sichuan and Shaanxi, have been promoting the project among residents and offering help to people in remote towns and villages to register and set up crowdfunding appeals.
Every little helps
The project’s main functions are to provide a platform for crowdfunding, e-commerce and one-to-one assistance.
Similar to websites like Kickstarter, the Chinese service lets poor families or grassroots authorities request money for a specific purpose, with the minimum target amount set at 300,000 yuan.
For example, the poverty alleviation group in Longhui county, Hunan province, appealed for donations this year to help a Miao community of more than 100 impoverished families to develop the local tourism industry.
The authority asked for 1 million yuan to cover the costs of upgrading roads and other infrastructure in the scenic area, which has waterfalls and terraced fields.
Individuals with minor projects, such as building a greenhouse or buying equipment for a workshop, can use the one-to-one platform, which has no minimum target.
Donors can contribute as little as 1 yuan to help an appeal to reach its goal.
Meanwhile, registered members can offer to give away unwanted or surplus goods. The most popular items requested or donated so far have been cooking oil, vegetable seeds, fertilizers, clothes and books, according to Ruan.
Using the e-commerce function, farmers and traditional folk artists from poverty-stricken counties can sell agricultural products or handicrafts.
“Currently, the trading function mainly contains links to products from poverty-stricken areas available on other online shopping websites,” Ruan said. “We’re working to make further improvements so that in the future we can verify and make sure the sellers are indeed in need of assistance.”
“Our ultimate goal is to tackle issues related to poverty by using the internet and improving social participation,” Ruan added. “We’re looking into expanding our approach to make sure the poverty-reduction efforts are targeted and accurate.”