Free Lunch: A case study in Chi­nese trans­paren­cy and crowd-sourced fundraising

Exhibited by
Craig Linton
February 04, 2016
Medium of Communication
Target Audience
Type of Charity
Public society/benefit
Country of Origin
Date of first appearance

SOFII’s view

This is a bold campaign that in a short time has had a huge impact on the lives of malnourished school children in rural China. The transparency and feedback built into the food distribution model is a fantastic mix of online and offline action designed to build trust with the donor one meal at a time.

This transparency means donors can clearly understand how their money has been spent. As a result millions of people have responded by giving to help provide school meals. By crowd sourcing both fundraising and the monitoring of the scheme Free Lunch is a breakthrough innovation that has helped restore trust in charities in China.

Summary / objectives

To provide a free nutritious school lunch to children across China.


Donations to the Red Cross Society of China plummeted by 80 per cent after a scandal hit the headlines about the misuse of funds. All charities in the country were tainted and faced widespread public mistrust.

Around the same time, nationally-known journalist Deng Fei discovered school children in some rural areas were too impoverished to eat lunch. He decided something needed to be done. However, aware of the climate of mistrust Deng vowed that any solution must be transparent and should demonstrate where donors’ money was going.

Creator / originator

Chinese journalist, Deng Fei and the Free Lunch organisation.

Special characteristics

Deng Fei set up Free Lunch, a charity that would provide food to schools where pupils were malnourished. To ensure transparency Free Lunch used a series of off- and online tools.

First of all, all schools had to publicly state on popular micro-blogging platform Weibo (similar to Twitter) how they had spent the money.

Here is a typical message on the site:

December 22, 2011; Thursday. Hunan Xinhuang Dapingpo Primary School Free Lunch. Today 41 people ate a meal. The menu: meat and radish, boiled eggs, stewed potatoes. Rice 10*2.2=¥22, meat 3.2*¥13=¥41.6, eggs 41*¥0.7=¥28.7, radish 6*¥1=¥6, potatoes 6*¥1=¥6. Oil 1.3*¥7.5=¥9.75 and firewood 40*0.2=¥8. In total ¥122.05, ¥2.98 per person. We do not have classes on Friday. Happy new year!

Then Free Lunch recruited local retired officials to oversee the accounts and visit schools to ensure the children were being fed.

Finally, the charity’s two million followers on Weibo were encouraged to monitor schools’ online accounting. Any questions raised by followers are answered by the school or by Deng Fei himself. If any irregularities come to light then this leads to the school losing its funds.

Influence / impact

Free Lunch has had a huge impact in China, has fed millions of children across the country and led to a number of copycat schemes opening.

One of these schemes is run by Liang Shuxin, a marketing planner at Tianya community, and his volunteer group. Liang opened a donation page at There was a simple call to action to help the students obtain free lunches. He thought five yuan to be the price of a ‘unit of love’ and by the end of May 2011 he had received donations worth more than 430,000 yuan.

‘Many kind-hearted donors gave five or 10 yuan,’ Liang said. "That may not seem like a lot to them, but it's an extraordinary contribution to the children."

Even the Chinese government joined in and pledged ¥16 million to start a similar scheme. This has since helped about 12 million students in the middle and western parts of China to get daily access to nutritious meals at school.


Confidence is restored in fundraising in China while many children benefit from a free lunch and donors can easily see what their generosity achieves.

For further information you can read about the project in the following articles:

Tricia Wang, Building transparency in China one lunch at a time, Wired Magazine, 2012 , Building transparency in China one lunch at a time

Video on You Tube: Free lunch for Chinese poor children Free lunch for Chinese poor children, Rural schools get free meals, China Daily, 2011 Rural schools get free meals, China Daily, 2011