A 3yr old Corporate Social Responsibility – CSR – initiative that took a life of its own, has resulted in a 2019 UN Global Climate Action Award for Alipay AntForest App.
A great example of gamification and network effects on an ecosystem like Alibaba. At launch, it was one of the many charity projects that were planning to collaborate with Chinese NGOs to plant trees and contribute towards creating the Great Green Wall to block the advancement of the Gobi desert.
China has been facing a huge problem from the northeast, as the desert has been growing and as China has very little land that is arable (only 12%). Sandstorms in Beijing have become more frequent.
In 2016 Ant Financial launched a charity app, AntForest, for Alipay users. People could choose from a list of low-carbon activities like, using public transportation and bikes, recycling, reducing plastic usage, and more; and earn `green energy points`. These points could be used to buy virtual seeds to plant trees, and once these virtual seeds had grown a bit, through virtual caring (watering etc), then an actual tree would be planted in some desert.
AntForest users, could watch their actual trees grow through satellite images. One salix mongolica in Kubuqi desert, a sea-buckthorn in Tongliao, two alxa in Inner Mongolia etc. have been planted by Jessie-Chee. She watches them and is very proud of them. She competes with other friends who have more trees than she has.
AntForest gaming features and visuals have created a virtual social network that Alipay did not have before (unlike WEchat). In September, it was reported that AntForest and the Chinese NGOs that support the actual planting of the trees, have planted 122 million trees and the social network has grown to 500million users! The trees cover an area of 112,000 hectares, making the AntForest initiative the largest private-sector tree-planting initiative.
AntForest users living close to the borders with the desert have also been involved in planting the trees, changing lifestyles dramatically to earn energy points and feeling part of a virtual community with strong purposeful ties.
Alibaba is now using its ecosystem to extend the appeal of AntForest.
Its new retail concept store, Hema Fresh, offers customers 21 green energy points when they shop without any plastic bags. Hema fresh, not only has high-quality food and online ordering and delivery but also a next-level integrated smartphone experience. This includes complete product information by scanning QR codes of product labels, automated check out via RFID and payment via Alipay.
Alibaba`s second-hand trading platform, Idle Fish, rewards users recycling their old items with green energy points.
Alibaba`s Dingtalk, a chat and collaboration app for video conferencing also awards green energy points, for users that avoid commuting for in-person meetings.
AntForest has inspired and provided knowledge to GCash in the Phillipines to launch GCash Forest this past summer with the goal to 365 thousand trees in 365 days. Gcash is the top mobile banking app in the Phillipines with 5million downloads and 20million users.