I’ve been really impressed by Free Rice, a sister site of the world poverty site Poverty.com. The goal of the site is to provide rice to hungry people for free, while providing everyone a free tool to improve their English vocabulary.
It works in a very simple way. There is a word and five possible synonyms. You have to select the correct one and 20 rice grains will be donated, through the United Nations World Food Program, to someone in need. This is made possible by a number of sponsors (you will notice a banner in the lower portion of the screen). The systems keeps track of your performance and adapts the difficulty level accordingly. You have also the option to make your pc remember your vocabulary level and donation level.
Since Nov 28th, the number of rice grains donated for each correct answer has been rised from 10 to 20.
The business model is built on a win-win-win relationship: you give something of value, you get something of value, somebody else pays the bill while getting something of value themselves. The rice grains you help to deliver by playing with the site can make a big difference for the ones who are receiving them. The possibility of improving your command of English can make a big difference for you, in your private life as well as in the corporate world (particularly if English is not your mother tongue). The association of their brands with good causes can make a big difference for companies struggling to stand in an overcrowded competitive landscape.
I tried to play with the site, obviously. I must say it’s addictive. Once started it is hard to stop so make sure to visit the site when you have 5 or 10 minutes of spare time to spend there. It’s worth the little investment.
As Saabira Chaudhuri points out in this article on the Fast Company Blog, there are some lessons to learn for the other non-profits.
First, you must give people a reason to support your cause, other than the fact of feeling guilty for being in the right side of the World. In this case, fun and learning are making the difference. You can have fun while making the world a better place and while making yourself a better person. Not bad!
Someone, and this is a personal note arising from a family discussion on the issue, could feel a little unconfortable with the fact of having fun while someone is suffering from hunger. But I hope you will agree that the two facts are not related. You will have fun anyway during the day. If your moments of relax can be linked to a good cause, this will not hurt. Moreover, it will give some of you a good reason to justify moments of relax that tend to last a little too long.
Another important point is simplicity. Participating in the Free Rice project doesn’t require filling in complex forms or proving credit card or social security numbers. You play, the sponsor pays, the WFP buys the rice. It’s that simple! And this simplicity is amazing from a marketing perspective.
The Free Rice program experienced an exponential growth. From the 830 rice grains collected on its launch day (Oct 7th) to the 187,906,380 collected on Nov 27th, to the 372,369,680 collected on Nov 30th, for a total of 5,306,133,170 rice grains collected so far (including 600 donated directly by me).