Pony Ma: Tencent is an Enabler and Connector for Tech for Good
This is an extract from a recent article written by Pony Ma, Co-Founder, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Tencent Holdings Ltd., on the company’s progress of its “Tech for Good” mission and creating sustainable social value.
Many years ago, a Tencent employee collapsed during his morning jog and passed away. This incident had a great impact on me. Our inability to help and the lack of a medical emergency response remains a painful personal memory.
The tragedy made me think long and hard about how one can find first aid equipment and first aiders as quickly as possible when someone is in a medical emergency.
Some colleagues and I eventually came up with an idea to develop a digital emergency response system that complements China’s 120 emergency call system. We tested it first inside Tencent.
When someone faints, anyone can just scan an emergency code nearby to call the closest volunteers. Last year, someone fainted in our building. Using this system, within four minutes, more than 20 colleagues came to the rescue.
Similar first aid systems have now been installed in nearly 40 universities, shopping malls, communities and industrial parks, achieving rapid response within four minutes.
We have now launched an open platform for emergency response, connecting tens of thousands of automated external defibrillators (AEDs) and volunteers and allowing the public to check the location of AEDs in real-time on a map.
At the same time, considering the difficulty of first aid for the hearing-impaired, we have made it possible to call 120 by text through AI-driven technology. Such accessibility functions have been adopted in first aid centers in more than 40 cities across China, and are already potentially saving lives.
I share this story to illustrate how Tencent has evolved as a company, one that is driven by humanity to develop technology for good.
Caring for Others, Reimagining Our Futures
The United Nations recently released the latest Human Development Report: “Uncertain Times, Unsettled Lives: Shaping our Future in a Transforming World.” It found that we are living in times of great uncertainty caused by factors such as COVID-19, climate change, geopolitical tensions, and cost-of-living pressures.
The report makes for sobering reading, but it concludes that there are opportunities to reimagine our futures and who we are and what we value. It also made me think that despite the difficult times, there are many heart-warming stories that reassure us and provide some certainty in our lives.
We know of many people who care about those around them, and want to make the world a better place.
Among them is Guangqian Yang, a retiree in Yunnan Province in his 60s. Yang has donated 30 million steps over three years through Tencent’s charity platform, which we then convert into tangible support. He has done so simply by undertaking his daily commute from his home to the hospital where he volunteers. “I just want to do my bit and make a small contribution,” says Yang.
Jia Zhu, a professor at Nanjing University and recipient of Tencent’s Xplorer Prize for scientific innovation, is working with Tencent’s Carbon Neutrality Laboratory to test a new type of radiative cooling technology on Dagu Glacier in Sichuan Province. Preliminary estimates suggest that, if successful, it can slow the decline of Dagu Glacier by around 80 percent.
The actions of Yang, Professor Zhu and others like them may vary in scale and ambition. But they all have the same mentality of thinking beyond personal interests to care for others, whether it’s helping their neighbors, villages, and children in need, to protecting glaciers from global warming.
Building Products that Provoke Emotions, Solving Global and Societal Challenges
I used to say that Tencent is a connector, mainly referring to its role as a connecting tool. Later, as we explored social value in-depth, we realized that the essence of connection goes beyond tools. This essence should be caring for people. Our success has come because we have been striving to understand the needs of users and constantly working to improve our products and experiences.
Some time ago, I proposed the concept of a CBS trinity, and how the main receiving end of the services provided by the internet has transitioned from consumer to business, and now to society. An internet product creates value only when it has applications and is used, and the best can help solve societal and global challenges.
That led to the establishment of Tencent’s Sustainable Social Value (SSV) Group in 2021. The group has been exploring innovation in areas such as charity digitization, education innovation, public emergency response, digitalization of cultural relics, carbon neutrality and FEW (Food, Energy and Water).
Guided by Tencent’s vision of “Value for Users, Tech for Good” and concepts such as SSV, we work to concretize emotions like kindness and care into implementable strategies, actions, products and operations. In addition to the digital emergency response systems, our various technologies are being used across a wide spectrum of fields to benefit society.
We have applied the noise reduction technologies of Tencent Meeting/VooV Meeting to cochlear implants and hearing aids to help children and the elderly with hearing impairment, gaming technologies to the construction of highly-simulated internet-based factories, and AI-driven technologies to the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST), nicknamed Sky Eye, to find pulsars.
Investing in Social Good is of Paramount Importance as R&D Investment
Caring for people is key to the continued growth of Tencent, and I firmly believe that it is the basis for the development of modern enterprises. The investment in sustainable social value is as important as that in research and development of technologies.
To turn this vision into reality, it is vital that we integrate social and commercial value. The creation of social value should not be the responsibility of a separate department, but must be gradually integrated into our main business scope.
Weixin Pay has already made such attempts. It has launched the “Love Meals with Weixin” and “Drinks with Love” campaigns, where thousands of food and beverage outlets encourage Weixin Pay users to make a donation to sanitation workers.
Weixin Pay also partners with merchants such as coffee shops to advocate low-carbon consumption through the use of a low-carbon data interface on the app.
Another example is the “Self-reliance Shop” program launched by Weixin to help people with disabilities get a job. It provides digital business accessibility tools for people with disabilities, and partners with community organizations to promote users to purchase at these self-reliance shops.
The establishment of charity channels in common consumption scenarios has made it easy for users to make a donation, enhanced the reputation of Weixin Pay, and solved a social pain point in an innovative way all at once. In the future, I hope more enterprises will benefit people and society through the use of their core technological capabilities. A new network of collaboration, driven by technological innovation that blends business capabilities with social purposes, will be formed. It will be a multi-layered, systematic, globalized and co-created platform that develops technology for good.