And Finally

Heroes of the hour

China’s delivery drivers make an unexpected appearance on National Day

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Not just delivering food

Food delivery people are a feature of modern life in China. Few street scenes are complete without a courier whizzing past on an electric bike. At lunchtime – the busiest period – it’s not uncommon to see them sprinting up flights of stairs to make sure they make their drop within the allotted time.

Their inclusion in Tuesday’s National Day parade was a little incongruous – it’s not often that you see a delivery guy in the vicinity of a ballistic missile – but it is also fair to say they deserve their place as a symbol of 21st century China.

Meituan Dianping, the largest food delivery brand, takes its role very seriously indeed. As well as expanding into areas including hotel booking and ride hailing, it boasts several endeavours aimed at ‘giving back’ to society too. The latest involves putting restaurant chains in touch with farmers from poorer rural areas. Meituan then helps to market the dishes the restaurants make from their crops.

“The newly devised offerings are expected to attract gourmet enthusiasts and trendseekers who aspire to taste cuisine that goes beyond the fare that’s familiar to local palates,” China Daily said.

Meituan supports the restaurant programme by buying from larger numbers of small farmers to create bigger orders. Thus far it has helped to inspire 15 dishes using ingredients such as Tibetan barley and Yunnanese cured ham.

In September it also launched a scheme that allows any company that delivers it services through a Meituan Dianping platform – hotels, restaurants, airlines etc – to make charitable donations. It says it will use the funds to support rural kindergartens and provide assistance to ‘left-behind’ communities of elderly people and children in rural villages and smaller towns.

Meituan focuses on this demographic because many of its staff are migrant workers who leave their families when they move to the bigger cities in search of employment. Delivery drivers from rival firms such as Ele.me can apply for financial support from the same ‘left-behind’ fund if their children fall sick.

Meituan isn’t alone in setting up charitable foundations. Tencent, Taobao, Jindong, Baidu and Didi Chuxing all have philanthropic programmes – some of which channel contributions from customers, and others which allocate donations from the companies themselves.

Supporters say they feel more comfortable making charitable donations through these platforms because it is easier to see where their money goes.

It doesn’t hurt too that the person or company that has made a donation is registered – often boosting the contributor’s social credit rating (see page 10).

In other initiatives Meituan has said it is committed to reducing the huge amounts of plastic waste that are being generated by the booming food delivery sector. But most of its focus is on the good deeds of its couriers, some of whom sound more like superheroes than delivery people. “In 2018, Meituan riders helped save 40 lives and bring 10 lost children back to their families along their food delivery journeys,” the company said in its first Corporate Social Responsibility report last May.

And if that wasn’t enough, the company also outlined how some of its other drivers had helped the authorities to fight crimes, put out fires and had even contributed to recovery efforts after several natural disasters.

Yet more reason why they should be a part of this week’s National Day parade, perhaps…


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