State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

The Impact of the Internet in China

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Charles Chen, co-founder of Tencent, speaking at Columbia University on Monday, March 7, 2016. (Photo: Tim Lyons)

On Monday, March 7, 2016, the Earth Institute welcomed Charles Chen, co-founder of China’s largest internet service portal, Tencent, for a presentation on the impact of the internet on Chinese society. Nearly 100 students, faculty and professionals joined the Earth Institute for the occasion. Steven Cohen, executive director of the Earth Institute, opened the talk with warm remarks about Chen’s role in establishing Tencent, as well as his role as the founder of the Tencent Charity Foundation, the first public welfare foundation created by an internet enterprise in China.

In his talk, Chen discussed how the internet has begun to reshape one of the world’s oldest societies, and how he envisions that change to be even more impactful on China in the near future. He focused on the ‘mobile ecosystem,’ or mobile internet access, as a tool that helps other sectors reform and upgrade. According to Chen, in 2015 the mobile ecosystem generated 4.2% of global GDP (more than $3.1 million USD), and provided 32 million employment opportunities. Over the past decade in China, mobile internet access has not only generated positive economic impacts, but has also benefited education, healthcare and other public sectors.

But for the internet to deeply change social structure, Chen argues, breakthroughs in technology must be achieved. Coordinated efforts must happen among practitioners, regulators and policy makers. Chen spoke of China’s ambitious Internet Plus strategy, which was launched last year to promote the integration of mobile internet, cloud computing, big data and the internet of things with modern manufacturing. With the goal of fostering business development and furthering competitive industries, Internet Plus has gained momentum within many sectors in China.

Chen then went on to discuss his philanthropic experiences and how he has seen mobile internet access change charity models in China. Technology has allowed donors and beneficiaries to connect on a much easier and more effective scale. Low-cost methods and high connectivity have allowed small donations to make a large collective impact.

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Chen speaks in front of an audience of 100 people. (Photo: Tim Lyons)

Chen spent a great deal of time speaking about education, a topic that is clearly important to him. He believes education is the most important organizational system in society – and one that can benefit greatly from technology and access to information – if the system is fair, efficient, and gives young people the skills to tackle the world’s future challenges. In China, as in many countries, public education resources are scarce and the best teachers aren’t reaching the students who need them. It is clear that Chen’s professional focus will be on developing, supporting and implementing pioneering education research. He hopes to find a sustainable, forward-looking model of education that can consider the trends of the future, and he recognizes the importance of technology in that model. Tencent has already experimented with online education platforms through mobile internet.

Chen concluded with his vision of connecting every individual in China to the internet, which he hopes will impact individual lives and the entire social structure. He believes that empowering people with connectivity is the key to bringing about change at all levels of society. Watch the full video below.


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