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Free Rice: Feed the Hungry, Spruce Up Your English

On one of my more lethargic post-lunch procrastination sessions recently, after a particularly soporific curry, I stumbled upon Free Rice, a site that a friend had sent me a while ago but I hadn’t really taken the time to look at. Half an hour later my food coma had lifted but I was still clicking away. Talk about addictive… The thing was I didn’t really feel all that guilty.

On one of my more lethargic post-lunch procrastination sessions recently, after a particularly soporific curry, I stumbled upon Free Rice, a site that a friend had sent me a while ago but I hadn’t really taken the time to look at.

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Half an hour later my food coma had lifted but I was still clicking away. Talk about addictive… The thing was I didn’t really feel all that guilty.

freerice.jpg

A sister site of Poverty.com, Free Rice aims to help people improve their English while simultaneously using the process by which they do to provide food to hungry people. A laudable goal (or two depending how you look at it.) How it works is the site provides a word and then provides you with options from which you have to pick the correct one.

Urbane
a) Lackluster
b) Suave
c) Wrathful
d) Bear-like

There’s a mix of words so that the site appeals to people who have a very basic grasp of English as well as to the more erudite. The program keeps track of each word one gets right or wrong and then adjusts the difficulty level accordingly, hence keeping you interested.

Until yesterday, for every word you got right, Free Rice donated 10 grains of rice through the United Nations to help end world hunger. As of today, it has started donating 20 grains. Pretty cool…

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I sent the site to a whole bunch of people I know and the overwhelmingly positive reactions it elicited got me thinking about how remarkable it is that something this simple can be so effective.

What can other non-profits learn? First and most importantly, if you can make doing good fun, there’s nothing like it. People like to feel good about themselves, like they’re responsible citizens of the world who care about more than shopping and football. But at the same time, if a good deed takes away from other parts of their lives, or is boring and tedious, the likelihood that people will do good decreases drastically.

Which leads me to my next point: simplicity is key. The great part about Free Rice is just how simple giving is — no long and annoying forms, no credit card numbers, no billing addresses, no trawling through lines of disclaimers. Just a lazy click of a button and you can pat yourself on the back. Sounds a bit dodgy admittedly, but the site makes money off advertising.

The design of the website supports this. It’s clean and uncluttered, featuring very little other than a green background of rice crops and the bowl of rice that is populated by your English proficiency. An updated count of your score ensures that you want to keep going: “You have now donated 600 grains of rice.”

Apart from being just fun, there’s something valuable in it for you too: as you better the world, you’re simultaneously bettering yourself — incentive to keep going.

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The site has also somehow managed to make itself viral and addictive — (I’ve had about 5 different people tell me how addictive they find it in the last two hours.)And it’s different to most other non-profit efforts out there. People who use it want to talk about it. Another editor at Fast Company, Kevin Ohannessian, unabashedly told me that he donated 2000 grains on the first day of discovering the site. Not a bad way to spend one’s time while you’re net trawling through the day.

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