Digit Debates: Live from the farm: How Chinese video apps are changing the global development landscape

26 May 2021



Could China’s new wave of short video apps improve the lives of the global poor? More and more sales are being routed through short video apps like Kwai/Kuaishou and TikTok/Douyin, which allow producers to engage directly with customers over thousands of miles. Using such platforms, Thai durian growers and Rwandan coffee sellers are becoming microcelebrities in China and elsewhere. This talk digs deeper to ask how innovations in digital technology can foster value creation and entrepreneurship at the ‘base of the pyramid’ (BOP) – those 2.7bn people living on less than US$2.5 per day – by integrating them into China-centred digital and commercial networks. By sharing their skills, experiences and their normal farming and life activities directly with customers, new and often strange forms of globalisation are emerging, which promise more equitable treatment for the global poor than existing global market structures.

Through an in-depth case study of a successful platform (Kwai) which has hundreds of millions of daily active users from marginalised global communities, Fu will outline a content-based new inclusive digital business model for grassroot entrepreneurs. She will identify the mechanisms that makes such a platform fair and inclusive for the global poor and look at the impact on income creation, capabilities’ development, and social capital development at the BOP, as well as the impact on the growth of BOP entrepreneurs, and the enabling factors that are essential for the scale-up and success of such a business model.


Xiaolan Fu is the Founding Director of the Technology and Management Centre for Development (TMCD) and Professor of Technology and International Development, University of Oxford.  Her research interests include innovation and technology policy and management; trade, foreign direct investment and economic development. Her current research concerns innovation collaboration, digital technologies and inclusive development, knowledge transfer within and between organisations, and green innovation policy. She is appointed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations to the Governing Council of the Technology Bank of the UN and to the Ten-Member High Level Advisory Group of the UN Technology Facilitation Mechanism.  Her recent books include Innovation Under the Radar, China’s Path to Innovation, China’s Role in Global Economic Recovery, and The Rise of Technological Power in the South. Prof Fu has received the EFMD Gate2Growth 2005 ‘European Best Paper’ Award, 2017 EURAM Annual Conference Best Paper Award, 2018 International Business Review Best Journal Paper Award. She has been awarded research grants from the ESRC, EPSRC, DFID, British Academy, and European Commission.

Related reading

The Inclusive Digital Model (IDMODEL), TCMD, University of Oxford