21 October 2020 – IPRS Virtual Townhall (Purpose Series) – Xin Yi Lim (Pinduoduo)

We were privileged to have Xin Yi Lim (Executive Director, Sustainability and Agricultural Impact, Pinduoduo) join us for October’s instalment of our Purpose Series.  Initially a VP at GIC overseeing the Tech, Oil and Gas sectors in the United States, Xinyi decided to move to Pinduoduo back in 2018.  Today, Xinyi is a champion of sustainability, driving sustainable agricultural practices and technology across provinces in China. Pinduoduo actively works with their stakeholders to achieve a win-win business model, allowing consumers to enjoy “value-for-money” products while allowing suppliers to grow their productivity through sustainable practices and smart technology.

Today, PDD has cultivated a vast online community where over 700 million users trade information, expert tips, or simply interact. They have also developed a wildly popular game which has encouraged agro-business and friendships as well as the drive to score higher points within its online community.

Here are some highlights from the 30-minute conversation, which was moderated by IPRS Vice-President, Nisar Keshvani:

Q: How has your journey at Pinduoduo been so far? Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.

Xinyi: I’ve always appreciated the opportunity to learn from many different sectors, to discover potential collaboration opportunities and attempt to connect the dots. The opportunity to join a fast-growing Tech start-up like Pinduoduo was something that appealed to me.  Pinduoduo is certainly an unconventional company – in the last 5 years, we had managed to narrow the gap with the e-commerce market leaders.

A large part of this comes from agricultural products, fresh produce such as rice, meat, fruits, etc. of which we sold close to 20 billion dollars’ worth last year. A lot of these fresh produce are coming directly from farmers, to be packaged and mailed to users all over China. Suddenly, people can discover good-quality and affordable fruits that they usually cannot find at their local markets.  As you are cutting out the middleman, the farmer is also able to earn more than they normally would through traditional channels. We take pride in enabling this and endeavour to do better.

We are constantly looking at the tools that we can provide the farmers – can we train them so that they can make the transition from farmer to Agri-preneur?  We work together with other partners, such as local governments or Agronomic Research Institutes, to train these farmers and to organize them so that they have more income and the ability to invest for their future. All of this benefits our consumers – at the end of the day, the consumer is still able to enjoy good quality fruits at an affordable price even going into the future and not worrying about the farming population not being able to keep up with growing demand of the urbanized core.

That’s a broader trend that I think will continue to unfold in China and that is something that I’m very active in my current role. We are talking to different parts of the agri-food system, understanding what their capabilities are and figuring out how everything stitches together. Sustainability is inherently bundled with our activities – if you can improve farming practices, you are not just improving productivity, but also helping the environment.

Q: What is your brand’s purpose, and what makes it relevant within today’s climate?

Xinyi: That’s a timely question that many companies worldwide are thinking hard about, especially since COVID has strained operations and bottom-lines for many companies.

One thing that attracted me to PDD was our core value 本份, or “One’s duty”. We truly embodied this during the first half of the year, when China underwent a lot of strict lockdown measures. When we saw that Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) prices were spiking, we stepped in and helped subsidize the price of PPE products so that everyone had a chance to purchase them. We also stepped up on our inspection efforts so that people are not feeding in low quality or counterfeit products and profiteering off it. We simply saw it as fulfilling our duty.

On the broader question of our purpose, we see ourselves as an enabler of digital communities. We are known for being one of the pioneers of “social commerce” – the concept of forming a team and buying products together to enjoy a lower price. We have enabled many “real-life” interactions within the shopping to happen online. But beyond simply buying cheaper products, we are also thinking how to transform the traditional face to face experience so that people still feel connected.

One of our features released earlier this year allowed people to see the recommendations or reviews of products from their friends. This is a way of bringing relevant information to the user, so that they can make better decisions in pressing times. We are also working to incorporate Live streaming into our platform, which has been a huge phenomenon in China. Through this, we hope to allow people not to be passive viewers but interact and exchange knowledge with the seller.

This is an entirely different mode of engagement that is new to a lot of people. But from the continued engagement we have seen on our platform, it shows that people see value in being able to form a connection with someone to exchange information and get very targeted advice. We expect to see this trend continue and will continue to see how we can improve the shopping experience.

Q: How do you think people’s lives have been transformed through the work you do?

I visited one of our Duoduo farms in the Yunnan province last Christmas.  We had a partnership with the Provincial government to build pilot farms, specifically in the more impoverished counties. We had a project in the Nujiang Valley where we started up a cooperative for the local farmers and injected some seed funding. The farmers pulled their land together and worked with an Agronomist from the Yunnan Academy of Agricultural Sciences, who guided them on farming methods and what crops to grow.

One of these farmers had suffered from a disability from a young age and crawls around using his two hands. Through this cooperative, he was able to enjoy a steady income stream which is not tied to his own independent ability to farm.

When consumers know that they are buying products from people who need the help, they would also feel good. Today, many consumers within the younger generations do not care about just buying something and having it delivered to them quickly, they also want to make an impact in their own way.  This is something that we actively try to seamlessly integrate into the shopping experience as well. When you are browsing through products on our platform, there are indicators that show that you are buying from a farmer in need.

Seeing that someone had directly benefited from our initiatives felt very impactful to me. Our vision, apart from just having single farms here and there, is to prompt a wider involvement by society, because we as PDD can only do so much. If we can demonstrate that these initiatives are working, maybe we would have more of these self-sustaining cooperatives sprout up to benefit more farmers like the ones we had met.