Table of content

Introduction 3

Define social entrepreneurship 3

Qingfanqie public library 5

The social venture 8

Social goals/aims 8

Economic goals 9

Environmental 10

Legal form 11

The social entrepreneur 11

Scaling up the business 12

Recommendations 12

Reference 13

Appendix 14


Social enterprise is a new type of public welfare organization, which is different from the government, enterprises and non-profit organizations. They are based on the market, solve social problems through innovative business methods, and have achieved great success.

In the face of today’s complex social problems, such as market regulation failure, government supervision failure and non-profit organizations volunteer failure have emerged. The emergence of social enterprises provides a new solution to the problems caused by the failure of three departments. The rapid development of Chinese social enterprises plays an important role in all aspects of society.

However, the modern social enterprises in China started late, most of them are weak, facing many problems such as resource shortage, low competitiveness and so on. Therefore, in order to solve social problems effectively, how to build an efficient and sustainable social enterprise is in front of social entrepreneurs. In order to better analyze the characteristics of social enterprises and improve the operational efficiency of social enterprises, this paper takes the Qingfanqie Public Library of China as the research object to conduct case analysis.

In August 2010, China Qingfanqie library officially launched, creating a precedent of free physical library in the era of Web 2.0. As the same as the public library, Qingfanqie adheres to the principle of public welfare service, and takes the promotion of national reading as its own responsibility. However, it is different from the service mode of the public library funded by the government.

As a self financing social enterprise, Qingfanqie uses the business model of operating public service, creating profit and then feeding public welfare. This paper introduces the “Qingfanqie” library, and analyzes its social value (triple bottom line analysis), the characteristics of entrepreneurs, business expansion, and finally provides the corresponding solutions for how to better operate the Qingfanqie public library.

Define social entrepreneurship

Social enterprises are innovative organizations committed to solving social public welfare problems. In the 18th century, some scholars thought that there was such a kind of crowd in the society, they transferred economic resources to the field that had more public benefit effect on the overall development of society, so they were called social entrepreneurs(Huybrechts & Nicholls, 2012). Social enterprises take into account the social and economic mission. Whether the social responsibility is embedded in the business activities of enterprises, or the non-profit organizations use commercial means to optimize their own efficiency and achieve their own hematopoiesis, the organic combination of business and public welfare is the common feature of social enterprises(Abu-Saifan, 2012). The emergence of social enterprises is an important sign of the emergence of new commercial civilization. According to Certo & Miller(2008), social enterprise is a continuum between non-profit organizations and commercial enterprises, which has a mixed feature. Based on this theory, he drew and published a famous sustainable spectrum, as shown below.

 Traditional non-profit organizations Non-profit enterprises with income-generating activitiesSocial enterprisesSocial responsibility oriented enterprisesEnterprises fulfilling social responsibilityTraditional profit-making enterprises

Qingfanqie public library

As the first Chinese online physical book library in the world, Qingfanqie public library was officially established in August 2010. With the Internet as the platform, Qingfanqie provides users with free borrowing services, opens creative reading methods, and provides readers with high-quality reading materials and humanistic care; with the slogan of “enjoy book life to the fullest”, it establishes the urban node in library library, and practices all the possibilities of reading with cross-border thinking and business model(Chang, 2012).

On August 23, 2010, Qingfanqie went online, and the first batch of free borrowing services were opened in four cities, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. By the end of the year, a total of eight cities’ book lovers were able to enjoy free borrowing. In 2011, in response to the needs of more book lovers, Qingfanqie successively opened free lending in 12 cities including Chengdu and Xi’an, covering 20 cities, more than 500000 people and more than 200000 kinds of books.

In 2012, Qingfanqie continued to bring the service of free borrowing to more 7 cities. The service has covered 27 cities, more than 1 million people and more than 400000 kinds of books(Xiaorong & Junping, 2014). In 2013, Qingfanqie added the node free lending of “In Library”, with “In Library” as the common logo, and established a library with humanistic reading function together with coffee shops across the country — to support readers to borrow for free, and to borrow and return in the national coffee library. By the end of 2013, nearly 600 coffee libraries have been established in China.

The Qingfanqie library adopts the resource construction principle of “individual subscription, unified purchase, centralized classification and sub library storage”. First of all, set up a special book purchasing department to ensure the quality of books purchased and grasp the readers’ reading tendency. Qingfanqie library purchases books from publishers and Booksellers in strict accordance with the reading and promotion tenet of humanization and intellectualization, and emphasizes the timeliness and readability of books.

At present, the collection types of the Qingfanqie library have developed into 32 categories, involving novel, art, culture, computer, politics, law and other fields. There are more than 700 sub categories, which can provide 21000 kinds of book borrowing service sentences. Secondly, build a book resources sharing platform to improve user participation.

In order to increase the interaction between users and reduce the purchase cost, Qingfanqie has opened a special section – floating book terminal on the website to encourage readers to send some unnecessary books to Qingfanqie for more people to share. In addition, Qingfanqie has established a long-term strategic alliance with the upstream publishing enterprises, which can obtain the book resources of publishers free of charge(Yueshen, 2013.

In November 2011, Qingfanqie and Qingdao Publishing House Food Life Studio reached a strategic cooperation intention. Food life studio officially became the book provider of Qingfanqie, providing a large number of green food life books for readers to read.

Finally, the distributed resource storage system is constructed. Qingfanqie has set up book storage in 12 central cities such as Shenzhen, Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou, aiming to reduce the storage pressure of centralized collection, improve the circulation speed of books, reduce the rotation of books among different cities, and reduce the cost of logistics and distribution.

Simple and convenient borrowing procedures. Borrowing process is very simple, similar to online shopping. First, users register to fill in personal details, then activate the account by repaying the deposit through online banking or Alipay online. Once again, find the books to borrow in the resource search system. Click “I want to borrow” and put it into the library.

Finally, confirm the order and submit it. Renewal can only be done online and only once. When returning the book, log in to your personal account, click “my borrowing card” page to return the book, fill in the accurate book retrieval address, mobile phone number, contact person, book retrieval time and other information, and the courier will come to collect the book.

In addition, Qingfanqie maintains the rules of the traditional library in many aspects, such as late fees for overdue return of books; compensation for lost books can be either purchased new books or paid in cash at twice the original price(Wang, Yin & Hanhua, 2013).

Scientific segmentation of service groups. Qingfanqie has launched a considerate and personalized reading promotion plan. It has successively launched the plan of “one library for each enterprise, one library for each garden, one library for each school, one library for civil servants, and one library for social enterprises”.In the plan of “one library for each enterprise”, the enterprise can have a large inventory, fast update speed, strong liquidity online entity library, and enjoy the convenient service of door-to-door delivery and loan return.

At the same time, enterprises can enjoy information complementary exchange, information sharing and internal publication sharing and dissemination among industries and within industries(Kailong, 2012). In addition, employees can also enjoy independent account management, high-quality book list recommended by famous teachers and experts, diversified training, reading sharing and other services. “One library for each university” launched reading resume card for college students, recording the reading accumulation of college students during the period of school. “One library in each garden” provides high-quality picture books for kindergartens.

The social enterprise library includes books, smart lending stacks, materials, partners, Q & A and other service sectors. It provides social enterprise entrepreneurs and social innovation, public welfare practitioners with books, cases and so on. The civil service library is a public service reading platform which combines library + training institute + knowledge sharing system and other functions, which is established by Qingfanqie in cooperation with the Propaganda Department of Nanshan District Committee. The public service can query the physical books and magazines related to work and life on the Qingfanqie website at home.

The emergence of “Qingfanqie” public library has set a precedent of free physical library in the era of Web 2.0. As a social enterprise, it adheres to the principle of public service and constantly promotes the reading of the whole people. It operates public service through business model, creates economic benefits and feeds public welfare. It embodies the value and concept of social enterprises and is a representative social enterprise in China.

The social venture

In 1997, John Elkington, an international authority of sustainable development and a British scholar, put forward the concept of “triple bottom line”. He believed that the important reason for an enterprise to be able to develop sustainably and remain invincible is not only to think about how to maximize profits, but also to always adhere to the “triple bottom line” principle, or called “triple surplus”, that is, corporate profits, social responsibility and environmental responsibility(Tate & Bals, 2018).

As an organization that pays more attention to social responsibility and takes the realization of social goals as its ultimate goal, social enterprises should also meet the principle of “triple bottom line”(Dixon & Clifford, 2007). Therefore, some researchers believe that social enterprises are organizations with “triple bottom line”. The value created by social enterprises should include enterprise, society and environment(Mair,Robinson& Hockerts, 2006). This paper analyzes the “Qingfanqie” public library by using the triple bottom line.

Social goals/aims

Social goals means social enterprises need to be responsible for the society and undertake certain social responsibilities. Library is an important symbol of social civilization and progress, and plays an important role in promoting comprehensive reading. However, by the end of 2017, there were only 3162 public libraries in China, with a total population of 139.08 million, which means that each library should serve more than 400000 readers.

Compared with the most developed United States, there are more than 120000 libraries of various types in the United States, with one library for every 2500 people, more than the famous McDonald’s chain. On the one hand, China is facing a serious shortage of public books and library resources, on the other hand, the growing cultural consumption demand in an all-round way, which seriously hinders the realization of national reading.

The founding team of qingfanqie takes solving this social problem as its own responsibility, puts forward the service concept of “all possibilities of practical reading”, the vision of “promoting universal reading, providing quality reading for more people”, the slogan of “enjoying book life to the fullest”, so as to realize its social public welfare goal on the basis of these values(Dan, 2013).

In the process of constantly improving book borrowing and public service, qingfanqie has been thinking and mining its brand value and reading culture, constantly obtaining new market value and profits for itself, to achieve the perfect combination of social public welfare goal and its sustainable development. After the founding of qingfanqie, it actively cooperated with public welfare partners, successively cooperated with enpai, Tencent public welfare, and other funds, promoted the special public welfare temperament of qingfanqie, constantly attracted volunteers to join in and provided them with practice opportunities.

Zhang Lijuan, the founder of the company, has been participating in various social innovation activities, charity forums and other activities, participating in research, planning and implementation of related projects, spreading her and her qingfanqie ideas and values, and attracting many like-minded organizations and volunteers to join in succession.

Economic goals

The economic goal means that social enterprises are not aiming to maximize the profits of shareholders, but to realize the dual economic interests of enterprises and society.

Qingfanqie has been carrying out the idea of feeding its own profits back to the public welfare, and the income obtained has not been in order to meet the needs of shareholders rather than constantly committed to the public welfare goals(Guo-peng, 2015). The profit mode of Qingfanqie:

Through the Internet and mobile, Qingfanqie can provide free loan and return services, form a community, and use the deposit of readers for value-added operation.

Through “one enterprise and one library”, Qingfanqie can provide library services for enterprises and obtain annual service fees for enterprises.

Provide advertising services for Starbucks, IKEA and other enterprises in the community.

Build theme library together with coffee shop, hotel, and increase the value of cooperation deposit collected.

Financial support provided by the government for the promotion of universal reading.

In less than two years, Qingfanqie has set up different models of services in 27 different cities, including In library, one library for each school and so on.

Most of the profits of Qingfanqie are spent on public welfare:

Logistics cost. Qingfanqie adopts the way of “e-commerce + physical library”. For the user’s “free book delivery and free book return service”, not only can’t benefit from the reader’s order, but also pay logistics fees for the order in succession. The cost of the order is positively related to the distance. With the development of business, the cost of logistics will be increased.

Platform maintenance. Judging from the operation of Qingfanqiees, Qingfanqiees need to maintain their online physical libraries (including PC and mobile APP terminals), need to maintain Qingfanqie and watercress station, Qingfanqie micro-blog, WeChat public number and start tack scheme. They need to manage and maintain their partners, and later need to maintain timely communication platform due to the operation of large chieftain. Every system needs the corresponding input of people, money and power, and the cost of maintenance should not be underestimated.

Offline activities and promotion need corresponding input. With the participation of volunteers, Qingfanqie launched a partnership program to support volunteers to practice their library dreams, organize and hold related activities.

Book cost. The book resource of Qingfanqie is its core resource, but its storage, management, retrieval and maintenance costs are unavoidable. It’s not realistic to rely on volunteers. Book in the logistics, transmission and use, the loss is also unavoidable cost.


The Qingfanqie library uses LED energy-saving lamps, which not only ensures lighting but also saves power. Part of the walls and ceiling of the library is made of recycled materials. Even the indoor carpets are made of safe recyclable materials. The whole building is made of low volatile paint. The indoor air is tasteless, harmless, and fresh. The small bookshelf in the museum is specially designed into the shape of branches of trees, decorated with green leaves, butterflies, and birds so that readers can feel as if they are in nature, and quietly transmit the concept and education of green environmental protection to every reader in a soggy environment(Da-wei,2013). The Qingfanqie library specializes in collecting a large number of books on animals and plants, nature, climate, environment and other topics, which helps to enhance readers’ awareness of environmental protection.

Legal form

Qingfanqie is an independent social enterprise, which sets up a perfect management mechanism. The enterprise does not rely on charitable donations, government support and charitable foundations. Although it often cooperates with external departments and institutions, its production and operation are not affected by other organizations and individuals.

The social entrepreneur

According to the classification of Zahra’s types(See Appendix 1), this paper considers that the founder of “Qingfanqie” belongs to the role of social engineer. Social engineers make decisions that are conducive to the needs of social development by investigating the existing political, economic, cultural and other environment, and in line with the current environment, the needs of the people and the needs of social development.

In 2010, an online entity library named “Qingfanqie” was officially put into operation, with the mission of promoting national reading. This project is run by a social enterprise called Shenzhen Qingfanqie culture media. Its founder, Zhang Lijuan, was originally employed by an IT company, with rich salary. She had a dream of literature and art since she was a child.

She dreamed of running a small bookshop with her beloved, and accompanying poetry books. But for various reasons, Zhang Lijuan, can only bury it in our hearts. At the beginning of 2010, when Zhang Lijuan met with her book friends, she mentioned that the reading rate of Chinese people had been low for a long time. At that time, the average Chinese read only 4.5 books a year, far from 11 Korean, 20 French and 40 Japanese, let alone the famous Israeli who loved reading.

According to the national reading report of China, 63% of the respondents in China are still in love with physical books and tend to read through paper books, which is not provided by e-books. Because the library is too far away, inconvenient to borrow and take too long, many people finally give up. There is no hope for a nation that doesn’t love reading.

The state of the Chinese people is worrying, which makes Zhang Lijuan’s deeply buried dream come alive again. She decided to make more Chinese love books and like reading. After brainstorming with friends, Zhang Lijuan finally decided to promote universal reading with the help of the most familiar Internet. After several months of investigation and research, Zhang Lijuan finally decided to use commercial means to do something meaningful for the society, that is, to use the mode of “network + entity book”, to create an online entity library that provides free borrowing and returning services, and to open it to readers all over the country.

She and her partners invested more than 4 million yuan to set up Shenzhen Qingfanqie Culture Communication Company and began to pursue their dreams. They provide users with lifelong free borrowing and returning services. Once launched, “Qingfanqie” has aroused the curiosity of many netizens and media, and quickly become the focus of social and media attention.

To sum up, Zhang Lijuan is closer to social engineer in Zahra’s social entrepreneur type.

Scaling up the business

Qingfanqie uses a large number of online and offline promotion to advocate “Book Life”. Qingfanqie constantly launched various wonderful projects and activities to interpret Zhang Lijuan and her team’s “Book Life”. From Zhang Lijuan’s sermons and propaganda, her “Book Life” started from the removal of the “library wall”, and its focus was still on the social problems of the serious shortage of Chinese library, which was positioned as a beneficial supplement to the public library.

In order to gain more profits, Qingfanqie chooses to cooperate with the enterprise. Based on the data of users accumulated by Qingfanqie, it makes accurate advertising promotion for the enterprise to obtain profit return.


Pay attention to the process of creating value achievements together with customers. In the development process of social enterprises, two dimensions of social value and economic value need to be considered. Social enterprises usually aim at solving a certain social problem and aim at a certain group or organization. In the process of value creation, social enterprises should pay attention to the cooperation and communication with their customers, obtain their own feedback, and then take appropriate measures to adopt their opinions in the development process continuously improve and revise the value objectives.

In this process, it can not only obtain the identity of social enterprise service object, but also improve the operation of its own mode, making it more consistent with the reality. Although the book life launched by Qingfanqie has carried out a large number of promotion, it does not really pay attention to the needs of customers.

The source of profit shall not be limited to the way of advertising for the enterprise. With the launch of China’s support policies for social enterprises and the increase of China’s investment in culture, Qingfanqiees can try to obtain relevant funds.


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Appendix 1

Source: (Zahra, et al., 2009)