In May 2015, it was the 10th anniversary of the School of Business-Xuanzang Road Gobi Challenge and the 120 km relay race was going on. As a volunteer, Li Junfeng was waiting for his son Xiao Zheng 20 kilometers from the starting point.
Xiao Zheng finished the race. When getting to relay point, he did not look well. He was foaming at the mouth and collapsing because he did not drink water for the whole 20 kilometers.
Xiao Zheng is a boy with mental disorder who has cerebral palsy because of birth asphyxia. He could not say a complete sentence until the age of 8 and could not jump with both feet until the age of 16.
Before departure for the Challenge, Li Junfeng specially prepared a new water bag for him. However, Xiao Zheng couldn’t open the water bag and he couldn’t make himself understood by the volunteers so he ran 20 km carrying the unopened bag. “Luckily, it is the first leg. It is dangerous at noon.” For not having considered the detail, Li Junfeng was full of remorse but with no regrets.
In fact, as the President of Rong Ai Rong Le Family Support Center of Persons with Intellectual Disability, he has encouraged and supported more than 40 persons with mental disorders including his son and their family members to participate in the Gobi Challenge, which has changed these families’ attitude towards life to a certain extent.
The Xuanzang Road which has a profound impact on business school elites also changed Li Junfeng. He is involved in public welfare and enrolled in the EMP Program, hoping to pave a new path of inclusive development for persons with mental disorders and their family in China.
The Spiritual Energy Supply Station in Gobi
Li Junfeng was born in Lanzhou, Gansu Province. In 1997, as one of the founding partners, he founded an IT company named eFuture Technology Ltd. which was listed on Nasdaq in 2006 and acquired by a listed company affiliated with Alibaba Group in 2015.
When Li Junfeng started business, his son had just turned two years old. His entrepreneurship is for accumulating more wealth for his son's future to a large extent. Li Junfeng and his wife had hoped to make Xiao Zheng grow on the traditional education track through medical rehabilitation. Later they realized that they should teach him how to live independently rather than follow the traditional examination oriented education track.
Around 2009, Li Junfeng was looking for new breakthroughs in career development and family life. He enrolled in the EMBA program of Guanghua School of Management and learned about Xuanzang Road Gobi Challenge from a senior fellow student.
Xuanzang Road Gobi Challenge has been held for 12 editions and it is a well-known high-end event among runners. Every year the participants from business schools nationwide cross an uninhabited desert area of 112 kilometers in four days and three nights. Wang Shi of Vanke, Feng Lun, Chairman of Vantone Holdings, economist Zhang Weiying are all participants of the event.
In 2011, after one year's preparation, Li Junfeng enrolled in the 6th Gobi Challenge. By the end of the first day, a big blister appeared on his forefoot. When he walked back to the camp, his foot was badly mutilated.
This is a collective activity so if anyone in the group gives up, the whole group will be affected. Li Junfeng, who graduated from the People's Public Security University of China, has strong sense of group honor. He would not allow himself to give up. If the blister broke, he would walk on until numbness. He thought maybe he could not get up the second day but he finished the race that day. On the third day, he body gradually adapted to the environment. On the fourth day, he did not feel any pain and felt relaxed.
Importantly, on the way he found he was not alone. The business elites of the era who work hard in different fields are all forging ahead in the vast Gobi to challenge their own limits.
In the whole process, Li Junfeng felt "a strong psychological shock". He had a new understanding of body functions. He realized that huge potentials are lurking in everyone’s body, waiting for an outbreak.
Li Junfeng felt the charm of the journey. In the 7thGobi Challenge, he participated as a volunteer. The new role brought him a new perspective. He saw different teams hold together and support each other. The weaker ones would catch up on the second day even if they lagged behind on the first day. No one was left behind.
The 8th, the 9th, the 10thand the 11th...Li Junfeng did not miss any one. The Challenge has gradually become his spiritual energy supply station.
Creating a Hopeful Future for the Children by Transforming Parents’ Idea
The Gobi Challenge has given Li Junfeng a new perspective on life. Having achieved some success in business, he hopes to spend more time and energy on a meaningful career. Public welfare has become his new choice.
In 2011, Wang Xiaogeng, the parent of a special child spontaneously founded the Rong Ai Rong Le Family Support Center of Persons with Intellectual Disability in collaboration with 15 parents in Beijing (hereinafter referred to as Rong Ai Rong Le). The organization organizes weekend sports and leisure activities and provides support for children with mental disorders and their parents in Beijing. At that time it was a loose parent club with only 1 full-time employee.
In 2013, Wang Xiao contacted Li Junfeng and invited him to join the council to promote its professional development.
After investigations for months, Li Junfeng believed that Rong Ai Rong Le needed a director general rather than a director based on his experience in the business. Project implementation cannot be realized without an execution team. The organization had no executive team at that time.
Li Junfeng decided to join as the director general and began sweeping reforms. Firstly he registered the organization as a private non-enterprise organization (previously business registration). Then he adjusted the organizational structure and governance structure, teased out the business logic, greatly expanded the business scope and established an operation team consisting of a 7-person Council and 17 full-time staff. Driven by leisure sports activities and supportive employment, a business line featuring parents advocacy, enterprise advocacy and active social inclusion was formed.
In 2014, on the eve of the 9thGobi Challenge, Li Junfeng discussed with the sponsor to allow children with mental disorders to experience the event. After the preparation and selection for half a year, eight groups of children with mental disorders came for the Challenge with their parents. Xiao Zheng finished second in the trials.
In the years that followed, Rong Ai Rong Le organized the children and parents to take part in a series of Gobi Challenge or marathon races. The children with strong abilities are now able to complete the full marathon. Li Junfeng saw that sports have made some children with mental disorders more open and cheerful.
Xiao Zheng and several other children who had participated in the Gobi Challenge were seen as "minority" or “other people's children”. Those parents believed that they and their child could not do such things.
Li Junfeng realized that the children's future independence status in the society cannot be improved without transforming the parents’ ideas. Service organizations only focus on the rehabilitation of children of certain ages while the parents of children with mental disorders are concerned with the child's whole life so they are an important participation force in social advocacy. Due to the lack of awareness and acceptance of "social advocacy", the group has not given full play to its force.
In 2015 Li Junfeng found a candidate to succeed him as the director general and he wanted to retire from Rong Ai Rong Le. Wang Xiaogeng, the President was diagnosed with critical illness so he had to retire early. Li Junfeng found he had more responsibility and sense of mission for the organization.
During the election of the Council, Li Junfeng voted for himself and was elected President. The active choice of this vote has linked him more closely with Rong Ai Rong Le and the children with mental disorders and their family.
Training Leading Parents
In the transformation from business to public welfare, Li Junfeng realized that he needed more professional study. At the end of 2014, he enrolled in the EMP program of China Philanthropy Research Institute of Beijing Normal University (later upgraded as the EMP Program of China Global Philanthropy Institute). He said that systematic learning enabled him to have a more comprehensive understanding of public welfare. Courses on organization governance, public fundraising and strategic direction are particularly helpful for him.
In the EMP class, Li Junfeng has access to peers involved in the public welfare sector. He found that many of his classmates’ organizations provide educational programs but not any for the disabled. He thought Rong Ai Rong Le can establish cooperation with at least 15 of them.
Through the introduction of his classmates, a basketball project of Rong Ai Rong Le has attracted the attention of Yao Foundation which plans to combine the project with their basketball events for public welfare. At the same time, his classmate Cheng Wen’s Geyou Foundation has set up “Children Are Us” special fund which is joining hands with Rong Ai Rong Le to support the employment of people with mental disorders.
“In the EMP class, I have transformed from a passionate parent to a public welfare professional. The study has greatly changed my perspective.” Li Junfeng said.
In July 2014, Rong Ai Rong Le launched Inclusion China which advocates inclusive education, community life and self-advocacy. Currently the organization has 69 branches nationwide, covering thirty to forty thousand families.
The first step in inclusive development is the empowerment of parent organizations around the country. The empowerment includes psychological counseling for parents, trainings for parents to improve their public welfare organizing ability and encouraging parents to tell their own stories. As parent organizations grow up, they can communicate and cooperate with various rehabilitation service institutions and voice their opinions on government policies and public media so as to help people with mental disorders integrate into the society and realize independence and development in education, employment, pension and other aspects.
“Speaking of making plans for a child’s future, the worst way is making money for him, the better way is motivating the whole big family to support him and the best way is building a social support system by promoting the development of organizations and social progress,” Li Junfeng said he wants to create a social environment to support children with mental disorders. “A good environment will benefit many people.”
This year, Li Junfeng has a new idea. He plans to mobilize or support 30 leaders of parent organizations to enroll in EMP program in five years to enhance their public welfare vision and professional skills.
He thinks that there are many organizations for parents of children with mental disorders. However, they lack professionalism and vision and the ability to communicate and cooperate with more public welfare organizations and social resources in the context of public welfare. Only when parent leaders from all over the country grow up can the organizations develop and parent alliances truly become “powerful combination".
Li Junfeng wants to let himself and more parents of children with mental disorders step to center stage in ten years or longer. “We should prevent the industry from being marginalized, at least make sure we ourselves are not marginalized. We should stand on the same starting line with the whole public welfare industry and share public welfare resources and open up more resources, so that the new society will be formed.”
Of course, there is a long way to go.