Chinese business magnate and founder of Alibaba Group recently made a trip to Africa to speak to an audience-full of startup entrepreneurs on the essence and merits of being persevering key players in the business ecosystem of their respective fatherlands. Sequel to this visit, a lot of media platforms have been pumping with information and accolades, with Jack Ma’s move to launch a USD 10 Mn initiative as mainstream. With the way this e-commerce giant is planning, there is little doubt that he will be one of the key drivers of improvement for African entrepreneurs. Jack Ma’s address and fund-pumping in South Africa is not the only way he has impacted on the African entrepreneur ecosystem, because he has long been committed to the continent’s growth and development.
In 2017, Jack Ma attended an entrepreneurship discussion in Nairobi, Kenya. As Special Adviser to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) for Youth Entrepreneurship and Small Businesses, he participated actively in the two-day visit to address matters regarding entrepreneurship, e-commerce, China-Africa trade and business opportunities. This marked Jack Ma’s first trip to Africa, during which he spoke on the value of constant learning and the power of the internet. He discussed how both variables could be combined and utilized to bring about tangible solutions to the daily problems faced by the continent. To the Kenyan audience present, he spoke about the failure process and how it can be a catalyst for innovation and progress. In this way, he urged African entrepreneurs in the public lecture at the University of Nairobi to see tumbling blocks as stepping stones on which they can come up with new, innovative ideas to better tackle the pressing issues faced in the ecosystem of Africa.
“You must get used to failure. If you can’t, then how can you win?” he said.
His trip to not only Kenya but Rwanda as well was heralded as one of the most significant events in African entrepreneurship history. To share insights with African entrepreneurs, Ma embarked on the two-day trip which was celebrated with floor-to-ceiling posters and billboards featuring his face. Jack Ma’s pictures were used to repaint the walls of the venues where he has been speaking in Nairobi. The Youth Connekt Africa Summit, held in Kigali, brought together more than 1,500 participants from government, entrepreneurial and investor communities, multinationals, and startups shaping the African technological ecosystem.
He met with President Uhuru Kenyatta, and his entourage comprises Chinese billionaires, investors, and real estate tycoons. This visit coincided with China’s growing influence in Africa, with foreign direct investment from China to the continent marking a 106 percent growth rise in projects in the previous year. At the panel session with the head of the private sector alliance, Ma informed that he and his cohorts were scouting for investment opportunities and looking for partners interested in building logistics centers. He also said they were on the lookout for those who share their interest in supporting African entrepreneurs. As at the time, a Chinese firm has recently completed a new railway connection from Nairobi to Mombasa, Kenya’s port city. The construction was conceived to spread tracks to Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ma said that he and his company were out to make sure that they built companies everywhere they went, not for themselves, but for the locals.
In November 2017, Jack Ma selected 25 African entrepreneurs to join the eFounders Initiative Entrepreneurship Training Program, which was titled “Shaping Champions for the New Economy.” It was tailored by the collaborative efforts of Alibaba and the UNCTAD. It was a two-week initiative during which founders and a high-ranking executive at Alibaba shared a variety of highlights as regards their 18-year history. They discussed their successes and failures, as well as the price they had to pay to become one of the largest retail companies in the world. The apogee of the event was Jack Ma’s lecture, with which he encouraged the African entrepreneurs and pointed them in the right direction as to how to become key players in their industry.
Participants got to learn how to focus on mobile. During Singles Day, Alibaba processed more than USD 25 Bn in sales, of which 91% came from mobile transactions. More than 50 percent of the Chinese population bought an item from Alibaba on that day with the help of their smartphones. With this, Jack Ma taught Africans that by using mobile, hundreds and billions of people could use products and services that they previously were unable to access. 600 million people in Africa are expected to own a smartphone by 2025, and as mobile internet upheaves, it will, in the same way, provide millions of people in the continent with unlimited access to products and services previously not had. Jack MA told the African entrepreneurs that there is a massive opportunity that startup companies that concentrate on offering their products and services via mobile applications.
Jack Ma also informed the participants of eFounders about how an inclusive ecosystem can help in the growth of electronic commerce. While highlighting the three major challenges facing the growth of an e-commerce company as lack of assortment, logistics, and payments, Jack Ma informed how Alibaba decided to leverage the ecosystem as an approach for their primary strategy in 2008. Rather than converting Taobao to a traditional B2C model, the company set up a dynamic market of reliable partners and started AliPay and Cainiao in an effort to manage their payments and logistics. Alibaba used huge data to streamline both processes and manage the platform. As of now, more than 10 million business partners are beneficiaries of the ecosystem, and that was the kind of business Jack Ma taught African entrepreneurs to do.
African entrepreneurs were as well taught the essence of smart logistics. In 2013, the smart logistics company of Alibaba was launched as Cainiao. In a country with up to 150 cities and with more than 1 million people, more than 4 billion parcel deliveries in a year and where the average cost per delivery is up to 15 percent of the total value, Alibaba needed an efficient solution. With Cainiao, the company was able to connect a variety of logistics companies in China to their various businesses and managed parcel flow by using big data. Such a smart logistic creation strategy is vital for the ecosystem of Africa, and participants were exposed to the actuality.
Alibaba is on a mission to make it easy to do business everywhere. If African enterprises adopt the same strategies as this e-commerce giant, the entire 63 percent or people living in Sub-Saharan rural African areas will be reached and brought closer to the ecosystem. Following Alibaba’s evolution strategy of setting up pickup points was what encouraged Pargo, a South African startup to employ the same technique in the creation of their network. The approach enabled the tech venture to leverage the capacity of physical retail stores to become points for parcel delivery and collection, particularly in areas that otherwise prove a challenge to the service. Pargo is a Cape Town logistics startup that was founded by Lars Veul and a co-founder. The business was selected as the first South African delegate to join an Alibaba and UN Conference on Trade and Development hosted scheme in the eFounders Initiative Entrepreneurship Training Program in Hangzhou, China.
This Paradise Co-Chairman attended the African Ranger Awards Ceremony at the Westin Hotel in Cape Town. Weetracker reported he was set to address startup entrepreneurs, and nothing fell short of that information. On Wednesday at the big event, he encouraged budding African businesses to take giant leaps in view of solving the numerous bottlenecks the continent is faced with, and leverage the digital economy. Jack Ma told them that the greatest of opportunities lie where people complain.
During this event, Ma disclosed the launch of the “Netpreneur Prize” initiative in Johannesburg, which has been established to create a community of 1,000 young e-commerce entrepreneurs from developing countries to be presented with grants totaling USD 10 Mn by 2030. Ma said at the conference in Johannesburg on Wednesday that the opportunity in e-commerce in Africa lies in the fact that the continent lacks logistics, infrastructure and payment systems.
The Netpreneur Prize scheme has been set up by the Jack Ma Foundation to bolster and provide funding for local African entrepreneurs that are working to address Africa’s most essential challenges and further the continent’s digital economy through local entrepreneurship. Having built Alibaba to be one of the topmost ten valuable companies worldwide, with a market cap of USD 542 Bn, Jack Ma is set to inspire, encourage and fund African business and massively impact its startup ecosystem. Alibaba’s initial public offering in 2014 made Ma one of the wealthiest men in the whole of Asia. Having rung bells in South Africa, Jack Ma says his next visit will be to Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation.
In what seemed like a 2017 edition of Ma’s visit to Africa, which was his first, it was revealed that he had plans to partner with African universities in the bid to teach youths internet technology, artificial intelligence (AI) and e-commerce. During the same occasion, he announced that he would be creating African Young Entrepreneurs Funds with the statement: “I want to support and fund online businesses.” He told the press that he would also collaborate with UNCTAD to help bring 200 budding African entrepreneurs to China to learn hands-on from Alibaba, remarking that he wanted to take them to China, let them meet his people, see all they have been doing and all the great Chinese ideas. “They know when they want, and when they do, we can support it.”
UNCTAD is partnering with Ma to explore opportunities in the African business to take part in global trade and to raise real-time awareness regarding the 20130 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was put into practice by the international community in 2015.
From being a dark horse to one of the most influential and wealthiest men in the world, Jack Ma’s narrative resonates throughout time, and again. He applied for 30 jobs, including at KFC when they established a branch in Hangzhou, his home city. He also applied for the police. He was turned down by all of them. As a matter of fact, 24 people applied at KFC, and 23 were accepted. Ma was the only person to be rejected. Additionally, Ma applied 10 times to Harvard Business School and got rejected just as much.
Dissimilar from Mark Zuckerberg who created Facebook from his Harvard dorm room, Ma, after three failed exams attempts in college, started Alibaba from the confine of his apartment. It all began when Jack Ma heard about the internet for the first time in 1994 and journeyed to the United States to learn more about it.
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