Alibaba executive chairman creates $10M African youth entrepreneur fund

Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group and special adviser of UNCTAD on youth entrepreneurship and small business. Photo by: UNCTAD / CC BY-SA

Alibaba Group Executive Chairman Jack Ma is putting his money into Africa’s youth. On his first trip to Africa last week, Ma launched a $10 million African Young Entrepreneurs Fund at the YouthConnekt Africa Summit, co-hosted by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the government of Rwanda. The fund is expected to be operational this year.

The chairman of China’s biggest e-commerce company traveled to Rwanda and Kenya, where he met with entrepreneurs and government officials. Both countries have proven to be fertile ground for tech innovations. Kenya is one of the leading countries on the continent for tech hubs, according to the GSM Association, and is home to tech innovations such as M-Pesa, the mobile money transfer service. Rwanda is also pushing forward on tech initiatives, including the world’s first national drone delivery program, which delivers blood to transfusion centers across the country.

Despite these success stories, young entrepreneurs struggle to find capital to back their ideas, which could in turn create local jobs. Youth unemployment in Kenya is 22 percent. The World Economic Forum’s 2016- 2017 Global Competitiveness Report ranked Kenya as 96th in competitiveness, while Rwanda was 52nd.

Founded in 1999, Alibaba now hosts some 10 million merchants and is valued at more than $231 billion. Ma is an outspoken advocate for e-commerce in the developing world as a driver of economic growth. At a U.N. panel in April, Ma said “e-commerce is designed for the developing world,” pushing for less regulations and taxes on the sector. He is working with UNCTAD as a special adviser for youth entrepreneurship and small business.

During his trip to East Africa, Ma pushed the need for internet connectivity on the continent, calling it a more useful input into the economy than coal and electricity. He pledged to support domestic and cross-border e-commerce and work with African universities and governments to develop training programs in areas such as artificial intelligence, big data and cloud computing.

Two hundred young entrepreneurs from Africa will also train at the Alibaba campus in Hanghzou, with the help of UNCTAD. 

“African entrepreneurs should not be asking successful businesses, ‘How can I distribute your products?’ Africans should be saying, ‘I have an idea I want to grow — how can you help me to grow it? How can you help me market it?'” said UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi.

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