Founder and executive chairman of Alibaba, Jack Ma has confirmed a partnership with UNCTAD (United Nations Conference of Trade and Development) to establish a US$10 million African Young Entrepreneurs Fund.
Ma made the announcement at the 2017 YouthConnekt Africa Summit, co-hosted by UNCTAD and the Government of Rwanda last week, held in Kigali Rwanda.
“I want that fund supporting African online businesses,” said Ma, who is special advisor to UNCTAD for Youth Entrepreneurship and Small Business. “The money is set. This is my money, so I don’t have to get anybody’s approval,” he said, adding that he was poised to hire staff for the fund, set to begin operations this year.
Ma added that he would work with UNCTAD to help bring 200 budding African entrepreneurs to his homeland China to learn from Alibaba.
UNCTAD and Ma are exploring opportunities with African businesses to participate in global trade, as well as to raise awareness of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was adopted by the international community in 2015.
Ma has also detailed plans to roll out a partnership with African universities to teach internet technology, artificial intelligence and e-commerce.
This was Ma’s first visit to Africa. His e-commerce company was founded in 1999 and is today valued at over US$231bn.
Ma emphasised the importance of internet access in all nations, saying it was more important for economies than coal and electricity were in the past.
“Not being connected to the internet today is worse than not having electricity 100 years ago,” he said. “I think e-commerce, internet, Big Data is the future. You can never stop it. You like it or don’t like it. But you will never stop it.”
“Every time you have a technological revolution, it will kill a lot of jobs and it will create a lot of jobs. This is what history tells us.”
UNCTAD Secretary General Mukhisa Kituyi said, “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?'”.