Business / #ForbesBusiness

August 13, 2018,   8:45 AM

Alibaba Founder Jack Ma Launches $10 Million Program For African Start-ups

Abisola Owolawi

I write about business, entrepreneurship, innovation, wealth and culture with a focus on global impact. Innovative, groundbreaking ideas and the structures that drive them over time, inform my subject choices. I cover industries that span manufacturing, service, technology, entertainment, healthcare and aviation among others, across Africa for Forbes Middle East. I have previously worked as Forbes Africa’s West Africa Correspondent, a wealth contributor on the annual Forbes rich list and as a CNBC Africa business contributor. FULL BIO

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hinese Billionaire and Alibaba Group’s executive chairman Jack Ma has launched a new initiative called the Jack Ma Foundation Netpreneur Prize in South Africa –a $10 million program that aims to promote and accelerate the work of African entrepreneurs developing tech-driven solutions.

The program, which will be rolled out over the next 10 years to 100 entrepreneurs, is focused on grassroots innovation, economic empowerment of women and small business.

Resource -rich Africa is also emerging to be a hub for entrepreneurship, especially in the digital sector. E-commerce platforms such as South Africa’s Takealot, Nigeria’s Jumia and Kenya’s Kilimall are springing up in the continent as the enterprising Africans tap into the region’s consumer power. Africa’s potential to build a digital economy also led the World Bank and IFC earlier this year to launch a strategy that will help the continent to utilize the billions of online transactions.

While significant success has been achieved over time, there is still a long way to go in terms of ensuring full digital inclusiveness within the continent as fragmentation of markets and access to capital still hinders progress.

With over 50 sovereign countries in the continent, digital and technology businesses face challenges such as cross -border systems, diversity in languages, limited supply and distribution chains. In such context, Ma’s commitment to support Africa’s entrepreneurship could really help the continent.

Initiatives like Ma’s are thus, well embraced with the hope that sustainability and long-term commitment is attached.

Ma, who is also an adviser to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) on youth entrepreneurship and small business, sits at the helm of one of the top 10 most valuable companies in the world with a market capitalisation of $542 billion. He attributes his success to increased access to internet, which led to the creation of China’s biggest e-commerce company.

“China was not connected to the internet the day I started my company. This is a challenge that parts of Africa still face today” says, Ma.

“This prize demonstrates our support for the next generation of young entrepreneurs across Africa who are paving the way for a better future and imparting a positive change in their communities. As a fellow entrepreneur, I understand the importance of getting support during the early days” Ma adds.

The Jack Ma Foundation was instituted to help foster entrepreneurial initiatives globally.

Last year, Alibaba Business School and UNCTAD announced the eFounders Fellowship Initiative- a program that will train 1,000 entrepreneurs from emerging markets.

A total of 52 African entrepreneurs have since participated in the two-week fellowship at the Alibaba Headquarters in Hangzhou, China.

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