While his name may not resonate deeply with most Kenyans, whose primary daily digital interactions are on Zuckerberg’s properties; Ma Yun, popularly known as Jack Ma is one of the world’s wealthiest men.
With a net worth north of $34 billion, he carries more relevance to the African continent stemming from the nature of the platforms that he has built that have trade and ‘tangible’ commerce at their core.
For context, here is a quick primer on the former English teacher’s efforts. His flagship brand is Alibaba; an e-commerce company that powers consumer-to-consumer, business-to-consumer and business-to-business trade.
Founded in 1999 it is currently the world’s fifth-largest Internet business by revenue right behind Amazon, Alphabet, Facebook and Tencent.
Niche marketplaces form part of the stable with Tmall.com, Taobao, Ali Express, Juhuasuan and 1688.com.
In financial services is Alipay - the world’s largest mobile and online payments platform operated by subsidiary ANT Financial Services Group, that also runs Yu’e Bao, the world’s largest money-market fund with just over $160bn under management.
Infrastructure closes out the portfolio with forays into cloud computing under Alibaba Cloud and logistics with Cainiao Network. All these companies are interconnected and complementary.
As he makes his maiden trip to Africa in his capacity as founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group and UNCTAD Special Adviser for Young Entrepreneurs and Small Business my asks would only be three;
We have been net importers for decades and we need to move towards more production.
Cottage industries have minted thousands of millionaires who tapped into the benefits of digital but at its very basic was the existence of mechanisation and automation in production.
That knowledge transfer and linkage would serve as a great catalyst before the big digital dividend is realised.
Access to affordable capital has propelled many Chinese businesses into new markets.
If the same can be unlocked for SMEs in Africa, greenfield opportunities exist all around that will in turn ride on digital commerce infrastructure.
We must collaborate beyond knowledge transfer and have more startups with a unique founding team composition that has them better placed to exploit the opportunities and benefits presented by both sides.