- Mr Ma who visited Nairobi and Kigali believes Africa’s fixation with brick and mortar commerce should easily co-exist with Internet-based commerce.
- Young men and women who turned up to listen to his lectures hope to come up with their version of Africa-focused Alibaba.
- The other shopping site Tmall is designed for bigger merchants including some well-known brands such as Nike and Gap
In a period of manifestos, politicians in Kenya are dangling plans to build more produce markets to connect buyers and sellers. That is typically the African continent that Chinese e-commerce tycoon Jack Ma visited last week.
Mr Ma who visited Nairobi and Kigali believes Africa’s fixation with brick and mortar commerce should easily co-exist with Internet-based commerce.
All it takes, he argues, is for young entrepreneurs to start tapping into the continent’s poor Internet infrastructure “rather than complain about it”.
During a public lecture at the University of Nairobi, Ma who was accompanied by 30 billionaires said opportunity to establish businesses exist where people complain.
“When I started Alibaba, there was no Internet in China but I believed the country will have ecommerce. Naysayers said but there is no payment, I said then let’s build the payment system and there’s no logistics, and I said, let’s build the logistics,” he said.
From Nairobi, Mr Ma’s next stop was Rwanda where he announced the creation of a Sh1.03 billion ($ 10 million) African Youth Enterpreneurs Fund that is targeted at supporting African online businesses.
“The money is set. This is my money, so I don’t have to get anybody’s approval,” Mr Ma said in a statement circulated by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). He is UNCTAD’s special advisor for Youth Entrepreneurship and Small Business.
So, alongside Kenya’s former trade minister – and now UNCTAD’s Secretary -General Mukhisa Kituyi, Mr Ma made his first visit to Africa to share experiences and challenges encountered in founding and running of Alibaba, a successful e-commerce firm.
Young men and women who turned up to listen to his lectures hope to come up with their version of Africa-focused Alibaba.
He founded the firm in 1999, then aged 35 years after quitting his job as an English teacher in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou.
Sometime in 2003 together with seven colleagues, they went out to look for products that could be listed on the online platform for potential customers.
Days turned to weeks of waiting before a client came on board to sell as opposed to buying the over 20 listed merchandise.
“So for the next two months we bought all the garbage that was brought on the site because we wanted to show that ecommerce is possible,” said Mr Ma during his visit in Kenya.
From its launch to last year, the firm has sold up to $550 billion, created more than 33 million jobs for China and delivered over 65 million packages per day globally.
At the core of Alibaba Group’s business are Taobao and Tmall, the major web portals, which serve to connect the various types of buyers and sellers.
Taobao is Alibaba’s consumer-to-consumer portal and is mostly for small merchants. Here the merchants do not pay to sell products on the portal but instead pay Alibaba for advertising and other services that boots their visibility.
The other shopping site Tmall is designed for bigger merchants including some well-known brands such as Nike and Gap
Mr Ma admits he never thought the Internet would grow to such exponential levels.
“I thought Internet will be big but never thought it would be that big. It was big compared to yesterday but compared to the future it is tiny,” he said.
UNCTAD is working with Mr Ma to explore 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.