Jack Ma, the founder and executive chairman of Chinese e-commerce behemoth Alibaba, jetted into Nairobi Wednesday evening, starting a packed two-day visit that peaks with a public appearance at the University of Nairobi this afternoon to offer Kenyan youth tips on how to build successful business empires.
Mr Ma, who is currently Asia’s richest man with a fortune of nearly $30 billion (Sh3.11 trillion or nearly half of Kenya’s economic output), is accompanied by a large delegation of super-rich Chinese.
In the entourage are China’s richest billionaires among them Internet tycoon Bob Xu, Alibaba’s founding partner Lucy Peng, founder and chairman of Mengniu Dairy Niu Gensheng and real estate tycoon Huang Youlong.
The 38 men and women, from the Beijing Chamber of Commerce, will be looking to cut multi-billion shilling deals with the government and local businessmen.
The Chinese tycoons are expected to scout for business opportunities in East Africa’s largest economy where Chinese influence has been rising rapidly, with the balance of trade highly in favour of China. Mr Ma, a special adviser for youth entrepreneurship and small businesses for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), is expected to share insights on entrepreneurship with Kenyan youth before flying out to Rwanda for a similar engagement.
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UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi said Mr Ma will focus on opening markets for small businesses and encouraging the culture of enterprise in Africa.
“I have discussed with Jack Ma and others that I would like us not only to grow African enterprises but also to start raising voices that a special market access waiver for produce from Africa, particularly from small business, is neeed,” Dr Kituyi said.
“Effort should be made to encourage young Kenyan entrepreneurs to access the Chinese market just like the Chinese are accessing local markets. Our challenge is not finding agents to import Chinese goods, I am looking for people who are willing to sell African goods to China.”
Mr Ma is this afternoon expected to address 500 young business leaders at the University of Nairobi and meet business leaders. A champion of global trade, Mr Ma has been urging developing countries to use e-commerce to bolster their economies, instead of creating regulations and taxes that could kill the emerging sector.
“We should not discipline the baby before it is born,” Mr Ma recently told a gathering in Geneva, Switzerland during UNCTAD’s annual E-Commerce Week.
China’s longtime angel investor Bob Xu is the founding partner of ZhenFund, a seed fund formed in collaboration with Sequoia Capital China and with more than 400 portfolio companies.
In his eight years as an investor, Mr Xu has made four investments that went on to go public in the US, one in China, while eight others have grown into billion-dollar businesses, including the bike-sharing company OFO, AgTech company Meicai, e-commerce companies Mia.com and RED.
One of Mr Xu’s biggest wins was investing $180,000 at a $2 million valuation in the online cosmetics company Jumei.com in 2009. The company then went public in 2014 at a market cap of about $3 billion (Sh311 billion).
Also in Mr Ma’s entourage is Alibaba’s founding partner Lucy Peng, the executive chairman of Ant Financial Services, the online finance arm of Alibaba Group.