Alibaba Business School and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) have brought together 24 Africa-based entrepreneurs to participate in the inaugural eFounders Initiative.
The eFounders Initiative is the first step to fulfilling the commitment Alibaba founder and executive chairman Jack Ma made as UNCTAD special adviser for young entrepreneurs and small business to help empower 1,000 entrepreneurs in developing countries over the next five years.
It is part of a set of smart partnerships UNCTAD is creating to reach the Sustainable Development Goals.
By bridging the digital divide facing young entrepreneurs in developing countries, the eFounders Initiative helps make sure no one is left behind by the digital economy, as called for by the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The eFounders Initiative is also in line with Alibaba’s mission to help small businesses succeed in their home markets and beyond by leveraging the power of technology.
“Countries with poor infrastructure, regulatory frameworks, skills and local content development, and electronic payment systems, are missing out on what the innovative flare of young entrepreneurs can generate in the fast-growing digital marketplace,” said UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi.
The two dozen participants were selected from more than 700 applicants via a rigorous application process. All participants are current pioneers in their respective fields, varying from mobile payment, big data, retail, logistics, and others.
As a part of the programme, they have pledged to be agents of change in their home countries. After graduating, each of them will commit to applying the programme’s lessons to their own business objectives and to transferring their know-how to others to improve the e-commerce infrastructure of their country.
The young e-commerce pioneers travelled from seven African countries to attend the programme at Alibaba’s global headquarters in Hangzhou and learn from China’s experience in building an e-commerce ecosystem.
The two-week intensive course included capacity-building in e-commerce, from inventory management and rural commerce to logistics and mobile payment systems, as well as how to use data to best capture consumer preferences. The entrepreneurs also had the opportunity to experience this year’s annual 11.11 Global Shopping Festival and attend a private meeting with Mr. Ma.
“In the future, we will need more than the G20 and the B20 to create the kind of inclusive development the world needs,” Mr. Ma said. The B20 (Business 20) is a meeting of business leaders held in tandem with political summits of G20 (Group of 20) countries.
“We need the G200 and B200,” he said, calling for active engagement with students, government officials, and entrepreneurs from smaller countries and markets. Alibaba Group has a goal of serving 20 million consumers, creating 100 million jobs and enabling 10 million profitable small and medium sized enterprises. The B200 is a key piece of achieving that goal. The eFounders Initiative is the first tangible incarnation of the B200 promise.
One of the participants from Kenya, 29-year-old entrepreneur Catherine Mahugu, said: “It is the first time that I see what digital inclusion means.”
Thirty-one-year-old Nigerian entrepreneur Damilare Ogunleye said: “When I go back to my home country, my focus will be educating all those involved in the business on how to leverage technology to better capture and analyze the data.”
“The goal of the initiative is to empower African entrepreneurs,” said Brian A. Wong, vice president of Alibaba Group who heads the Global Initiatives programme. “We believe these participating entrepreneurs will play a very important role in the future creation of the New Economy in their country. We want them to become the Jack Mas of their countries.”