Alibaba Business School and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) brought 29 young entrepreneurs from 11 countries across Africa to the Alibaba campus in Hangzhou, China for the third eFounders Fellowship cohort.
The eFounders Fellowship is part of a pledge by Jack Ma, Alibaba Group’s Executive Chairman and UNCTAD Special Adviser for young entrepreneurs and small business, to empower 1,000 entrepreneurs from developing countries in five years. Two hundred of these entrepreneurs will come from Africa, demonstrating Ma’s personal commitment to supporting entrepreneurs from the African continent and helping them to succeed in the digital world.
It supports UNCTAD’s and Alibaba’s commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals, which include making sure no one is left behind in the digital economy. Both Jack Ma and Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi, Secretary-General of UNCTAD, spent time with the fellows during their time in Hangzhou.
Jack Ma said, “Together with UNCTAD, we want to empower Africa’s young entrepreneurs to not only succeed in their own ventures, but to return home and demonstrate to others how to build inclusive business models for the digital era.”
“With this third cohort of young entrepreneurs, UNCTAD and Alibaba are helping a new generation of business leaders to make the most of the opportunities opened up by the ecommerce revolution,” Dr. Kituyi said.
Fellows were selected through a rigorous application process. All are founders or co-founders of platform-based ventures in the ecommerce, logistics, fintech, big data or tourism industries in Africa.
During the two-week course, fellows experienced first-hand the transformative impact that ecommerce and technology have had on China. When Alibaba was founded back in 1999, the companies faced many of the same barriers and lack of infrastructure those entrepreneurs in Africa face today. This makes Alibaba uniquely suited to share its experience and lessons learned with entrepreneurs looking to build technology companies in Africa.
Attendees met with Alibaba executives and local practitioners to learn from their experiences in ecommerce, payments, logistics, cloud computing, marketing, cross-border trade and innovation to identify lessons that can be applied to their own markets.
The course covered New Retail and included visits to a Hema Supermarket, Cainiao’s smart warehouse and Rural Taobao’s service stations. Participants also visited partners in Alibaba’s ecosystem and experienced the cashless economy in Hangzhou. Through interactive sessions with UNCTAD and Alibaba representatives, participants also discussed topics such as the gender aspect to global trends of ecommerce.
“The eFounders Fellowship aims to empower young entrepreneurs to be digital champions in their home countries,” said Brian Wong, Vice President of Global Initiatives. “Our goal is to inspire these young business leaders by sharing our story and by showing them the real impact that inclusive business models can make upon people’s daily lives.”
Alibaba previously hosted the inaugural class of African entrepreneurs in November 2017 and Asian entrepreneurs in March 2018. Since their participation in the program, graduates have made transformative strategic shifts in their businesses and have become catalysts for digital transformation in their home countries – raising rounds of investment as well as opening their own training programs.
Upon graduation, participants continue to receive formal support from UNCTAD and Alibaba.
“My experience with the eFounders program has shifted my thinking. Before we were focused on pleasing the investors, but now I see the importance of putting our customers first, then my employees, then the investors,” said Andreas Koumato, 26, founder of Mossosouk, an ecommerce platform based in Chad. “Let others win, then later we will gain.”