Alibaba Group Executive Chairman Jack Ma made first ever trip to Africa this week, visiting Kenya and Rwanda in his role as special adviser for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development to promote entrepreneurship as a path to economic growth.
Ma, who serves as UNCTAD’s Special Adviser for Youth Entrepreneurship and Small Business, landed in Nairobi on Thursday before continuing on to the Rwandan capital of Kigali on Friday. He met with members of the public and private sectors to explore ways to bring young business owners in Africa into the larger global economy.
“When you invest in young people, you invest in the future,” Ma said in a statement. “I am excited by the work we are doing at UNCTAD to unleash the entrepreneurial potential of Africa’s youth.”
During his Friday stop at the YouthConnekt Africa Summit in Rwanda, where Ma also met with President Paul Kagame, the Alibaba executive chairman made a number of announcements aimed at supporting education, e-commerce and conservation in the African country.
Firstly, Ma said he would support domestic and cross-border e-commerce in Africa as a means of economic development. He pledged to create a training program with UNCTAD, inviting 200 young African entrepreneurs to Alibaba’s campus in Hanghzou to study e-commerce so they can return to Africa to develop e-businesses and as well as teach those skills to other young, aspiring business owners there.
Second, Ma announced his intention to work with African universities and governments to create a training programs in centered on e-commerce, artificial intelligence, big data and cloud computing—which Alibaba believes are critical skills for doing business.
Third, Ma added to a previous announcement aimed at promoting conservation in Africa by saying he would establish a conversation award for rangers working in African parks. The award, given as a partnership between the Paradise Foundation and Alibaba Foundation, will be used to recognize 50 these wildlife rangers who have been safeguarding the continent’s natural heritage for African citizens.
Finally, Ma announced that he personally would donate $10 million from the Jack Ma Foundation to an African young entrepreneurs development fund “to help them realize their dreams and ideas,” he said. Ma said the idea for the $10 million fund came to him on Friday morning after seeing the energy and excitement around entrepreneurship during his trip. “I want to show my confidence in Africa,” Ma said.
On Thursday, accompanied by UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi, Ma met with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta before attending three events, including one at the University of Nairobi, that focused on the theme of youth entrepreneurship and its effect on economic development.
UNCTAD sees entrepreneurship as a way for people to earn a living in still-developing countries where formal jobs are few and far between. At the same time, initiatives that aim to help young people are critical in accomplishing the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals given their widespread unemployment and low levels of income. Kituyi and Ma are working to equip young people with the skills and knowledge they need to create a better future for themselves.
“Together we will be able to reach out to communities that feel left behind in today’s global economy with a message of hope and self-empowerment,” Kituyi said in the statement.
This is the second trip this year Ma has taken in his role at special adviser to UNCTAD. In April, he attended UNCTAD’s E-Commerce Week forum to discuss ways to make cross-border e-commerce more inclusive and accessible for countries that lack the technology, infrastructure, and know-how to reap its benefits.
Kituyi named Ma a special adviser to UNCTAD last September.