While his name may not resonate deeply with most Kenyan’s whose primary daily digital interactions are on Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, properties owned by Mark Zuckerberg where they as free users are the product; Ma Yun, popularly known as Jack Ma, one of the world’s wealthiest men with a net worth north of $34 billion, carries more relevance for the continent of Africa stemming from the nature of the platforms that he has built and steered over time that have trade and ‘tangible’ commerce at their core connecting millions of producers and consumers.
Tangible commerce: where physical goods exchange hands. Not the trade in eyeballs and other personal identifying information 🙂
A quick primer on the former English teacher and his group of companies will give good context. His flagship brand with a mission to ‘make it easy to do business anywhere’ is Alibaba; an e-commerce company that powers consumer-to-consumer, business-to-consumer and business-to-business trade. Founded in April 4, 1999 it is currently the world’s fifth-largest internet business by revenue right behind Amazon, Google’s parent company Alphabet, Facebook and China’s Tencent. Niche marketplaces form part of the stable with Tmall.com, Taobao, Ali Express, Juhuasuan and 1688.com. In financial services is Alipay – the world’s largest mobile and online payments platform operated by subsidiary ANT Financial Services Group, who also run Yu’e Bao, the world’s largest money-market fund with just over $160bn under management seeded from the wallet balances of millions of users. Infrastructure closes out the portfolio with forays into cloud computing under Alibaba Cloud and logistics provider Cainiao Network. All these companies, built to be interconnected and complementary.
China and Africa have a most unique relationship especially with the renewed focus on looking East for partnership and support. The manifestation of this support has been by way of high value government tenders that often leave a sour taste in the mouth of a majority of citizens in terms of value exchange and knowledge transfer.
As technology can also scale bad processes and ways of work, I am keen to pick Jack Ma’s brain on what his formula would be, to prevent this ‘mindset’ from getting adopted in the online space so that digital dividends are equitably realized and benefits accrue to more individuals and SME’s directly.
As he makes his maiden trip to Africa in his capacity as Founder and Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group and UNCTAD Special Adviser for Young Entrepreneurs and Small Business and takes time out to interact with sections of both the startup and enterprise community together with a cohort of fellow billionaire types, executives from his affiliate companies and investors; my asks on what could be looked into would only be three;
We have been net importers for decades and we need to move towards balancing that with production. Cottage industries have minted thousands of millionaires who tapped into the benefits of digital but at its very basic was the existence of mechanization and automation to power production. That knowledge transfer would serve as a great catalyst before the big migration. Light industries anyone?
Access to affordable capital has given many Chinese businesses rocket fuel to expand to new markets. If the same can be unlocked for SMEs in Africa, greenfield opportunities exist all around that will in turn ride on digital commerce infrastructure end to end. Top of mind is agriculture, coupled with pan-african commodity exchanges and re-imagined first and last mile logistics.
It would be great to see a collaboration of minds beyond knowledge transfer where we could have more startups with a unique blend in their founding team composition that has them better placed to exploit both the opportunities and benefits from both sides. Two or more co-founders from each country sharing a common vision would think through what I would called a balanced value split and avoid unnecessary expatriation of revenue. #BrainGain
All quite achievable with very low actualization overhead.
UNCTAD, Jack Ma…over to you.