During Jack Ma’s first visit to Africa in 2017, he realized that the continent was going through many challenges which Alibaba overcame in the past 20 years in China. This is according to the vice president of Global Initiatives at Alibaba, Brian Wong. Mr. Ma who is serving as a United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD), special advisor saw the need of empowering young entrepreneurs with ideas and practical knowledge from various innovative businesses in China. He believed that this could act as a catalyst to the development of inclusive of platforms of e-commerce. Therefore, it could offer a different approach for markets across Africa to allowing entrepreneurs, women, youths, small businesses among others with the objective to provide access to prosperity for everyone.
Moreover, Mr. Ma came up with the eFounders Initiative. Wong decided to shade some light on the eFounders Initiative, the future of financial technology on Africa and long-term plans that Alibaba has for Africa. Wong said that the expansion plan of Alibaba towards regions found outside China is to have an inclusive development. He added that Alibaba aims at working with local partners who understand the local markets and share the same value with the company. By partnering with African local platforms, Alibaba believes that it can enable SMEs in a better way and develop a globalized trading network that is more inclusive.
He added that eFouders Fellowship is a course for entrepreneurial founders in developing countries that last for two weeks. These are founders who are running platform-based businesses in the tourism, big data, logistics and e-commerce sectors. According to Wong eFounders Fellowship also offers firsthand information and Chinese innovation study that facilitated growth and more inclusive development for everyone. The course comprises of structured series of classroom meetings, lectures, workshops with leaders of business, site visit, team building exercise and a business heckathon. All these take place at the Alibaba Group Headquarters in Hangzhou while site visits are carried out in other Chinese cities.
Later on, after graduation entrepreneurs commit for two years on how they will use what they learned from the program to change their businesses and impact their society positively. He added that they call upon ecosystem partners from local incubators and venture capital to have an observation during the program. They are also invited to come and take part in the heckathon portion to engage them and partner with Alibaba to offer the needed support to participants during the two years period.
According to Wong, together with their UNCTAD partners, they keep an eye on people at a period of every three months to know how they are fairing on and how they can be assisted. He added that the program completed its six-month program with the first class of Africans in June 2018. During that period they discovered that many people have gained a lot from the fellowship and made significant strides in the growth of their businesses. He gave three examples of such people that included Adetayo Bamiduro, Jessica Anuna, and Eston Kimani.
Adetayo Baniduro is the co-founder of Nigerian based Metro Africa Xpress (MAX). This is a startup that offers affordable and safe motorcycle-taxis with more than 25,000 businesses and consumers offering online motorcycle-taxis and motors deliveries. Nigeria has 12 million informal drivers. MAX provides the drivers training at no cost where they are in a position to get licenses and have a safe and decent life without necessarily bribing the policemen. Nigeria has an informal union of drivers that comprises of criminals. Out of the 12 million drivers in the country, one person dies every 20 minutes due to untrained and unlicensed drivers.
MAX tried to bring the union on board, but they were reluctant to engage with the new technology. Adetayo then decided that MAX will join the drivers and offer them free training. Adetayo got his inspiration to develop MAX from eFounders Fellowship. He, later on, visited China and paid China Mobility Companies in Shenzhen a visit to Nigerian imported electric motors. Adetayo will incorporate a hybrid motorcycle in his firm to minimize pollution and save data by using sensors of electric motors. The co-founder wants to make more investment in the company to assist drivers to develop strong businesses.
Jessica Anuna is a Nigerian entrepreneur who operates Klasha. Klasha is a fashion e-commerce site that links Chinese manufacturers to young Nigerian consumers. The platform aims at becoming the best fashion retailer for women who are 20 years old in West Africa. Moreover, it strives to be the leading provider of pocket-friendly in-season clothes in West Africa beginning with Nigeria. Jessica secured funding and a place in TechStars Dubai because of insights obtained during the fellowship and also the mentorship of Gary from Aliexpress. She is also using introductions from UNCTAD to address regulatory challenges in West Africa.
Eston Kimani is a Kenyan based entrepreneur. Kimani has been seriously involved in assisting entrepreneurs to think using their businesses and raise money for their firms. He put up a personal blog t share his entrepreneurial knowledge at www.estonkimani.com where he already has around 3,000 readers. Kimani is also working out on becoming an angel investor in various startups and has already committed himself to one.
Wong said that they are not experts in the African fintech sector neither do they offer people country-certain knowledge on fintech or any other African industry. He added that their inclusive mode of development that includes the eFounders Fellowship is a target to share their Chinese experience with African entrepreneurs who can use the advice with their expertise to develop a platform meant for local African markets. According to him, their African initiatives goes in line with the original mission of Alibaba. He said that the fintech sector has great promises in Africa. The industry develops a possible world by offering financial services to the underserved. A lot of potential lies in Africa given the demographics and size of markets in Africa. Possibilities are there that the known traditional banking methods will no longer be the main methods of getting financial services for many people. Many people will turn to mobile devices to make payments, investments, and savings.
Wong said that from their experiences with those who run fintech ventures in Africa they see that fintech businesses in Africa are borrowing elements of successful systems across the globe but developing something that is uniquely African. Fintech products should reflect and understand their market of operations that is why the partnership is quite important compared to traditional expansion. Wong added that it is challenging when it comes to launching new technology enterprises in developing countries.
Just like in China, African entrepreneurs face challenges such as lack of engineering talent, strict government policies, lack of physical internet infrastructures amongst others. He said that Chinese entrepreneurs face such challenges keeping in mind that there is where opportunities lie at. He added that Alibaba Business School committed itself to help Africa businesses in overcoming such difficulties. These will be achieved by sharing how Alibaba overcame the same challenges. He added that they also borrow between their New Economy Workshop for policymakers and eFounders Fellowship to believe that best practices, case studies, and key examples are in a position to create the needed environment for the success of innovative businesses. Wong finished that Alibaba Business School will not command African Fintech. But they will have something that resembles the growth of Chinese fintech for the last 20 years.