Brian Wong, VP at Alibaba, talks about developing Afrikan e-commerce startups

Earlier in 2017, Jack Ma, Founder and the Executive Chairperson at China's Alibaba Group, made a commitment during his stop over in Rwanda and Kenya that he will be creating a $10 million African Young Entrepreneurs Fund. Along with this fund, Ma promised that he will take some promising Afrikan startups and entrepreneurs to China to receive e-commerce related training and observe, first-hand, how Alibaba's various businesses operate.

Ma has since fulfilled that promise with 24 Afrikan startups and entrepreneurs currently in China receiving e-commerce training from himself and others. The training program, known as the eFounders Initiative, is a partnership between the Alibaba Group and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The Initiative is headed up by Brian Wong, Vice President at Alibaba, who has been with the Internet giant since its early days working with Ma from an apartment up to what it is today, a multi-billion dollar operation.

As Vice President, Wong also works in the Office of the Executive Chairperson and we thought it would be a good idea to catch up with him and hear a bit more about the eFounders Initiative and Alibaba's plans regarding Afrika.

Brian A. Wong, Vice President at Alibaba Group
Brian A. Wong, Vice President at Alibaba Group.

iAfrikan: What inspired the Alibaba Group to be involved and start the eFounders Initiative for entrepreneurs in developing countries?

Brian A. Wong: The program was proposed by Jack Ma during his trip to Afrika in July this year [2017]. As Special Adviser to UNCTAD, he felt by bringing young entrepreneurs from Afrika to see first hand the economic transformations taking place in China due to e-commerce it would spark new ideas and provide inspiration to the participants to think about how they could leverage their own local innovations in e-commerce to create a more inclusive economy especially for SMEs [small and medium enterprises], youth, and women.

Will there be any post-training initiatives to help and guide the entrepreneurs in growing their startups?

Yes. In partnership with UNCTAD, we will be doing periodic check-ins every 3 months for 2 years following their completion of the program. This cohort of eFounder Fellows has all made written commitments on how they will apply their learning from this program and have set 6 and 12-month goals. After 12 months we will all reconvene in a physical location to present their progress on their goals and then set their second-year goals.

In addition, the fellows will be invited to various UNCTAD sponsored conferences where they will share their learnings and inspire other youth to pursue entrepreneurship in e-commerce.

Does the program form part of a bigger strategy for Afrika at Alibaba?

The main motivation behind the program at this point is to plant the seeds for building a vibrant and dynamic e-commerce ecosystem. It would be too early to talk about any concrete business plans for Afrika at this moment, but we believe any work being done now by local entrepreneurs is good for the long-term development of the industry as a whole.

Is there any chance that some, or all, of the entrepreneurs and their startups, will be used in one way or another as part of the Alibaba Group's supply chain?

As we have selected companies from the marketplace, payment, logistics and big data areas, there is always the possibility on the future that these players might play a role in the future development of Alibaba or any e-commerce ‘supply chain’.

What more can we look forward to regarding the eFounders Initiative?

We are very excited about the possibilities this program brings to Afrika and beyond. The enthusiasm and energy by which these entrepreneurs engaged in this program was inspiring and a testament to how youth, no matter from which region, are really the secret to driving the digital transformations of our societies and by providing them opportunities for hands-on learning they can rapidly learn and apply lessons from all over the world to create change in their own markets. Afrika has the youngest population in the world and has great potential to leapfrog in the technology space. These eFounder Fellows are the architects of the new economy and we’re very excited to see what they will bring to the development of their own communities in the years ahead.

Cover Image Credit: Illustration of Brian A. Wong, Vice President at Alibaba Group. | iAfrikan.com

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