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Helping African entrepreneurs

Founded by Alibaba founder Jack Ma in 2014, the Jack Ma Foundation (JMF) focuses on four areas: entrepreneurship, education, women’s leadership, medical support and environmental protection. The foundation actively works to create a trustworthy, participatory and sustainable non-profit organization. JMF is also committed to cultivating future-oriented rural educators and entrepreneurs; helping rural children, young entrepreneurs and women’s development and growth, and making the world more inclusive, green, sustainable, healthy and happy. As such, the foundation has set up and implemented the Jack Ma Rural Education Initiative, Jack Ma Education Fund, Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative, as well as other environmental protection and medical support projects. Capital talked to Jason Pau, Senior Advisor for International Programs of JMF about their future plan and how they will continue cooperating with Africa. Excerpts;

Capital: What is Jack Ma Foundation’s primary focus?
Jason Pau: The Jack Ma Foundation was founded in 2014 with a particular focus on education, entrepreneurship, women’s leadership, and the environment. Our main goal is to help build a happier, healthier, more sustainable and more inclusive society. Since the Foundation was established, we’ve supported global projects and organizations, including the Jack Ma Rural Education Program in China, Ma & Morley Scholarship Program in Australia, and the Queen Rania Foundation in Jordan.
In Africa, our flagship philanthropic program is the Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative (ANPI), which provides entrepreneurs across Africa an inclusive platform to gain resources, showcase and develop their talent and business ideas. The ANPI annually organizes the Africa’s Business Heroes prize competition. We just closed applications for the second year and have received a tremendous 20,000 + applications from entrepreneurs across all 54 African nations.
We believe these entrepreneurs will be a driving force for Africa’s future and are well placed to address some of the most pressing challenges Africa faces today, and can play a vital role in the advancement of local communities. Africa’s Business Heroes aims to unlock their potential to create impact and generate positive change, and give them a platform to shine. And although the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about an unexpected set of challenges, we believe entrepreneurs can leverage their unique skills and values like resilience and leadership to turn these challenges into opportunities, ultimately helping their local communities overcome this crisis and recover.

Capital: What is the Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative?
Jason Pau: When Jack Ma visited Africa for the first time in 2017, he returned from that trip deeply inspired by the energy and potential he saw amongst the young entrepreneurs he met with. What he noticed, was also that these entrepreneurs were facing the same obstacles that he also had encountered when he first founded Alibaba over twenty years ago. From that trip, he committed to do his part to inspire, train, and support entrepreneurs in Africa.
As part of this commitment, he announced the Jack Ma Foundation’s Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative (ANPI) in 2018. The ANPI reflects the Foundation’s long-standing commitment to entrepreneurship, and it organises the annual “Africa’s Business Heroes” (ABH) competition and show, which is open to entrepreneurs from all industry sectors, all African countries, and all ages and genders.
The prize will culminate in a grand finale later this year where the top 10 finalists will compete for their share of a US$1.5 million prize pool. These finalists will be chosen for their leadership and vision, ability to translate their innovations and ideas into sustainable business models, and commitment to creating positive impact for their communities. The grand finale will be broadcast on TV and online across the continent, creating an exciting opportunity for audiences in Africa and around the world to connect with the inspiring stories of entrepreneurship from across the continent.
We are thrilled that ABH has received an extraordinary reception this year, garnering over 20,000 applications from all 54 countries in Africa, a remarkable 2x increase from last year when we received 10,000 applications from entrepreneurs from 50 African countries. As the judging process commences, we look forward to announcing more details soon.

Capital: The Initiative only selects 10 African entrepreneurs every year, isn’t that a bit less compared to the potential of Africa?
Jason Pau: The Jack Ma Foundation’s commitment to support and foster Africa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is long-term: ABH aims to highlight 100 extraordinary African entrepreneurs and allocate US$100 million in grant funding, training, education, mentoring and networking programs over ten years.
We are committed to empowering as many entrepreneurs as possible to pursue their aspirations and take their business to the next level. The value of the Prize goes far beyond mere financial gain, but it’s rather an extraordinary platform where all participants, and not just the winners, have benefited from expertise and insights garnered within the ANPI community of business leaders.
We have embedded training and mentorship throughout the program, so that all applicants can also leverage learnings from their participation with the prize. Few entrepreneurs operating in Africa are able to do business across the continent, given the complexities and individualities of each individual market. But as a result of the Prize, our finalists have begun building partnerships and cooperating with peers from across Africa and from around the world. Several have also gone on to receive multiple investments and grants from other investors and partners.
In many ways, the finale show itself is also a masterclass in entrepreneurship. Because the finale show will be broadcast on TV across the continent and online, aspiring entrepreneurs will get to watch the most talented and promising 10 entrepreneurs from Africa pitch global business legends. There is a tremendous sense of learning instilled into the show and not only being able to directly see how top entrepreneurs pitch their companies, but also gain insights from how judges identify both opportunity and drawbacks in various businesses and industries.

Capital; The Jack Ma Foundation has been helpful in fighting COVID-19 in Africa? Can you explain why?
Jason Pau: Since the early stages of the Covid-19 outbreak, we recognized the importance of coming together as a global community in the fight against this global pandemic. Leadership and decisive action is critical in times of crisis and we responded to that calling. To that end, the Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Foundation have undertaken a diverse range of philanthropic efforts to combat Covid-19 globally and including in Africa over the past few months.
One key example of this collaboration is the Global MediXchange for Combating Covid-19 (GMCC), a digital platform that brings together medical experts from around the world to share knowledge, experience and best practices to prevent and treat Covid-19. As part of GMCC, we held a total of 11 webinars between April and May for medical workers from nine African countries, including Ethiopia. We hosted two of the webinars in collaboration with local partners such as the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation and Higherlife Foundation. In total, 102 African hospitals and over 4,500 medical personnel took part in these sessions. The webinars focused on urgent questions outlined by the participating hospitals and spanned topics including hospital preparation, resource allocation, infection control and treatment, as well as nursing and rehabilitation best practices.
We are also extremely grateful to our partners for their leadership in distributing several rounds of donations of critical medical supplies and equipment from the Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Foundation to every country on the continent. We are especially thankful to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the Ethiopian Government, and Ethiopian Airlines for their incredible efforts in helping to quickly establish and activate a strong partnership in the face of this crisis. The distribution of the donation would also not have been possible without the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, United Nations World Food Programme, World Health Organization, and the African Union. Through our collaboration we were able to distribute critical PPE and test kits during our first round to 50 countries in 7 days. This was a remarkable achievement and has served as a model for cooperation going forward.

Capital: What are your future plans in Africa?
Jason Pau: The Jack Ma Foundation has a long-standing commitment to Africa, and we are keen to contribute to the enhancement of tomorrow’s Africa digital economic environment. In five to ten years, I hope we will have helped to catalyze a movement around entrepreneurship across Africa, so that the entire ecosystem of players, entrepreneurs, investors, educators, policymakers, civil society are working together to create new opportunities and jobs.


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