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Africa's bars to help bounce to digital economy: Alibaba

Sep '19
Pic: Alizila
Pic: Alizila
Africa has the right ingredients to see its digital economy grow just as China’s did when it began its expansion 20 years ago, Alibaba Group vice president Brian Wong recently told the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town. Perceived limitations in fact will allow Africa to leapfrog into a vibrant digital economy and better engage in trade, he said.

The limitations include a lack of retail infrastructure, low internet penetration and per capita income, Wong, who heads Alibaba’s global initiatives, said during a panel discussion on ‘The Retail Revolution’ in Africa.

When Alibaba launched as a company in 1999, China had a large population, rudimentary retail infrastructure, only 8.8 million Internet users and a per-capita income of $800. Now, those numbers have soared to 850 million internet users, a per-capital income of $9,000 and total e-commerce turnover of $1 trillion.

“Most people would believe this is impossible unless you have a very developed infrastructure. The reality is that not having a developed, say, retail infrastructure, banking infrastructure, logistics infrastructure, provided an opportunity in China for people to leapfrog the traditional sector and go straight into digital. And that’s why the growth has been so immense,” a company press release quoted Wong as saying.

Fifteen years ago, China accounted for less than 5 per cent of the world’s e-commerce sales, Wong said, but today’s it is 43 per cent. That same year, 2004, less than 1 per cent of all retail in China was e-commerce, he said, but the number has grown to 33 per cent now, he said.

Educational institutions should train youth in the skills that are necessary to succeed in the new economy, he added.

Alibaba Group executive chairman Jack Ma is currently hosting the $10 million Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative (ANPI) with four regional partners. The prize includes an annual pitch competition over the next decade, with 10 finalists receiving a portion of $1 million to fund their businesses as well as access to the Netpreneur community of African business leaders for mentorship and other resources.

The goal is to identify 100 African ‘business heroes’ who are building a more-sustainable and inclusive future to help lead Africa to the next stage of development.

Just prior to Alibaba’s participation in the WEF Africa event, the company was announced as a founding member of WEF’s new Africa Growth Platform, which will work to bring together governments, investors and entrepreneurs to increase access to funding and create better business environments for the continent’s start-ups. (DS)

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