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My Perspective on Jack Ma’s Africa Move: The Time Has Never Been Better For African Entrepreneurs To Make It Big

Perhaps the place that garnered the most attention on 16th November 2019 in Accra, Ghana was the Accra International Conference Center (AICC). What made it the most exciting place to be? The Jack Ma Foundation in Africa. Amongst the prominent people hosted at the event was Ghana’s president, HE Nana Akuffo Ado, Forbes’s Magazine’s China’s richest man, Jack Ma, the immediate past Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, and the legendary Chinese actor, Jet Li.  The audience was also very diverse, from Africans from different parts of the continent to Chinese and some Europeans.

What brought them together?

The African Netpreneur Prize Initiative (ANPI) is an initiative of the Jack Ma Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Alibaba Group. It seeks to unearth, incubate and support African entrepreneurs who deliver their services via the internet. What happened in Accra was the first edition of the initiative which is expected to run for ten years, and empower African Netpreneurs by providing a total of $1 million to the top 5 finalists each year.

What Happened?

Some of the highlights of the program include the address by Jack Ma who reminded the audience how some 15 to 20 prior, China was not very different from Africa. He acknowledged the shared differences between the Chinese and Africans. He shared with the audience the difficulties he faced during the nascent periods of Alibaba – how he got rejected by all venture capitalists at Wall Street.

He admitted however that one most outstanding positive he observed when he came to Africa was the entrepreneurial spirit is Africa is very high and that, amongst other things, moved him to set the African Netpreneur Prize.

The President of Ghana followed with an elaborate speech on his government’s efforts at unearthing African Entrepreneurs. For the first time, I learned that Ghana spearheaded the ‘Africa Innovates for SDG’ program. This is a program that seeks to not only unearth but support to become a reality, business ideas that will solve at least one of the UN’s SDGs. This, it is believed, will create prosperity and sustainable economic growth that is in line with the SDGs.

Ban Ki-Moon also took the podium to say a number of things. Ban Ki-Moon shed light on how Ghana’s President Akuffo Addo was very instrumental in his election as the Secretary-General of the UN.

There was also a youth panel which featured, James Mwangi, Patrick Awuah (President of Ashesi University in China), Cina Lawson (a Minister in Togo ) and Martin Stimela (CEO of Brastone, Botswana). The topic of the discussion hovered around the challenge that faces entrepreneurship in Africa.

My Take On What This Means For Africa

The ANPI could be taken as an indication of the world’s interest in Africa. It is worthy to note that the ANPI is not the very first of its kind; there are several initiatives giving grants to many African entrepreneurs. But, what is quite different about the ANPI is its focus on the internet. This is very important because in a world of increasing globalization and interconnectivity, being savvy with the internet and the ability to take advantage of the opportunities it offers is the only way Africa entrepreneurs can survive and remain competitive.

It is delusional to think Africa can solve all her problems on her own because the problem facing Africa is enormous. Still, Africa however, has not been able to solve her problem despite having so much assistance from the world. This is because, in short, the world has always given Africa fish but not taught her how to fish. The ANPI is teaching African entrepreneurs not only how to fish, but how to do it better.

In the next decade, at the end of ANPI, there would be 50 Netpreneurs in all who would have benefited tremendously from the program. It will lead to the creation of employment for many on a continent with the youngest population but the highest youth unemployment globally. By all accounts, this is something good and must be encouraged.

We might want to call this decade the decade of the African Entrepreneur. The African entrepreneur has never seen so much keen attention showered like at the Summit. This is a clarion for them to make the most out of it since this attention from the world, including China, won’t last forever.

Here’s the Bottom Line…

The Jack Ma Foundation is doing a good job but I think powering only 50 African Netpreneurs by the next decade will fall short of contributing to the minimum effort needed to pull Africa from her bootstraps. It would be better if the Foundation could also partner with African governments and other groups to invest in telecommunication infrastructure in order to make the internet more accessible and affordable.

One of the major stumbling blocks of entrepreneurship in Africa is low internet penetration. The fact that telecommunication infrastructure is weak in Africa has only made matters worse. The cost of data in Africa is the highest in the world and this has served to deter people, especially in the rural areas from accessing the internet, even in the event the internet is available there. While other parts of the world have started rolling on 5G network and others in the process of, it is sad to say that many parts of Africa don’t even have a proper 3G network.

I believe this will be the biggest push for the African Netpreneur. The more people connected on the internet in Africa, the better the prospect of growth for Netpreneurship.

Amodani is a student at Koforidua Technical University (KTU) of the class of 2020. He is majoring in Biomedical Engineering. He currently serves as president of KTU Debate Society. In this capacity, he helps students understand local and global issues and the impact they can have through constructive dialogue and debate. He is passionate about community advocacy and development. He is focused on pursuing politics after he graduates.

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