“Possibilities for growth and recovery are endless”
In the midst of COVID-19, the Jack Ma Foundation has stood out for its timely and swift assistance in contributing needed and scarce medical supplies to many nations, including to Ethiopia. In an email interview, Jason Pau, a Senior Advisor for International Programs with the Foundation reflects with Samuel Getachew of The Reporter on its efforts, on helping African entrepreneurs become change makers, on partnership and on the long-term vision of the Foundation within the continent. Excerpts:
The Reporter: Ethiopia has now received needed medical supplies from the foundation and I note the contribution is ongoing. What is the intention of the contribution and its long-term vision?
Jason Pau: We are so grateful to our partners for their leadership in distributing the donations of medical supplies from the Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Foundation throughout the continent. We know that we must act together during this global pandemic and it is our hope that these donations will be able to help overcome this crisis. We are especially thankful to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD), the Ethiopian Government, and Ethiopian Airlines for their incredible efforts in helping to establish a strong partnership that has been able to activate quickly and efficiently in the face of this crisis.
The distribution of the donation would also not have been possible without the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, United Nations World Food Programme, World Health Organization, and African Union.
Some of the areas the foundation is focused on are on education and entrepreneurship. Tell me about that?
Jack Ma established the foundation in 2014 to focus on education, entrepreneurship, women’s leadership, and the environment. We’ve supported a number of projects and organizations worldwide including the Jack Ma Rural Education Program in China, the Ma & Morley Scholarship Program in Australia, and the Queen Rania Foundation in Jordan. Our aim to help build a happier, healthier, more sustainable and more inclusive society.
In Africa, our flagship philanthropic program is the Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative (ANPI). We are very focused on giving entrepreneurs across Africa a platform to be able to showcase and develop both their talent and business ideas. The ANPI is organizing the Africa’s Business Heroes prize competition which is open for applications now, and will culminate in a grand finale later this year where the top 10 finalists will pitch business legends like our judges from last year – Jack Ma, Strive Masiyiwa, Ibukun Awosika, and Joe Tsai – for a chance to win their share of a US$1.5 million prize pool.
One of the areas the foundation has been heavily involved in is in the promotion of entrepreneurship and the foundation has put much effort to that end. Share with me the Africa’s Business Heroes Competition and the impetus to have it in Africa as opposed to anywhere else?
I remember when Jack made his first visit to Africa in 2017 as advisor to the United Nations, he was deeply inspired and impressed by the talent and energy amongst the entrepreneurs he met with. He saw that these entrepreneurs were like him 20 years ago in many ways, facing many of the same barriers that he also had to overcome when he first founded Alibaba. Since then, through the foundation, he has committed to do his part to inspire, train, and support entrepreneurs in Africa. We believe that entrepreneurs will drive Africa's future. That is how the ANPI program and the Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) competition were born.
With the ABH prize competition and show, we want to highlight entrepreneur heroes from across Africa who are working to solve critical problems, uplifting their local communities, and building a more inclusive economy for the future. ABH is intent on being as inclusive as possible as well, our applications are open in English as well as French. Any entrepreneur regardless of country, sector, age or gender is welcome to apply.This year’s competition will conclude at the end of the year with a grand finale hosted in Addis Ababa, in a show that will be broadcast both online and across the continent.
Where do you see ANPI in five to ten years, in creating and nurturing talents and promoting home grown successful African businesses?
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.
As a result of the Prize, our top 10 finalists from 2019 have already begun building partnerships and cooperating with other entrepreneurs from across Africa and from around the world. Several have also gone on to receive multiple investments and grants from other investors and partners. Few enterprises operating in Africa are able to do business across the continent, given the complexities and individualities of each individual market, so it is promising to see the beginnings of this movement take shape.
What is the long-term vision in Africa?
Our ANPI program represents a long-standing commitment to entrepreneurship in Africa. Over a 10-year period, we will be shining a spotlight on 100 outstanding entrepreneurs from across Africa and we have committed to allocating US$100 million in this same time window in grant funding, training programs, and support for the broad African entrepreneurial ecosystem.
We are grateful to have the help of our local partners both in Ethiopia and across Africa. We were honored that Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, the founder and CEO of soleRebels, served as a semi-final judge for last year’s prize and remains an important partner for us this year as well. Through our efforts and with our local partners, we hope that these home-grown entrepreneurs will create more jobs and opportunities for Africa and that more people will give entrepreneurs a chance.
In regards to the current global epidemic, what roles do imagine entrepreneurs playing?
Entrepreneurs have an important role to play in being able to help us overcome this crisis. After the battle on the health front, entrepreneurs will be integral to efforts in rebuilding the economy and helping local communities recover.
In today’s world, possibilities for growth and recovery are endless with access to a mobile phone and the internet. Anybody with a mobile phone can start and run business, or access products and services with the touch of a button. We hope that in the future when we are looking back upon this time of crisis, a new generation of mission-driven entrepreneurs will have emerged to pioneer new business ideas and solutions.
How is Jack Ma Foundation helping to enable efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic?
It is extremely important that we be able to combat COVID-19 as a united global community. To that end, we’ve established the Global MediXchange for Combating COVID-19 (GMCC) in conjunction with the Alibaba Foundation. The GMCC is an online program for global medical workers to share insights, first-hand experiences and best practices for treating the coronavirus disease. So far, around 3,000 healthcare workers from around the world have joined.
The program has also begun organizing live video conferences and webinars between medical experts from around the world and those in China who were on the front line of fighting COVID-19 and were crucial to slowing its spread. For example, on April 10, Ethiopia's health minister, Dr. Lia Tadesse, and staff from more than 20 hospitals from Ethiopia tuned in to a two-hour online medical exchange session with the Second Affiliated Hospital, Zhejiang University School of Medicine, to discuss best practices in treating and containing the spread of COVID-19.
More hospitals in countries including Sri Lanka, Rwanda, South Africa, Ghana, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Nepal are also participating, and additional sessions are scheduled for the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.
For more information of the award - https://africabusinessheroes.org/en/