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Following Alibaba's entry into Africa in late 2017 the business continues to invest in the market. We look at how Alibaba Business School and UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) have developed a programme to support young entrepeneurs in Africa.

Teaching about the impact of ecommerce

Alibaba recently used its Hangzhou headquarters to host the eFounders Fellowship Programme. The Alibaba Business School and UNCTAD created this programme to promote global youth entrepreneurship. 29 African-based business took part. The participants were all entrepreneurs from different industries, including logistics and fintech.

The aim is to teach participants about the transformative impact e-commerce has had on China in the past decade. Alongside this, how these learnings can be used in Africa. During the course participants have lectures from Alibaba and local entrepreneurs. The programme has a strong focus on understanding the consumer.

Creating a long-lasting digital marketplace in Africa

The programme combines Alibaba's goals of making it easy to do business everywhere, and the UN Sustainable Development Goal of no one being left behind in the digital economy. Jack Ma has personally committed to foster entrepreneurship in youth across the world. He aims to have 1,000 entrepreneurs from developing countries (200 from Africa) over the next five years go through the programme. 

So far 52 Africans have completed the programme. He sees these people as the future of African ecommerce. He is looking for them to use their collective power to create a strong and long-lasting digital marketplace in Africa.

Growing ecommerce

Ecommerce is growing quickly in Africa and large companies such as Amazon and Alibaba are looking to take advantage of this. However, there are also local players such as Jumia continuously expanding, creating strong competition for the international retailers.

So far Alibaba has launched Alipay in South Africa and expanded its supplier base to include Nigeria. Jack Ma has also said he sees potential in Kenya due to its growing Chinese population. This may be a market we see Alibaba expanding into in the future.

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With so much going on in the ecommerce and technology space in China, we've selected the top news from Alibaba Group this week.

Alibaba Group's Rural Taobao to expand to 1,000 counties

Rural Taobao is one of Alibaba’s three main strategic projects besides globalisation and cloud computing. It aims to improve the living conditions of China’s rural regions by providing high quality products and logistics solutions.

Launched in October 2014, the initiative currently covers 700 counties with over 30,000  service centres. The plan is to expand its coverage to 1,000 counties and 150,000 villages across China in the next three years. As part of the project, Alibaba has recently opened a number of  'Taobao Select Service Stations', where villagers can purchase food, clothes and electronic items, at a physical location, without having to place the orders online.

On collaboration with brands, Bill Wang, vice president of Alibaba Group and general manager of Rural Taobao, said that by sharing insightful analytics about customer preferences and market trends, companies can develop products or craft marketing campaigns tailed to rural consumers.

Robotic waiters at Hema Restaurant

A Hema Fresh store has just launched a restaurant Robot.He, where robots are serving the dishes to its customers. Shoppers can shop for fresh ingredients in the supermarket area, and the ingredients will be brought to the kitchen via its conveyor belt system. A robot will then bring the dish to the table when its' ready.

Alibaba's first unmanned wine shop

Shoppers in Hangzhou, Where Alibaba Group has its headquarter, can now buy wine in this fully automated unstaffed store. If shoppers need further product information in the store, they can simply pick up a bottle, and the information will be displayed on a screen. Payments are automatically made through Alibaba’s Alipay payment platform. 

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Alibaba has opened an office in Malaysia, its first country office in Southeast Asia.

First Electronic World Trade Platform (eWTP) hub outside China

The new office will serve as a one-stop solution centre for local businesses, helping them identify global trade opportunities and take advantage of digital innovations. It will offer training courses to assist young entrepreneurs to export their products globally. Besides the eWTP, Alibaba has also established a cloud computing data centre and brought its mobile payment service Alipay to Malaysia. Its investment in Malaysia has reached over US$100M.

Part of broader strategy to grow in SEA

Alibaba has been building different infrastructures to support its expansion in SEA. This includes a warehousing facility built near the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and a logistics hub in a Digital Free Trade Zone (DFTZ). The facilities will help to ease border clearance and handling times. The aim is to help small and medium-sized enterprises in Asia to sell their products on online marketplaces. 

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