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The United Nations Conference of Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in collaboration with Chinese leading e-commerce platform Alibaba began an eFounders Fellowship program, with Jack Ma (founder of Alibaba) as the executive chairman and special adviser.

The eFounder Fellowship program is designed to empower entrepreneurs from developing who are pursuing business ventures in the e-commerce space. The program targets at least 1,000 of such entrepreneurs, whom it will empower to scale up their small businesses over the course of the next five years.

So far, three cohorts of entrepreneurs have passed through the eFounder Fellowship program. The last one had 29 entrepreneurs from Africa from various e-commerce businesses ranging from fintech, logistics, big data, and tourism.

The third cohort like the previous groups traveled to Hangzhou, China to take part in a two-week intensive program that provided them with business training and offered them a chance to network with top executives from Alibaba alongside local business persons from China. The 29 African entrepreneurs came from South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, Zambia, Uganda, Cameroon, Tunisia, Algeria, and Chad.

Together with UNCTAD, we want to empower Africa’s young entrepreneurs to not only succeed in their own ventures but to return home and demonstrate to others how to build inclusive business models for the digital era,” said Jack Ma.

Ma’s input into the program includes sharing his personal journey to founding Alibaba, an e-commerce platform that has grown so big that it rivals heavyweights like Amazon. Though it is mostly present in China and the Asian country, the e-commerce store is starting to get some footing in developing countries and even Western industrialized nations.

Ma founded Alibaba in 1999, and he shares some of the barriers and lack of supporting infrastructure; stories that most of the participating entrepreneurs can relate with. Ma says Alibaba is uniquely suited to share its experience with the entrepreneurs in this program, given the company faced some of the challenges their startups are currently facing.

It is also important to note that last year, Ma announced the establishment of a $10 million African Young Entrepreneurs Fund. He is also looking to partner with African universities to teach the youth matters artificial intelligence, e-commerce, and internet technology.

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