Alibaba powering entrepreneurs towards e-commerce


Ghanaian Henry Cobblah is steeped into fashion and deploys the Internet to make his business work. Towards the end of last year, he was one of the two dozen entrepreneurs who had a chance to connect with Chinese e-commerce and technology company Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.

And not just that. He even had a chance to sit through a master class with Alibaba founder and executive chairman Jack Ma during their two-week stint in China. Needless to say, the experience was amazing and exhilarating.

Cobblah, a CTO of, a startup online marketplace that features fashion products from over 70 African designers, took part in the inaugural “eFounders Initiative”, co-spearheaded by Alibaba Business School and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

The two-week intensive course, which took place at Alibaba’s global headquarters in Hangzhou, offers capacity-building on all things e-commerce, from inventory management and rural commerce to logistics and mobile payment systems, as well as how to use data to best capture consumer preferences.

“I want others to know Africa has no shortage of talents, and I want Africans to tell the Africa story,” the 27-year-old entrepreneur told Alizila, the news hub for Alibaba Group.

The eFounders Initiative is the first step to fulfil the commitment Ma made as UNCTAD special advisor for young entrepreneurs and small business to help empower 1,000 entrepreneurs in developing countries over the next five years. It is part of a set of smart partnerships UNCTAD is creating to reach the sustainable development goals, according to a statement.

Alibaba Group

Participants at the inaugural eFounders initiative. They travelled from 7 African countries to learn from China’s experience in building an e-commerce ecosystem (Source: Alibaba Group)

By bridging the digital divide facing young entrepreneurs in developing countries, the eFounders Initiative helps ensure no one is left behind by the digital economy, as called for by the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

The initiative is also in line with Alibaba’s mission to help small businesses succeed in their home mar- kets and beyond by leveraging the power of technology.

“As entrepreneurs, you should consider three questions: What do you have? What do you want? What you will give up?” Ma told the group.

He also told them that the term “e-commerce” could soon become moot because over 80% of businesses worldwide will establish an online presence, and conducting business over the Internet will be the norm. Then, it will be just be commerce.

The two dozen participants were selected from more than 700 applicants via a rigorous application process. All participants are current pioneers in their respective fields, varying from mobile payment, big data, retail, logistics and others.

As a part of the programme, they have pledged to be agents of change in their home countries. After graduating, each of them will commit to applying the programme’s learnings to their own business objectives and to transferring their know-hows to others, to improve the e-commerce infrastructure of their country.

The young e-commerce pioneers travelled from seven African countries to attend the programme and learn from China’s experience in building an e-commerce ecosystem. One of the participants from Kenya, 29-year-old entrepreneur Catherine Mahugu said: “It is the first time that I see what digital inclusion means.”

Fellow participant Damilare Ogunleye, 31, from Nigeria added: “When I go back to my home country, my focus will be educating all those involved in the business on how to leverage technology, to better capture and analyse the data.”

For the budding entrepreneurs out there, be prepared to grab the opportunity to join the next schooling under the eFounders Initiative. — TMR