Founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba, Jack Ma, announced the creation of an electronic World Trade Platform (eWTP), last september. He made it a reality in March with the development of an e-hub for Malaysia. What about it?

Jack Ma’s New Global Trade Dream: empowering SMEs!

When Jack Ma founded Alibaba in 1999 in China, he had one dream : “Make it easy to do business anywhere”. He then started famous C2C e-commerce platform Taobao, and later on its B2C version Tmall. And today millions of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and billions of customers has benefited from these two businesses.

But one side from the business magnate you might not know so well is its ambition to build a real legacy. He told his hope is that Alibaba will last at least 102 years: “One year in the last century, 100 this century and one in the next”, showing that he bases his business philosophy on a Build to Last vision (Seattle “mode” eg. Microsoft and Amazon) rather than a Build to Sell one (Silicon Valley “mode”). And Jack Ma truly believes that this legacy will come from SME’s empowerment - something he’s actually been building all these years through the development of Alibaba’s many platforms and his Taobao Villages.

eWTP: a digital platform to help SMEs grow

But this Build to Last vision is also the reason behind Jack Ma’s proposition in september 2016 at the G20 Summit to build an electronic World Trade Platform, eWTP. According to Alibaba’s press release, this concept “envisions the creation of digital free-trade zones where SMEs can easily plug into global trade via e-commerce”. The zone would offer simple and straightforward regulations, lower barriers to entry into new markets and will provide small businesses with easier access to financing.

The first action through this platform is the creation of an e-hub in partnership with the Malaysian digital economy development agency. “The first e-hub under the eWTP outside of China will go a long way towards making global trade more inclusive and provide much needed support to a hugely important constituent: SMEs and the younger generation” Jack Ma said in a recent speech. Thanks to this e-hub and a logistic center near Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Jack Ma aims at supporting and helping Malaysia to build a better ecosystem. He believes that trading is not just about buying and selling but that it can also connect people and help with the spread of creative ideas and experiences between different cultures and backgrounds. And SMEs are in the best position to fulfill this dream.

Mixing business and common good

Indeed, in the past 50 years, big corporates dominated the worldwide trading market. But in the next 30 years, we might see Alibaba achieves its goal to help 90% SME in those developing countries to trade and benefit from the eWTP via new “e-hubs” that will then form a unique “e-road” infrastructure. By 2035, the “Alibaba economy” could generate about 30% (122 millions) of all the jobs available in China’s digital economy. That figures include not only Alibaba’s employees but also the jobs created by new online businesses using Alibaba’s platform.

This reminds me of an advice of Ming Po Cai, CEO of Cathay Capital: “if you want to expand your business to other markets, you’ll have first to be very successful in your local market to become a market leader. Then, you must hold an open mindset to support and help businesses in different markets but not to invade and occupy them just for more profit and resources.” This helps us understand why Fortune magazine recently named Jack Ma as one of the world’s greatest leaders: not only he is the richest man in China and has successful business but also for his humanity when he run businesses. 

By Judy Wei
Managing Director Asia