The co-founder and executive chairman of global e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, Jack Ma, has launched the Jack Ma Africa Netpreneur Prize to support African entrepreneurs with US$10 million in prize money.
The contest will run over 10 years and will focus on boosting Africa's digital economy through local entrepreneurship.
Ma met with South Africa's president Cyril Ramaphosa hours before launching the prize.
In a tweet posted after the meeting, Ramaphosa described Ma as one of the world's foremost entrepreneurs and investors. "We exchanged views & had a good discussion on the global economy & prospects for investment in South Africa. I wish him all the best with his visit."
Brian Wong, Vice President for Global Initiatives for the Alibaba Group says this most recent Netpreneurs event in Africa, the third since 2017, is an important moment for the continent.
"It is an inflection point and all of us here are creating a digital movement. With internet penetration, smartphone ownership and e-commerce all on the rise, entire industries will be completely remade as new venture emerge to solve uniquely African challenges within the inclusive digital economy. At Alibaba we saw the same thing happen over the last twenty years in China. We saw how the internet and technology has completely transformed the economy. We really do believe that Africa is on the brink of the transformation. The digital economy is not just a buzzword. It is an opportunity to remake the economic reality of the continent through entrepreneurs who are the catalysts for change."
Bogolo Kenewendo, Botswana's Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry, said African governments need to prioritise the rollout of internet connectivity.
"In my country there is a Universal Services Fund and when it started it was just for telecommunications industry to encourage the mobile operators to reach out to those in the rural spaces but that is currently being extended to include more internet services. I think it needs to go beyond the provision of hotspot and universal coverage to include an education system that allows people to thrive in the digital economy."
Ma first visited Africa in July 2017 in his capacity as special adviser for UNCTAD to promote entrepreneurship on the continent.
He met the Presidents of Kenya and Rwanda and committed to train 200 young African entrepreneurs and founders of digital startups, as well as to create training programs centered on e-commerce and the digital economy in partnership with academic institutions and governments.
To date, Alibaba says it has already hosted 52 of these African entrepreneurs in its Hangzhou China headquarters as part of the eFounders Fellowship.