The efounders fellowship program began as a joint initiative of UNCTAD and Alibaba Business School for development countries. It is an 11-day course to empower 1000 e-commerce entrepreneurs from developing countries over the course of five years. The first ever e-founders was with 24 African participants last November and it continued on with the Asian entrepreneurs this year. A rigorous selection process deemed final candidates from Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam worthy to study e-commerce innovations from China and around the world, and become the ‘efounders fellows’.
The aim of this program is that young entrepreneurs will hopefully use the knowledge imparted during the course to become catalysts in their home countries for the digital transformation of their economies. The added attraction is the chance to interact with Jack Ma and see his perspective and knowledge on how he is transforming Asia.
Who hasn’t heard of Alibaba or Jack Ma? The multinational e-commerce, AI, internet and technology conglomerate and one of his most popular founders? The man is legendary for his never give-up attitude. That is after all how he made his empire! And if that was not all, he is looking to give back, not only in China but the African and Asian continent. This is where our story begins!
One of the e-founders fellow was Hamza Iftikhar – the founder of DealSmash which is a mobile app for shoppers that provides them targeted offers based on their interests and buying patterns using AI along with providing consumer insights and retail analytics to brands. While talking during an interactive session in Islamabad, he stated that through this fellowship, the idea of inclusion has taken priority for him. He wants to build a community where entrepreneurs encourage each other and provide a basic support system that creates an ideal environment for start-ups in Pakistan.
Furqan Kidwai, Founder of Dawaai and another fellow, very candidly admitted that he was not expecting much from this fellowship but he was glad that wasn’t the case. In his word – ‘It was an eye-opener.’ His start-up is an online pharmacy network and generic medicine engine in Pakistan where it helps people find information on prescription medicines and get them delivered at their doorstep.
While the website for the fellowship recounts the previous batch’s reviews and videos, it is nothing close to how thrilling, informative and exciting the whole course is. He also stated that Africa is still a little behind, with nascent startups when compared to Pakistan. What was astounding was the philosophy of Alibaba that came to light during the session, which really hits the right notes: We are all here to make people’s life easier!
Furqan also told us a story where he paid a beggar with Alipay! The Impact of tech on an ordinary person and how it creates an economic uplift is what Alibaba has been creating since its inception. Just have a look at the impact the ride-hailing services have had on Pakistan’s economic growth, where job opportunities are created for the marginalized.
Findmyadventures’s founder, Muhammad Komail Abbas, pointed out the difference in Pakistan and China’s community where they follow a certain pattern which leads to a smooth system – they essentially Walk the Talk in China. He vehemently stated that the mentorship system in Pakistan has the definition of success completely wrong! Through this program he found the Incubation centers being run by people who have gone through the struggles of being an entrepreneur and they utilize that knowledge to positively impact the start-ups and entrepreneurs coming in with ideas and thoughts.
Findmyadventure is a tourism platform that connects local tour providers in Pakistan to local and international travelers. Komail stated that it is not always about making money, the focus needs to shift on culture and value when starting a business. He recounted a story of Jack Ma going to the VP of finance to define the culture of the company. The thought behind this: Least amount of emotion in a guy who works with numbers, so if he can do it, everyone can!
Anum Kamran, the founder of Buyon which is an online shopping marketplace enabling small to medium sized businesses in Pakistan to sell online, pointed out the science behind the program: It is an opportunity for the young entrepreneurs to absorb all the knowledge available to them during this course, the 100 Business units, Alibaba’s operational systems, the people working at the company and utilized it to help their communities. She said that even the investors and the VP of Alibaba used to walk with them to the campus, no hierarchy was seen! This is the sort of culture that needs to be cultivated in Pakistan – all inclusive, where we are encouraging each other to do better.
Through this session, it has come to light that there is a profound need to change the culture of how start-ups begin and how they are supported. Alibaba essentially turned every problem into an opportunity, creating an ecosystem of platforms that empower the youth and the people of China. They are even empowering villagers who are using Alibaba’s platform to sell dry fruits and earning a good amount of revenue doing it!
The goal of the session with the efounders fellow was to share their experience and show what they got to learn for the budding entrepreneurs in Pakistan. Perhaps even encourage them to apply some of the learning. All four of them are in agreement that is was a great journey which provided insights into what the future is going to be like. They got to visit various Incubation centers, villages, field trips, creating a very hands on course where they also had the chance to reflect. The power of community and hunger for learning was prevalent everywhere they went!
Let’s end it on the wise words – one of the efounder fellows asked Jack Ma about his perception of Pakistan, where he stated that there is a lot of potential. He gave the example of China and West’s perspective of it being backward. He said that it is the youth that changed China and it is the job of upcoming youth and entrepreneurs to shape the future of Pakistan and set an example for the next generation.