Jeff Zhang, Alibaba Group’s chief technology officer and president of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence, will serve as chairman of a new internal committee dedicated to technology-driven philanthropy, he said in an internal letter to employees.
The decision was prompted by the belief that the true power of science and technology lies in their ability to help people achieve more, he said. Per the letter, sent last week, the “Alibaba Economy Technology Philanthropic Committee” will promote the humanitarian role of science and tech, empower charitable organizations and support employees so that they can contribute to philanthropic causes.
“Technology is our foundation, but we don’t believe that the value of Alibaba’s engineers stops there,” Zhang said in his letter. “By leveraging our understanding of our respective industries, products and businesses, we can be a stronger force for social good than we might imagine, helping solve the biggest problems facing the world: the destruction of the environment, poverty, disease and inequality.”
“With our strong technical capabilities comes an increased responsibility towards society. Our only hope for fulfilling this responsibility is if all of us recognize the value of our technical skills and find ways to enable others to benefit from them,” Zhang added.
The committee is a continuation of Alibaba’s corporate social responsibility efforts. Alibaba earmarks 0.3% of annual revenue to The Alibaba Public Welfare Foundation, established in 2011, to fund efforts in promoting environmental awareness and social responsibility. The foundation encourages all employees to volunteer more than three hours of their time per year to charitable projects. Since 2015, the collected time has reached over 483,000 hours.
Following the devastating Sichuan earthquake in 2008, a group of Alibaba technical staff teamed up to develop a new feature for the public to make quake-relief donations online. This later became Alipay’s “Ant Love” donation platform, which today has been used by over 1 billion people to donate RMB 1.86 billion ($276 million) in funds. In the disaster’s immediate aftermath, Alibaba pledged a RMB 25 million fund to help rebuild the region. To this day, employees continue to volunteer in the area, helping locals renovate buildings, teach in schools and teach farmers how to increase sales by using e-commerce.
Other engineer-initiated philanthropy projects that become mainstays at the firm include the company’s “Barrier-Free Lab,” which recently tapped artificial intelligence to make e-commerce shopping more accessible to blind and partially sighted users, and Alibaba Cloud’s “Greencode” platform. Launched in 2017, and built by 50 engineers in the course of 1,000 hours, Greencode serves as a matchmaking platform that connects engineers with charity programs needing technical support. It now has more than 4,400 registered volunteers, supporting people who contribute or work for 210 charity organizations.
Alibaba Cloud has been expanding its push for social responsibility on several fronts. Last year, it began partnering with Taobao to pilot an inclusive education program for underdeveloped towns in Guizhou and Hebei Provinces, providing schools with video-conferencing solutions that allow lecturers in larger cities to teach classes remotely, while students can use Internet of Things technologies, such as smart pens and paper, which allow teachers to observe their students’ work and interact with them in real-time.
More recently, in February, the cloud-computing unit launched a new initiative to leverage technology for social good, dubbed “Tech for Change.” As part of the initiative, the company said it would partner with with African nonprofit iamtheCODE to teach 1 million women and girls worldwide computer programming by 2030, as well as offer female coders in marginalized communities free online training and access to cloud-computing resources.
“We started out in 1999 as a small start-up on a mission to make it easy to do business anywhere, and now we have become a global firm that plays a major role in the digital economy,” Zhang said in the letter. “But what we are most proud of is not our financial success. It is the fact that our staff genuinely care about others and are using their technical gifts to help create a better world.”