Alibaba Group has extended its partnership with Rwanda while also agreeing to import additional Rwandan products to China and launch a four-year training program for Rwandan students to learn cross-border e-commerce.
The Rwanda Development Board, which oversees investments in the country’s economy, in an updated memorandum of understanding agreed to continue its membership in the Electronic World Trade Platform for another three years. Rwanda was the first African country to join the eWTP, an Alibaba-led initiative that aims to lower barriers to global trade for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) via e-commerce.
In addition, Alibaba Business School signed a memorandum with the RDB to start an undergraduate program that will train students in international business and cross-border e-commerce to support the development of skills relevant to growing the sector in Rwanda. Twenty-two students are expected for the incoming class, starting in September, 20 of which will be fully funded by Higher Education Council of Rwanda and Alibaba. Alibaba’s New Retail-powered supermarket chain, Freshippo, also signed a memorandum with the RDB, agreeing to import Rwandan chili to its 150 self-operated stores in China.
Alibaba Executive Chairman Jack Ma first visited Africa in 2017, later saying he was impressed by the country’s young entrepreneurs and local businesses and pledged to support the growth of the digital economy in Africa. Since then, Rwandan educators have participated in Alibaba Business School’s “Global E-commerce Talent – Train the Trainers” program, which seeks to deepen teachers’ understanding of the e-commerce industry, while Rwandan startup founders visited Hangzhou for training under the school’s Netpreneur program and the eFounders Fellowship, which was created in partnership with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Rwandan government officials have also been to Alibaba headquarters for a “New Economy Workshop” to learn how to build and sustain economic growth in the digital era.
“We’ve seen great momentum through our collaboration with the Rwanda Development Board to provide capacity-building to all key stakeholders who are drivers of the digital economy,” said Alibaba Vice President of Global Initiatives Brian Wong. (Wong is pictured above with Rwanda Development Board CEO Clare Akamanzi [c] and Freshippo Senior Procurement Manager Chen Huifang.)
Wong pointed to the 40 Rwandan entrepreneurs who have received training through the eFounders’ Fellowship and Netpreneur program, as well as the 12 Rwandan government delegates that attended the New Economy Workshop.
“We are hoping that through our continuous effort, cross-sector synergy and public-private collaboration will be cultivated through the respective programs and will continue to drive actions towards the goal of an inclusive digital economy,” he said.
Nadia Uwamahoro, founder of SME-focused software company Data Systems, said the biggest takeaway from her training as an eFounder was that a company’s mission, culture and values need to be formulated and explained to both employees and the market from the beginning.
“I used to not consider that, but now I do,” she said. “This has made people understand exactly what we stand for and we have become more focused as a company since.”
In an editorial for the World Economic Forum in Africa this week, Wong highlighted additional results of the partnership’s initiatives so far, including:
- The Rwandan Utility and Regulation Association making further investments in fiber infrastructure across the country, and the RDB working with the National Post Office to improve the local postal service to improve e-commerce logistics there.
- Rwandan coffeemakers, many of them Netpreneur alumni, connecting their businesses to China’s 700+ million consumers through cross-border e-commerce marketplace Tmall Global, increasing sales to China by 700%.
- Cross-sector and public-private collaborations have been cultivated through these training programs. The RDB, for example, holds frequent meet-ups among entrepreneurs and government to encourage dialogue so that policies are created that allow for the growth of an inclusive digital economy.
Wong in the editorial called for still more collaboration among stakeholders to ensure that Rwanda, and Africa as a whole, could leapfrog from challenges, such as its current lack of infrastructure and youth unemployment, into a new era of growth.
“A wide range of partnerships with venture capitalists and incubators, multilateral organizations, government agencies, universities, industry associations are necessary to create a true ecosystem that can support the development of a digital economy,” he wrote.