Technology can have a significant positive impact on the world, says Jack Ma, and technology companies have a responsibility to see that it does.
Speaking during a two-day visit to Paris, for the Tech for Good Summit and Viva Technology conference, the Alibaba Group founder and executive chairman highlighted the role that the world’s biggest tech companies can play in solving some of the world’s biggest problems.
“We created close to 40 million jobs directly and indirectly in China,” Ma told Publicis Groupe Chairman Maurice Lévy during a “fireside chat” at the Viva Tech conference on Thursday. “Everything we innovate is to enable others to succeed – to make it easy for small businesses to do business.”
WATCH: Jack Ma and Maurice Levy’s fireside chat at the Viva Tech conference
As examples of the kinds of initiatives Ma was referring to, there are more than 10 million small business sellers on Alibaba’s largest marketplace Taobao. More than half are women, many of whom are mothers with new babies who can now earn money while taking care of their children. Disabled people, or those living in rural areas, also sell on Taobao, further creating opportunities to make a living in China.
Similarly, the rise of the China’s domestic logistics industry, in part driven by the commerce taking place on Alibaba’s shopping platforms, helped construction workers in China’s slowing real estate market find new jobs in shipping and delivery companies, according to Alibaba.
Looking outside of China, Ma saw opportunities for technology to deliver similar solutions in markets in need of development, such as Africa.
“We are focused on the three Es: E-government for efficiency. Entrepreneurs to create the future and realize their dreams. Education, so that Africa will have lots of talented people,” Ma said.
At the Tech for Good Summit, hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron at the Élysée Palace, Alibaba was one of 44 companies that signed a pledge to have at least 30% women in management by 2022.
As much as leading global companies can deliver this kind of impact for the world, governments have a key role to play as well, Ma said. Particularly, in creating the right regulatory environment in which businesses can thrive. He said that a main reason Alibaba grew into the e-commerce and technology giant it is today is because of the lack of regulation in China’s internet sector. That allows the company to innovate and create the shopping, payments and logistics solutions it is known for today.
WATCH: French President Emmanuel Macron cites discussion with Ma during Viva Tech panel
Regulators, therefore, should be careful not to smother burgeoning markets and industries with policy before they have the chance to get off the ground, Ma said. He said Europe was a particularly regulation-heavy environment, one he would caution against.
“Europe worries and make rules and laws,” Ma told Lévy on Thursday. “So, I worry about Europe. I worry about the worries of Europe.”
“If you think the technology revolution is a problem, I’m sorry to say a problem just started. If you think it’s an opportunity, the opportunity just started. The only thing is your mentality. If the mentality is now a worry, you’ll worry all the time,” Ma said.
Ma offered advice to government officials: “The policies we make have to be smart policies at the smart time. We have to think about the future,” he said. “There is very little we can do to change yesterday, very little we can do to change today, but if we do a little bit today we can change the future.”
What’s that future look like for Alibaba?
“Alibaba’s vision, which will be driven by my successor CEO Daniel Zhang, is that by 2036 Alibaba wants to have a digital economy to create 100 million jobs, serve 2 billion consumers and support 10 million profitable businesses on our platform,” Ma said at Viva Tech. “We are working to enable global buy, global sell, global pay, global delivery and global travel for everyone.”
Ma also spoke about his coming retirement in September when he will relinquish the chairman’s role to CEO Daniel Zhang.
“I want to go back to teaching,” he said, referring to his original occupation before launching Alibaba with 17 other founders in 1999. “Not to teach in one classroom, but to change the way we teach and what we teach. I want to make young people ready for the future.”
Ma said he was confident in his team at Alibaba, saying the company would be run by “people who are better than I am.” Still, he sees ways to leverage his strengths in order to help the world.
“I believe I can do better in 3 areas: supporting entrepreneurs, education and fighting for more women leaders.”