Why Alibaba owner’s Kenya visit was significant

By sharing his remarkable story with equally disadvantaged but enterprising youngsters, the billionaire’s message was clear: never, ever give up


By Isaac Swila

For a man who witnessed first-hand the vagaries of poverty while growing up as a poor kid in Hangzhou, China, life also offered its fair share of kindness. At 52, he is a billionaire of monumental proportions. Today, Jack Ma is looked at in awe, adored and considered an epitome of entrepreneurship, dedication and hard work. He is a role model to millions of upcoming entrepreneurs, not just in his native China, but also across the world.

Driven by a compelling desire to scale the heights and succeed in life, Ma worked his socks off in life and never allowed setbacks to deter him. The result is that today, he is the richest person in Asia, with a net worth of $43.2 billion, as of July 2017.

I am living the dream because I was determined to solve other people’s problems. We will provide support to more young Africans.

Remarkably, in his life, Jack Ma has had to endure rejection in order to gain success. But, in the process, he developed thick skin and forged on. In past interview, he said that he applied for 30 different jobs and got rejected by all. “I went for a job with the police; they said, ‘you’re not good,’” Ma told interviewer Charlie Rose. “I even went to KFC when it came to my city. Twenty-four people went for the job. Twenty-three were accepted. I was the only guy who got rejected…” In addition, he applied 10 times to Harvard and got turned down.

The many organizations that turned him down probably, in private, cringe in shame at the mere thought that the skinny boy with funny looks today not only calls the shot at a multinational but also dines and wines at the same table with the movers and shakers of the global economy and geo-politics.

It came as no surprise then that when he touched town in Nairobi last month for a series of lectures, the business world literally came to a standstill in the capital.

“My parents did not believe I could be rich. I do not have a single gene of wealth running in my family,” he remarked when he gave a lecture at the university of Nairobi, setting the tone of a meeting that saw him field and listen to questions and ideas of budding entrepreneurs.

Flanked in his trip by 33 other Chinese billionaires, Jack Ma extolled on youngsters the value of hard work and dedication, and the need to tame fear. His message was that one should never be afraid of failing.

Having himself realized such success, his life is a practical approach and a mirror through which many people – who are ambitious but fail to put their ideas into practice as they are eclipsed by fear– can draw a study from.

Ma’s visit was also a big opportunity to Internet-preneurs, as his company, Alibaba, will extend an invitation to over 2,000 youth to his home city Hangzhou to get training.
“I am living the dream because I was determined to solve other people’s problems. We will also send our teams to various parts of the continent to meet and provide support to more young Africans,” Ma, later told a battery of reporters at the precincts of the University of Nairobi moments after his lively engagement.

It is expected that by sharing his personal story and interacting with the budding business minds, his attributes will rub on onto the like-minded, who, in future, could open more business opportunities and create jobs in a country whose unemployment rate stands at 46%.

The business mogul’s visit echoes a similar one made by former US President Barack Obama who in 2015 urged the business community and youngsters not to give up on their business ideas.

“I have come here with some of the leading brains in the industry. Engage them; don’t be afraid. Pin them down and even when they tell you ‘I don’t think its gonna work’, you need not to give up… ask why,” Obama said then, also urging youngsters to pursue their business aspirations at a speech at the UNEP headquarters in Gigiri.