One for Jack Ma, Philanthropy and Education

Jack Ma’s recently full-time foray into philanthropy shook the world in a better way but China is no stranger to largesse and giving. From Confucius to Buddha, China has been for centuries a country known for sharing prosperity. Although until recently China was lagging behind the world in charity, a lot has changed in the last few years. There are a plethora of reports on the emergence of philanthropy in China with a lot of focus on education. Jack Ma established a $ 3bn dollar fund in 2014 for philanthropic causes while Pony Ma co-founder of Tencent (WeChat fame) is known for his legendary philanthropic zeal. It seems Ma surname is ubiquitous with charity in China. Just kidding…Another co-founder of Tencent, Charles Chen Yidan whose contribution to charity is monumental, especially in education. China charity law, passed in 2016, gave a huge impetus to non-profits and giving with the aim of regulating domestic charitable organizations within the People’s Republic of China. They are too many reports on the surge in philanthropy in China and it’s beyond the scope of this article to highlight all of them. Li Ka Shing foundation is a very prominent foundation involved in charitable causes just to cite an example.

Coming back to Jack Ma, his life has been nothing less than inspiring. An entertainer and philosopher, Jack’s first profession were as an educator. After some attempts to work in varied professions, Jack rose to prominence as a co-founder of Alibaba with a blockbuster $25bn listing in NYSE. Alibaba is the largest e-commerce platform in the world.

Speaker par excellence, Jack has been a regular feature at Davos and US universities, bridging the gap between western and eastern philosophies of conducting businesses. Jack Ma’s ability to make the audience laugh every time you listen to him defines his ability to mix humor with business. Deeply humble, an important attribute among the Chinese, Jack’s sublime quality is his ability to make light of his struggles in life.

The path ahead in promoting equitable education will be very challenging in China considering the size of population and vastness of the country. One way of bridging the gap in inequitable education would be in attracting private-public partnerships something which has become of prime importance around the world. Jack is a very popular figure around the world and a cultural icon, so it would be easier for him to nudge private capital into educational needs. China like India would need to follow a three prolonged strategy…

First, would be to make K10/K12 education equitable. Scandinavians have the best kindergarten to high school pedagogy, the best would be the benchmark with customized tailor based curriculum to suit country needs. Building world-class equitable public schools will be a herculean task looking at the enormity of the size of both the Chinese population but nevertheless, it is achievable with measurable social impact. One way would be to attract private players and non-profits through innovative measures in social finance which range from social impact bonds, blended finance etc. The other would be to encourage non-profits who promote education among the less privileged like Teach For All just to share an example.

Second, which many countries have tried to experiment and improve education and other social/ environmental causes by judiciously leveraging technology at low-cost. Ghana is one country which has successfully implemented centralized teaching using satellites while there are many websites which are imparting high-end education through online courses. Centralized education becomes a very good resource in rural region wherein population is sparsely populated. For example, Arvind eye-care in India provides low-cost cataract surgeries and addresses one of the most important medical needs at the bottom of the pyramid.

Finally, to build many world-class universities in all major cities. American ( US and Canadian) and British model of developing cities through an innovative and startup ecosystem as well as making curriculum focused on research and development, can be replicated. China has the resources to attract the best talent from anywhere in the world in education with a major focus on promoting doctoral degrees in universities. China is blessed with some of the best human talents in the world and the trick would be to hone this talent on a huge scale within China. The road-map ahead would need to huge support from the government which is also deeply interested in fostering innovation and talent from within.

The path ahead for Jack Ma would be two-fold. One, to continue the journey in innovation ranging from e-commerce, artificial intelligence, bi-metrics etc. through mentoring and coaching startups apart from proving seed or venture capital. Second to build sustainable social businesses apart from invigorating public-private partnerships in China and the world. Maybe the road ahead is less traveled only by a few visionaries and humanitarians including Bill Gates, who inspired Jack but, the journey would be joyful, fulfilling and wholesome. Jack is a business icon in China with worldwide recognition and adulation and can inspire millions. China is one of the most enduring civilizations known for inventing paper, formulating some of the earliest mathematical and philosophical doctrines, promoting martial art and mindfulness through Tai Chi and Wing Chun and fabricating porcelain and silk among many others. China is also known for its deeply spiritual and altruistic foundation which formed the bedrock of this ancient civilization which has stood the test of time and will continue to do so.

Among the many steps which Jack Ma implemented is the celebration of the singles day in China, a day I can deeply associate. ( Its time we take a cue to start something similar in India). Jack’s vision in redefining the payment system helped in changing the consumer behavior of not only people in China but also providing the impetus to people around the world. Good work and innovation are contagious, it spreads like wildfire.

To end on a positive note, I will share a quotation which has conferred upon me once. “Great things come in small packages, so does dynamite.” I wish Jack well and best in his future endeavors.