Spotlight on Alibaba’s approach to philanthropy: unleashing “The Power of Small”

  • Published: 12 September 2018
  • Author: Gloria Luo

On the 5th of September, over 1,500 practitioners, philanthropists and thought leaders gathered in Hangzhou, China for Alibaba Foundation’s second Xin Philanthropy Conference. Themed The Power of Small, this conference manifested the Chinese e-commerce giant’s philanthropic vision to enable small individual actions for the greater good of humanity, and progress towards an inclusive, dynamic and sustainable future. Here is how Alibaba’s approach shapes the philanthropy landscape in China:

Building an ecosystem for collective impact

Started as an e-commerce platform back in 1999, Alibaba Group has now grown into a complex ecosystem with various business operations ranging from cloud computing, logistics, payment solutions to digital media and entertainment. It managed to distinguish itself from its Western counterparts by focusing on the development of e-commerce infrastructure that has fundamentally changed the way of doing business in China. In its latest fiscal year alone, Alibaba connected 576 million active consumers through its China retail marketplaces, signifying its unprecedented scale of influence and success.

In its philanthropic and CSR efforts, Alibaba is committed to leveraging its business model and extending the benefits of its ecosystem to mobilize businesses and communities and address social and environmental challenges, particularly for rural education, youth and women’s empowerment as well as environmental sustainability.

For instance, one session of the conference on how technologies can help everyone embrace a low-carbon lifestyle gathered representatives from Alibaba Cloud, Cainiao Green Initiatives and Ant Forest to share their learning and experiences. While Alibaba Cloud leads efforts in reducing its data center’s carbon footprint and energy consumption, Cainiao is implementing its “Green Logistics 2020” initiative, joining hands with other partners within the Alibaba ecosystem and other industries along the supply chain to promote the use of green packaging, electric vehicles and smart route planning. Moreover, Ant Forest is experimenting innovative ways to incentivise more than 350 million Alipay users as of May 2018 to adopt low-carbon lifestyles and plant trees to combat climate change.

These initiatives highlighted how systematic environmental challenges could be addressed at scale by behaviour change of each individual consumer in the digital age. The session also featured speeches from green entrepreneurs, such as Aobag’s founder and CEO Jianchao Wang who is using social media to solve the problem of recycling in Chinese cities, resonating with the same messaging around the great potential of small individual actions.

Empowering the youth to take the lead

A growing number of young entrepreneurs entering the field of philanthropy has been a noticeable trend in recent years in China. Emphasizing the important role played by the younger generations as a growing force in the Internet era, the conference brought together youth in action to a roundtable dialogue, including:

  • Chunli Wang, the wetland guardian and founder of XIANGHAI ecological preservation center who runs China’s first non-profit national nature reserve center in collaboration with the local government;
  • Sam Waldo, co-founder of Mantra Eyewear who applies a buy-one-give-one model to give out free eyeglasses and eye exams to children in need in rural China;
  • Ouyang Chenxi, co-founder of Bright&Beautiful who brings art experience to girls aged 13-18 in rural China by organising art summer camps;
  • Zhang Biwei, founder of Art Dream, a non-profit educational organization bringing experience-based art education to migrant children.

As Jack Ma, Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group, stressed in his speech at the conference, younger generations will be the driving force to devise innovative solutions most needed to address the social and environmental issues we face today. Businesses, philanthropists, practitioners and governments should come together and provide an enabling environment for these young entrepreneurs to thrive on their passion for the betterment of the society.

Conducting business with a “public service” mindset

The culture within the Alibaba Group values highly, in the words of its CEO Daniel Zhang in its latest CSR Report, the pursuit of a “public service” mindset. As Alibaba continues to integrate CSR and sustainability into its business model and e-commerce ecosystem, this corporate pioneer is not only influencing the daily lives of millions in a more connected world, but more importantly injecting optimism into the Chinese society and beyond to call for greater cross-sector collaboration and more engagement at the individual level.

As Jack Ma emphasized, “…philanthropy is about elevating yourself with emotions and feelings. With emotions, it means you have stories, warmth, and empathy. With feelings, it means you must have your own special characteristics. When there’s gratitude and empathy, there will be actions. Spending money is simple, acting on something is hard. I hope that the philanthropy conference can give you something to think about and give you the urge to take a little action. Because if each of us is committed to carrying out a small act of kindness, it can change ourselves, and then the world, so that the world will be a better place.”

Check out more session highlights of the conference here.

Photo credit: 2018 “XIN” Philanthropy Conference