The ability to take advantage of digital tools has become a necessity for entrepreneurs in order to survive the current crisis. The pandemic has accelerated the process of digital transformation in almost all sectors. Increased social mobility and the creation of shared value are some of the factors that entrepreneurs can exploit with the help of digital tools on the road to recovery.
Seventeen years ago, the SARS epidemic was spreading rapidly throughout China, and Alibaba's workforce had been quarantined. At the time, Alibaba was only four years old and it was not certain that the young company would survive. The suspension of operations would have been a devastating blow to the company. But Alibaba's employees took the computers, phones and piles of documents home and went to work.
In retrospect, the crisis was a moment of transformation for the company. During the outbreak, Alibaba launched Taobao, its first consumer-oriented platform and now the world's largest online retail market. In doing so, it demonstrated that in times of crisis, challenges can be turned into opportunities, as long as there is optimism, determination and a common purpose.
Today, another new coronavirus has hit the world and we are facing an unprecedented public health crisis. At a time when businesses and entrepreneurs around the world are facing immense challenges, Alibaba has once again mobilized to help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) overcome the trade barriers posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and maintain the flow of essential services.
Immediately following the appearance of COVID-19 in China, the company announced 20 measures to support businesses affected by the pandemic. When stores in China were forced to close, merchants from a wide range of sectors turned to Taobao Live to try to reach their consumers online and maintain sales. Meanwhile, farmers in rural China were using it to sell their products.
Freshippo, Alibaba's "New Retail" supermarket chain, helped bring fresh products to urban consumers by allowing buyers to order directly through its application and select contactless delivery options. DingTalk, the online collaboration and communication tool, launched features that keep more than 200 million workers in over 10 million businesses connected. On average, more than one million active classroom sessions were conducted during DingTalk every school day in March 2020.
While the current pandemic has significantly affected the global economy, the digital economy has proven to be critical in the fight against COVID-19. As Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, noted, those who had adopted Internet technology in the past had the advantage of being able to accelerate the growth of their businesses; the ability to take advantage of digital tools has become a necessity for businesses to survive the current crisis.
We need to help entrepreneurs better exploit the digital economy and create solutions to solve the problems of their communities so that they can have a chance to survive the crisis and even prosper in the long term. The Alibaba Global Initiatives (AGI) team at Alibaba Business School recognizes this urgent need to encourage and train entrepreneurs and SMEs. To this end, we have created a manual to share lessons learned from Alibaba's efforts to combat COVID-19 and serve as a resource for entrepreneurs around the world seeking to use new digital technologies to overcome the epidemic.
The pandemic has accelerated the process of digital transformation in almost every sector. As the world slowly but surely enters the recovery phase, we have also seen changes in consumer behaviour, brought about by the pandemic, that are expected to last forever. So the question is how to empower entrepreneurs to take advantage of digital tools and innovations while resisting the pandemic.
On what opportunities should entrepreneurs focus their efforts on the road to recovery to adapt to new consumer behaviours using digital tools? First, it is clear that the digital economy will play an increasingly important role in the recovery of the global economy after COVID-19. As China's response shows, an ecosystem based on the digital economy is resilient, agile and able to adapt quickly to change.
The digital economy is moving away from the traditional zero-sum business model, which emphasizes the creation of shared value. The digital services that people relied on during the epidemic, such as online markets, cashless payments, contactless delivery and live streaming, are likely to become more widespread. In building an ecosystem, entrepreneurs need to adopt a platform approach that allows multiple players to solve problems together.
Second, the ability to build new systems from scratch could accelerate the growth of SMEs and entrepreneurs in emerging markets and put them in a better position in the post-COVID economic recovery. The ability to build new systems from scratch could also accelerate the growth of SMEs and entrepreneurs in emerging markets and put them in a better position in the post-COVID economic recovery. The ability to build new systems from scratch could accelerate the growth of SMEs and entrepreneurs in emerging markets and put them in a better position in the post-COVID economic recovery. This presents enormous opportunities for entrepreneurs in these markets.
Within AGI's entrepreneurial networks in Asia and Africa, we have already seen many examples of successful entrepreneurs who have turned to digital solutions amidst the challenges of VIDOC. Founding member Davis Musinguzi, who runs a telemedicine company based in Uganda, developed his call centre, which provides 24/7 service, leveraged his company to create an e-commerce platform for PPE and consolidated his company's drug delivery services.
In addition, two Rwandan eFounders, Nadia Uwamahoro and Origiene Igiraneza, launched the eShuri platform and O'Genius Panda, two digital education platforms to help Rwandan students receive online education during the pandemic. Josha Aragon and Steve Sy in the Philippines helped deliver fresh produce from the farm to the home through Zagana, an e-commerce platform based on the Taobao village model, which is a testament to the eFounders scholarship programme, a joint project of UNCTAD and the Alibaba Group that helps entrepreneurs in developing countries become catalysts for digital transformation in their home countries.
Those who benefit from digital technology are not only able to adapt their own businesses to meet new challenges, but also to help others and lead the way to recovery. RumaKita, a national collaboration platform founded by Daniel Lim of the Netpreneurs Training Programme, is supported by several eFounders and Netpreneurs in the logistics and manufacturing spaces in Malaysia. The platform was created to obtain, allocate and deliver critical resources to frontline healthcare organizations in an efficient and effective manner.
The benefits of the digital economy will also translate into massive entrepreneurship stimulating social mobility and greater economic participation of marginalised populations. Our experience has shown how the digital economy can help create new opportunities and foster inclusive growth, as it has created more than 40 million direct and indirect jobs in China and enabled tens of millions of SMEs and new enterprises to operate through its platforms.
In addition, the increased adoption of telework as a result of VIDOC-19 also provides employers with new opportunities to reconsider their organizational structures as their access to talent expands across physical boundaries.
SMEs are the backbone of any society for job creation and economic contribution. They are pioneers on the road to economic recovery. They can leverage their businesses and equipment to embrace digital technologies and give their customers, partners and the local community the best possible chance to survive and prosper in the long term.
While it is difficult to predict the recurrence of the virus and the long-term impact of this pandemic, the future we envision after COVID-19 includes people and businesses that are prepared and empowered by technology. Whether it is to continue business operations or to maintain access to basic needs, the digital economy will play a crucial role in all aspects of our lives. This is the bold new world we will need to create together, and it is time to train and work with entrepreneurs to help build it.