Jack Ma’s Resignation: Business’s Loss Could Be Society’s Gain

Whilst many may still be reeling from the news that Jack Ma is leaving Alibaba at 55, his departure from the corporate world opens another door: one to his philanthropy.

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In recent news, Alibaba’s Founder and Chairman Jack Ma has announced his resignation and will be moving on to greener pastures. Below CEO Today hears from James Chen, a venture philanthropist and founder of Clearly and Vision for a Nation, on society’s potential gain from this news.

Jack Ma has always been much more than his position at Alibaba – he has always given back generously to society. And his new identity will be shaped by his philanthropic endeavours.  By this, I do not mean that Ma plans to spend his time donating huge sums of his money to charity, but that he now has the time and the expertise to ensure that his philanthropic projects have a long term social impact in his chosen field of education. By comparison to many of the Chinese ultra high net worths, he takes a far more strategic view – or at least that is his vision for the future, as he looks to his philanthropic hero – Bill Gates.

Jack Ma certainly has many of the characteristics of a great philanthropist. He has the ability and a track record of taking risks, a profound domain expertise in education with his background as a teacher and a long-term vision for his projects. These are all the hallmarks of a catalytic philanthropist – the next step for Ma is to become one.

Jack Ma certainly has many of the characteristics of a great philanthropist. He has the ability and a track record of taking risks, a profound domain expertise in education with his background as a teacher and a long-term vision for his projects.

Catalytic philanthropy refers to projects which make a meaningful, long-term social impact. Often, it seeks to solve issues by tackling their root causes. It depends on philanthropists who are willing to take risks on early stage innovations – risks that conservative investors that governments and larger corporates might shy away from. These ‘catalytic’ investments don’t show short-term gains but are on a long-term trajectory – calculated risks built on domain expertise. In order for his philanthropy to have true impact, this is the approach Ma must adopt.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a great example of employing catalytic philanthropy. In their fight against malaria, they have not looked for one solution to eradicate the disease. Instead, they have dedicated capital, time, and expertise to work toward real lasting change. Since 2000, deaths by malaria have reduced by half, with Bill Gates planning on eradicating malaria for good by 2040.

Another example is Vision for a Nation, which was created to support health ministries in the provision of local eye care services. The initiative involved risk capital and expertise by training local nurses to provide eye tests around the country. In 2018, Rwanda became the first developing country in the world to provide affordable eye care for all.

There is no doubt that as Ma chooses to leave the corporate world behind and dedicate himself to philanthropy, his means could have immense impact – not only in China but the rest of the world. The world holds its breath to see the impact of Jack Ma’s catalytic philanthropy in action.

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