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Jack Ma provides valuable lessons for Africa’s ICT leaders

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Jack Ma with president Cyril Ramaphosa.

Jack Ma with president Cyril Ramaphosa.

Jack Ma reimagined his country as a global player on the Internet and he went on to make a fortune based on that vision.

The celebrated entrepreneur had no experience with computers or coding, but as his life story goes, was enchanted by the Internet when he used it for the first time during a trip to the US in 1995.

Ma’s imagination was triggered after he was shocked to find that no Chinese beers turned up in the results of his first online search: “beer”. It is said that’s when the idea of an Internet company for China was born.

He ran with his idea of a company for Chinese people, and started at age 33, with the help of 17 of his friends, convincing them to invest in his imagined online marketplace, Alibaba, which allowed exporters to post product listings that customers could buy directly.

Yesterday, the Chinese business magnate announced his departure as Alibaba’s executive chairman.

He built Alibaba into a $460 billion business over the past two decades, and will now join other retired billionaires in focusing on philanthropy.

The revered Chinese entrepreneur started the Jack Ma Foundation in 2014, which he said at the time was inspired by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

While retiring relatively young, he has lived life according to his ideals, rather than those the world had already decided on. Ma followed his passion, and amassed a fortune along the way.  

Reacting to the news of his retirement, industry analysts tell ITWeb that ICT leaders in SA and on the continent could learn a great deal from Ma.

Ajay Lalu, founder of empowerment outfit Black Lite Group, says Ma’s life is a practical business guide for entrepreneurs and local industry leaders.

“The biggest lesson for African ICT executives from Jack Ma is that you don’t have to be a well-known technologist, or even a graduate from a top university to build a business with global impact. It’s possible to focus on your domestic market and we shouldn’t forget that.”

According to the United Nations, Africa will account for 42% of the world’s youth (15-35 years) by 2030, up from 17% in 2015. 

This, Lalu says: “”Translates to approximately 500 million youth in Africa. This is a staggering market dynamic that our ICT sector should focus on. There is technology we can successfully deploy. Ma is a fantastic example of what we can do with the right tenacity. It’s time that we really show the world we can become a real Wakanda, forever!”

Lalu believes technology leaders in SA and Africa should be far more involved and engage more vociferously with the governments, as “there are so many government policies that support, albeit in a disjointed manner, the ICT sector from skills to the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).”

“When we look at how Ma influenced the growth path of China, he was instrumental in getting support from government to help build the economy from manufacturing to a leading ICT-based economy.

“If you look at a number of corporates here in SA, from Dimension Data to Naspers, they can do more to help develop ICT businesses. Companies should support new businesses. If we talk about 4IR, we are talking about the smaller companies; that’s what we should be focusing on because there is no real venture capital (VC) initiative in South Africa or Africa.

“Many South African start-ups are frustrated by the lack of capital and support to enable growth and propel them into the 4IR. We should come up with a VC initiative for high growth, high impact start-ups in Africa like the Founders Factory. Typical of VC investments, you will have a few unicorns but a number of them will be frogs, which will yield nothing.”

Petri Redelinghuys, founder of Herenya Capital Advisors, says: “From watching Jack Ma’s talks and hearing his views over the years, [the lesson] is that if you make a product or service and you do that with the intent to really help people and improve their lives in some way, only then does your product or service stand a chance of becoming successful.

“Often we focus on making money and wonder why our businesses don’t grow, while we should be focused on making a difference to the people that our businesses serve. If we can truly make an impact, for the better, on the lives of the people that make use of our products and services, then our businesses will end up with millions of people to serve.”

Redelinghuys believes ICT sector leaders should value education the way Ma did.

“He challenged the current schooling system and pointed out that what we are teaching our youth, more often than not, is completely out-dated and no longer relevant to society. He advocated that we teach empathy, art, science and technology. I think he’s right; I think the best lesson we can learn from him is that we need to keep learning, and that we need to teach.

“Only by teaching the youth can we progress. All this technology and ease of living is useless if people are not educated,” he says.  

Cape Town-based Peter Takaendesa of Mergence Investment Managers believes the key lesson from Ma is: “Trust others to carry on with your vision and success. I think it is a great lesson for business, politics and personal life. There is no need to wait for death to force change because as humans, we can contribute to many other worthy causes in the world.

“Ma handing over at a relatively young age of 55 is particularly relevant in the fast-changing technology sector as what worked just a few years ago may not be relevant this year in that sector.”

Takaendesa says there is no doubt that a big part of Ma’s success and other technology success stories in China is partly due to strong support from the Chinese government.

“Governments in Africa need to seriously consider increased support to their technology sectors and entrepreneurs through education, access to funding and markets, as well as an enabling environment. This is particularly relevant now as the world shifts to the 4IR. Africa is losing some of its greatest technology minds to developed countries, and lack of support at home is likely one of the key reasons.

“There are some great technology innovations and companies in Africa but nothing that comes close to the scale that is required to compete at global level.”

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ConCourt ruling to assist in combating child abuse: Ramaphosa – SABC News

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President Cyril Ramaphosa says the Constitutional Court ruling – that confirms that corporal punishment at home is unconstitutional – will further assist in combating the abuse of children.

Ramaphosa had called a joint sitting of Parliament to discuss violence against women and children.

 

The President says the many forms of child abuse must be fought on all levels.

“ConCourt handed down extremely important judgment. When talk about violence against children, focus on sexual abuse but battering of children is a very serious problem that must also get attention. Children must be protected from all forms of violence, in home, streets or schools,” explains the President.

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Apples rot in Kashmir orchards, as lockdown puts economy in tailspin

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SOPORE, India (Reuters) – It’s harvest time, but the market in the northern Kashmiri town of Sopore – usually packed with people, trucks and produce at this time of year – is empty, while in orchards across India’s Jammu and Kashmir state unpicked apples rot on the branch.

FILE PHOTO: Rotten apples are seen on a tree at an apple orchard, in Sopore, north Kashmir, September 13, 2019. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

In one of the world’s largest apple growing regions, a weeks-old lockdown imposed after Prime Minister Narendra Modi dramatically abolished the state’s special constitutional status has cut transport links with buyers in India and abroad, fruit growers and traders say, plunging the industry into turmoil.

Modi sold the move as a way to spur growth by integrating the state with the rest of India. But, for now, the unrest that has come in the wake of his government’s action has upended the economy, further fuelling resentment in the Muslim-majority territory where an armed revolt against India rule has ebbed and flowed over 30 years.

At dawn late last week the market in Sopore, a town known locally as “Little London” for its lush orchards, big houses and relative affluence, was deserted, its gates locked.

“Everyone is scared,” a lone trader, rushing to an adjoining mosque for morning prayers, told Reuters. “No one will come.”

Apples are the lifeblood of Kashmir’s economy, involving 3.5 million people, around half the population of the state.

In a surprise move on Aug. 5, just as the harvest season as getting under way, the government abrogated provisions in India’s constitution that gave the Jammu and Kashmir partial autonomy and stipulated only residents could buy property or hold government jobs. Strict movement restrictions were imposed simultaneously, and mobile, telephone, and internet connections snapped.

The government said the immediate priority was to prevent an eruption of violence in Kashmir, where more than 40,000 people have been killed since 1989, and that curbs are slowly being eased, including the opening up of landline phones.

Further out, the government has promised rapid economic development and plans an investor summit later this year to attract some of India’s top companies to the region, create jobs and lure young people away from militancy.

In the short-term, however, farmers and fruit traders say the clampdown is stopping them from either getting their produce to market or shipping it out to the rest of India. Some say they have also been threatened into stopping work by militant groups.

In orchard after orchard surrounding Sopore, apples hung rotting on trees. “We are stuck from both sides,” said Haji, a trader, sitting inside a sprawling two-story house in Sopore. “We can neither go here, nor there.” 

BUSINESSES REELING

Business people who spoke to Reuters say it is not just the fruit industry that is reeling – two other key sectors of Kashmir’s economy, tourism and handicrafts, have also been hit hard.

Shameem Ahmed, a travel agent who owns a houseboat in the summer capital Srinagar, said this year’s tourist season was completely wiped out.

“August was peak season, and we had bookings up to October,” he said. “It will take a long time to revive, and we don’t know what will happen next.”

The near complete lack of tourists has also hit carpet traders such as Shoukat Ahmed.

“When there are no tourists, there are no sales,” he said. “We are also unable to sell across India because communication is down.”

At a major chamber of commerce in Srinagar, some members said the continuing lack of internet and mobile connections had paralyzed their work, including the ability to file taxes and make bank transactions.

Some businessmen have also been among the hundreds of politicians and civil society leaders detained by the authorities since early August to dampen any backlash.

While many of those arrested across the region have since been released, Haseeb Drabu, a former state finance minister from a local party once allied with Modi’s ruling BJP, said outsiders were now balking at doing business with Kashmiris.

“With a few businessmen raided and more under detention, why would anyone from the rest of the country engage with them and subject himself to a possible enquiry of his transaction and opening of his books?” Drabu said.

“IT’S HOPELESS”

India and Pakistan have twice gone to war over Kashmir, which is divided between them but both claim in full, and it remains at the heart of decades of hostility.

In February, the nuclear-armed neighbors engaged in an aerial duel after a deadly militant attack on an Indian paramilitary convoy in Kashmir, raising the fear of a broader conflict.

The latest bout of instability has been devastating to the likes of Manzoor Kolu, who runs a five-roomed houseboat on Srinagar’s mirror-calm Dal lake, framed by snow-clad mountains.

Days before Aug. 5, Kolu said police had come asking him to move tourists out of the property, fearing unrest.

“They told me that if anything happens, I would be responsible,” he said. His four guests, all Indian tourists, left shortly after. No guest has come since.

“Now we have to wait until next April. It’s hopeless,” he said, sitting inside the living room of the 35-year-old boat, packed with intricately carved wooden furniture and traditional Kashmiri carpets. “So many times, I’ve thought of selling, but this is my father’s whole life’s achievement.”

Kashmir’s tourism industry has lost momentum in recent years, starting with devastating floods in 2014 and followed by a sustained period of unrest in 2016.

Tourist numbers had begun improving between April and July this year, government data showed, only to drop off a cliff in August. Only 10,130 tourists came last month, compared with nearly 150,000 in July and more than 160,000 in June this year.

Slideshow (4 Images)

In a one-story house in Srinagar’s working-class Zoonimar neighborhood, Abdul Hamid Shah sits beneath a window quietly embroidering a Kashmiri shawl. Each shawl is at least three months’ work, and some take a whole year to complete.

Shah is typically paid 35,000 Indian rupees ($490) per shawl, which he often gets in monthly instalments of around 10,000 rupees. Since August, his payments from a shawl trader he has worked with for a decade have shrunk.

“He’s telling me he doesn’t have money because there is no business,” Shah said.

Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Alex Richardson

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C-Section Babies Have More Potentially Infectious Gut Bacteria

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Scientists from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, UCL, the University of Birmingham and their collaborators discovered that whereas vaginally born babies got most of their gut bacteria from their mother, babies born via caesarean did not, and instead had more bacteria associated with hospital environments in their guts. Science Daily reports: The exact role of the baby’s gut bacteria is unclear and it isn’t known if these differences at birth will have any effect on later health. The researchers found the differences in gut bacteria between vaginally born and caesarean delivered babies largely evened out by 1 year old, but large follow-up studies are needed to determine if the early differences influence health outcomes. Experts from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists say that these findings should not deter women from having a caesarean birth.

Published in Nature today, this largest ever study of neonatal microbiomes also revealed that the microbiome of vaginally delivered newborns did not come from the mother’s vaginal bacteria, but from the mother’s gut. This calls into question the controversial practice of swabbing babies born via caesarean with mother’s vaginal bacteria. Understanding how the birth process impacts on the baby’s microbiome will enable future research into bacterial therapies.

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