Alibaba announced today that it has created a $129 million non-profit organization to help young people who want to start businesses on the e-commerce giant’s online marketplaces. Called the Alibaba Hong Kong Young Entrepreneurs Foundation, the group may benefit Alibaba in two ways. For one, it can get more sellers onto Taobao Marketplace and Tmall, its main shopping sites.
The foundation could also potentially boost Alibaba’s reputation in Hong Kong, where students and young workers have been frustrated by economic policies that they believe favor tourists and immigrants from mainland China. Concern over soaring real estate prices and job competition fueled last fall’s Occupy Central movement by pro-democracy supporters. Protestors began regrouping this week (though on a much smaller level) for the first time since they were cleared out by police in November.
Alibaba Group said this is its first initiative that will exclusively support Hong Kong entrepreneurs. The Alibaba Hong Kong Young Entrepreneurs Foundation will provide financial capital, technical assistance, and training to eligible vendors in Hong Kong who want to sell products to customers in mainland China. Profits made from investments will be re-invested in the foundation, which will also offer 200 internships to students from Hong Kong universities.
In a press statement, Alibaba founder and executive chairman Jack Ma said “We hope to create life-changing opportunities so that Hong Kong’s young people have an opportunity to build thriving businesses that will serve as a bridge between Hong Kong and mainland China.”
The new foundation comes a week after Ant Financial, an Alibaba affiliate, announced that it will set up a $80 million loan program for female entrepreneurs who want to sell products on Taobao and Tmall. Ant Financial claims that half of female vendors on those sites are already eligible for its micro-loans.
Alibaba is China’s largest e-commerce company by far, but it has endured several public relations headaches recently. Last month, China’s State Administration for Industry and Commerce issued a white paper accusing Alibaba of not doing enough to stem the sale of counterfeits on its platforms.
The government organization later removed the paper from its website following a meeting with Ma. Its latest earnings release also triggered investor concerns over the impact of Alibaba’s investment in its mobile business on its revenue growth.