Alibaba Cloud launched its ‘Tech for Change’ initiative back in February. At its heart it's a venture that aims to show how digital can be used for good, but for Alibaba Cloud's global marketing manager, Sharon Song, there's also an opportunity for Cloud to carve out its own voice on the global stage.
Driven by the belief that technology has the potential to transform lives, the scheme from the cloud computing arm of China's biggest digital business, is calling upon enterprises, startups and young entrepreneurs around the globe to find an answer to global social and humanitarian challenges using its tech.
Alibaba Cloud chose Mobile World Congress in Barcelona as a platform to showcase some of the early partnerships it has forged as part of the initiative; including a collaboration that will see it work with iamtheCode to support young women programmers in marginalised communities.
"We want to tell the story of how technology can change lives," Song explains. "And that technology is for all human beings, not just for enterprises."
As part of the launch event, which was managed by The Specialist Works (TSW) creative team, Alibaba Cloud invited seven entrepreneurs from six countries to talk about how – as launch partners – they’ve already benefited from an early iteration of 'Tech for Change'.
To spread the message and encourage further participation, TSW also produced three micro-documentaries that focused on its partnerships.
Helping Alibaba Cloud stand out
As well as being a scheme by which Alibaba Cloud can give back to society, Song has identified 'Tech for Change' as a way to "show the world that Alibaba Cloud is a global company."
Since the outgoing chief executive Jack Ma founded Alibaba Group in 1999, the wider business has enjoyed colossal success, fueled chiefly by its popularity in APAC.
In countries like China, Alibaba has the ability to touch every part of the consumer journey: from e-commerce (Tmall, Taobao, Ali Express and more); digital media and entertainment (Youku, Alibaba Music, Weibo); local services; and even payment financial services (like Alipay).
Logistics, marketing services, data management and cloud computing have also contributed to its standing as the sixth largest company in the world, with a market value of $499.4bn.
Yet, because the bigger Alibaba name holds such precedence internationally, it’s not easy for its subsidiary companies to be viewed with their own autonomy; something Song is hoping 'Tech for Change' will help change.
"It's a simple message. Alibaba Cloud originates from Asia but we are regarded as part of Alibaba Group," she says. "So this is a repositioning for us, to show we are ready for a global audience."
As the computing arm of Alibaba Group, Song's division has been providing cloud computing services to online businesses and Alibaba’s e-commerce ecosystem since it was established in 2009.
In the Chinese cloud market, Alibaba Cloud dominates with a huge margin. Holding the top spot for three years, its total market share is greater than the sum total of the second to the ninth-ranked cloud computing players.
Despite its firm grip in China, TSW's senior vice-president global new business, Richard Downey spoke to The Drum about how Alibaba Cloud still has a way to go to achieve the same recognition overseas, admitting: "Outside of China, Alibaba Group is not the world's number one cloud technology provider by any means."
"One of the challenges it has as a business is to be known as an organisation that provides computer technology to the whole world," he adds.
Cloud platforms are quickly becoming one of the most important sectors in the IT industry, with global outlay on cloud infrastructure in 2018 exceeded $80bn, which grew 46% up from $55bn in 2017.
Amazon Web Services is still the dominant cloud service provider, with a total global market share of 32%. Coming in at fourth, Alibaba Cloud has 4%, which is behind Microsoft Azure with 16.5% and Google Cloud at 9.5%. Such stats highlight how the top four cloud providers amass over half of the total cloud spend across the whole infrastructure.
It is its strong position in the APAC market that is carrying Alibaba Cloud on the world stage since it fails to make the top five in any other region.
Only yesterday (24 April), Alibaba Cloud announced it had widened its lead over Amazon and Microsoft in APAC during 2018.
Although currently fourth on Synergy Research Group's cloud ranking report, Alibaba Cloud has been tipped to overtake Google Cloud Platform to claim the third slot. Hence why increasing its global footprint though 'Tech for Change' is so pertinent.
Steering 'Tech for Change' in a way that fuels global growth
So far, as part of the scheme, Alibaba Cloud has worked with seven launch partners. 'Tech for Change', Song says, is just the beginning of a long-term project that Alibaba Cloud hopes will involve hundreds of similar companies in the future.
It also has over 40+ startup founders, book writers, social activist, and professors set to join the initiative through digital channels, sharing their stories of how they've worked with 'Tech For Change' from various countries like Indonesia, Singapore, the UK and Hong Kong.
Song explains how Alibaba Cloud doesn't tend to spend money on big advertising campaigns, and that it is depending on its "opinion leaders" to spread the message about its work.
She says its organic partners are: "the story itself".
"They are the ones who have the potential to make the campaign go viral," she notes.
She adds: "One of our credentials [we use to select organisations] is whether the start-up or speakers have a strong opinion leadership."
One small-enterprise Alibaba Group has worked with, who features on one of TSW's films, is the early childhood learning robotics firm, Roybi Robot, based in Silicon Valley.
Recognising that early childhood education is an area that gets ignored by many organisations, Alibaba Cloud offered its technologies to the US company to help it develop its product.
"Roybi's founder, Elnaz Sarraf is a very strong opinion leader across the US. If you take a look at her social account, she has a very strong connection with Nasdaq," said Song, giving some insight into how this platform could be leveraged to spread the word about 'Tech for Change'.
Alongside Sarraf, iamtheCode's founder Mariéme Jamme also spoke at the initiative's launch in Barcelona.
Jamme is an award-winning technologist and pioneer in system change, who was abandoned by her mother at the age of five in Senegal. She taught herself single-handedly how to code in one year, before setting up iamtheCode.
IamtheCode. is an African nonprofit that Alibaba Cloud has partnered with that endeavours to team women and girls computer programming in marginalised communities.
As part of the 'Tech For Change' programme, the two hope to teach code to 1 million women and girls across the globe by 2030, offering free online training and free access to cloud-computing resources.
"Mariem has a very strong connection and endorsement with the United Nations (UN)," said Song. "She walked onto the MCW19 stage with a story and influence."
As this is just the beginning of a long-term project that Alibaba Cloud hopes will involve hundreds of similar companies, what is clear is that it sees the value in working with international entrepreneurs to enact change, as part of its own mission to spread its global wings.