“My parents did not believe I could be rich. I do not have a single gene of wealth running in my family.
“But I am living the dream because I was determined to solve other people’s problems.”
These were some of the words of wisdom the richest man in China, Mr Ma Yun, known professionally as Jack Ma, shared with his audience when he made his maiden visit to Africa, with Kenya being his first stop.
The Alibaba executive chairman did not visit Africa with nothing to offer the continent.
“Alibaba will invite 2,500 youth from Africa to my city Hangzhou annually and train them on e-commerce.
“These young people will come back and train other young Africans.
“We will also send our teams to various parts of the continent to meet and provide support to more young Africans,” he said at a press conference after giving a public lecture at the University of Nairobi on Thursday.
At 53, the e-commerce entrepreneur is the richest man in Asia and the 14th richest man in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
This year, his net worth has been put at about $43.2 billion.
With the exchange rate now at Sh103 to the dollar, you can do the math.
When Mr Ma made his way to the university to deliver his lecture to thousands of students, entrepreneurs and government officials, the hashtag #JackMaInKenya was trending on Twitter.
While giving the lecture, a huge crowd was watching from outside, where giant screens had been erected.
The excitement was palpable. It was easy to notice why Mr Ma commands such enormous respect.
He exudes humility despite the global influence he wields and the mind-boggling size of his fortune.
Nothing about his countenance nor his manner suggests anything exceptional about him.
To a casual eye, he may pass for an everyday businessman.
Yet this is the man Fortune magazine ranked second in its 2017 list of the “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders”.
Mr Ma is also the special adviser to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) for Youth Entrepreneurship and Small Business.
He was in the country at the invitation of Unctad secretary-general, Dr Mukhisa Kituyi.
While introducing him, Dr Kituyi acknowledged that Mr Ma’s modest look and small frame do not mirror the wealth of his ideas and vision.
Asked why he chose Kenya in his first visit to Africa, Mr Ma said: “I am not here to sell to you, but to help you sell your great stuff to the world through the Internet.
“It is time to invest in e-commerce. Eighty to 90 per cent of all business in the world in the near future will be online,” he said, urging the youth to become “netpreneurs” as opposed to traditional entrepreneurs.
Mr Ma challenged universities and other tertiary institutions in Kenya to inspire and nurture innovations.
“Some of the most successful innovators in the world quit university to pursue their innovative dreams on their own after being frustrated by the academic institutions,” he said.
But even as they invent digital solutions for various problems, Mr Ma challenged the youth to ensure their innovations are user-friendly.
“America and Europe are worried about their ageing population. But with a median age of 19 on the continent, Africa has the greatest potential to grow and be the driver of the global economy,” he said.
Mr Ma also challenged Kenyan youth to stop grumbling about problems in society and instead seek solutions.
“I was surprised by the high Internet speed in Kenya. But you will hear some people complaining about the slow Internet speed.
“When I started Alibaba in 1999, no one believed that you could buy or sell anything online because the Internet speed was very slow.
“Those people who like to complain will complain all their life,” he said.
Mr Ma challenged the youth to ensure their innovations are user-friendly.