It is the common responsibility of all the countries around the world to realize sustainable development goals (SDGs), which calls for the concerted efforts of the government, the public, the business community, and the individual. In the era of digital economy, enterprises, especially platform ones which have great social and aggregation impact, become increasingly important in sustainable development.
Alibaba Group, as the leading platform enterprise in China and even in the world, is characterized by a wide client base, complex business, a long value chain and great externality. It has already embraced a number of SDGs in its mission statement and practices.
This benchmark study shows that the business of Alibaba Group has covered most of the 17 SDGs and almost half of the 169 targets, contributing in particular to goals and targets related to poverty reduction, innovation, inclusiveness, education and ecology. Focusing on these five areas, this report takes stock of its practices and typical cases.
Firstly, Alibaba helps poor people out of poverty by technology. Alibaba helps poor areas build their own complete industrial chains and competitive industries; Ant Forest is launched to balance the ecosystem and economic growth in eco-sensitive zones; Alibaba also champions the innovative model of “the Internet + charity + insurance” to reduce poverty or prevent falling into poverty again due to illness.
Secondly, Alibaba contributes to economic growth by technological innovation. As a typical platform enterprise in the era of digital economy, Alibaba has become a leader in Internet industry and even created a new employment ecosystem, providing large numbers of inclusive employment opportunities; meanwhile, by reforming traditional industries, Alibaba promotes integration between digital economy and traditional industries, fostering new drivers for socio-economic growth.
Thirdly, Alibaba helps reduce inequality, serving as a catalyst to the process of global inclusive development. Through its targeted charity and training programme, Alibaba helps women start their own business or find jobs, increasing their social status and protecting their rights; through its open and sharable credit rating system and financial platforms, Alibaba provides SMEs with inclusive financial services; moreover, Alibaba creates Electronic World Trade Platform (e-WTP) to help underdeveloped countries with their digital trade, to alleviate the imbalance of international development.
Fourthly, Alibaba assists education in rural areas by providing employment skills training. The four education projects cultivate talents for rural development by monetary incentives and ability improvement programmes; training programmes such as Taobao University support people who start their own business in Chinese and overseas markets; and a digital teaching system helps protect teenagers from drug abuse.
Finally, Alibaba promotes green development through digital technology. Apart from Ant Forest and Water Fund projects, DingTalk and City Brain reduce governmental and social environmental cost by increasing working efficiency, while Cainiao Logistics makes investment in environment-friendly packaging and intelligent logistics, which enables the logistic industry to go green.
Alibaba Group’s practice in sustainable development may bring us to the following conclusions: digital technology may provide a new solution for us to change traditional industrial model and strike the balance between inclusive development, eco-environment protection, and economic and social development. However, it is up to stakeholders' collective actions on digital technology to make the most of its use and drive sustainable development. In this process, governments, enterprises and individuals all need to make huge efforts. Widely accessible infrastructure, inclusive business model and entrepreneurship of players on the platform, none of which can be dispensed with.
For the government, it should promote the construction and coverage of Internet infrastructure as the basic condition for the whole society to share the dividends of digital economy. Besides, the government should conduct proper regulation and offer incentives to put in place an enabling environment for platform enterprises to contribute to sustainable development. For enterprises, they should not only keep a strong sense of social responsibilities and self-discipline, but also maintain the momentum to make innovation on digital business model. The role of digital platform enterprises represented by Alibaba group should not be overlooked in pursuing sustainable development. For individuals, regardless of gender, age, location and aptitude, if they could embrace the digital era, never stop learning and innovating, and act as entrepreneur, another legendary start-up business may emerge.