Jack Ma returns to public life with professorships in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Tel Aviv and Kigali

Now Shenzhen   |   May 4, 2023
This file photo taken on October 2, 2018 shows Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma attending the WTO public forum on sustainable trade in Geneva. Photo: AFP

Jack Ma, the face of Chinese entrepreneurship and the founder of Alibaba Group Holding, has assumed professorships in at least four schools outside mainland China, as he keeps an arm’s length from the business empire he created.

Ma, who returned to China last month, has stepped down from his corporate roles and also ceded control of Ant Group, the fintech group affiliated with Alibaba. He has also largely refrained from public activities since a controversial speech in Shanghai in late 2020 – where he said Chinese banks had a “pawnshop” mentality – that led to Ant’s mega-IPO being called off at the last minute.

However, Ma has maintained ties to education, including a role on the advisory board at Tsinghua University’s management school, and he has recently taken on new titles at different schools in a sign the billionaire, who turns 58 this September, is returning to public life as an educator and researcher.

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Last month, Ma accepted a three-year term as honorary professor at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), a role that is set to draw him closer to the city. He will focus on research in finance, agriculture and entrepreneurial innovation, but has no plans to give public lectures or speeches, the Post reported earlier.

Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

On top of that, Ma has also joined Tokyo College as a visiting professor, the college at University of Tokyo said in a statement this week. In this role, Ma is expected to “provide advice and support to the major research topics” and conduct joint research in areas of “sustainable agriculture and food production”, the statement said. Ma is also expected to “share his rich experience and pioneering knowledge on entrepreneurship, corporate management and innovation” with the Japanese school’s faculty and students.

Separately, the African Leadership University, which has a campus in Kigali, Rwanda, said it had appointed Ma as a visiting professor, citing his “vast experience in entrepreneurship and sustainable development”. The African school said the appointment also “aligns with his long-term passion for education”, referring to Ma’s early days as an English teacher in China.

Fred Swaniker, founder of the African school, noted in a statement that Ma’s expertise would be “invaluable to our students and motivate them to dream bigger, think outside the box, and pursue their entrepreneurial aspirations with even greater passion and determination”.

Another school that appointed Ma as a visiting professor was Tel Aviv University in Israel, which gave the Alibaba founder an honorary doctoral degree in 2018. In a statement issued in late April, the school said Ma was expected to contribute to “research efforts on sustainable agriculture and food”.

“The university’s faculty and students are also enthusiastic about the opportunity to learn from one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world,” the school added.

Ma is known for his respect and admiration of technology innovation in Israel. At his speech in Tel Aviv in 2018, Ma told the audience that “we believe small is beautiful and small is powerful, and Israel proves that small is powerful”.