The third biennial Global Conference on Women and Entrepreneurship held by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd themed “The World She Made” spotlighted the positive changes the world has seen and will experience, thanks to the female trailblazers who dared to break the glass ceiling they faced.
At the event together with Alibaba Group founder and Executive Chairman Jack Ma were prominent women leaders, such as Melinda Gates of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Undersecretary and Executive Director of UN Women.
“Women have always played an integral role in Alibaba since its establishment two decades ago,” Jack Ma said, adding that as an UN Sustainable Development Goals Advocate, the promotion of gender equality is the one goal he cares about the most because “it is the most important goal of the 21st century” as it pertains to human survival.
“I believe the increased participation of women in the development of technology and product design will benefit and improve the entire society,” said Ma. Women, he said, have demonstrated the ability to adapt to the rapid changes brought on by the ongoing digital revolution. Such flexibility and ability to embrace change will foster more creativity among women, Ma added.
Empower Women, Empower the World
Melinda Gates drove home the message that investing in women’s economic empowerment, including entrepreneurship, is “not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do.” She emphasised the global economy could add USD28 trillion by 2025 if women participated in the labor force to the same degree as men.
“When we remove the barriers that prevent women from participating in the economy, the benefits don’t extend just to the women themselves. They extend to families, communities, even entire countries,” said Gates.
Global pop sensation Rihanna, whose Fenty Beauty brand has disrupted the global cosmetic industry, encouraged all women to believe in themselves, work hard and pursue their dreams unapologetically.
For the first time, the conference was held simultaneously in four different cities around the world – Hangzhou, Tokyo, Jakarta and Sydney – to allow participants to hold deep-dive discussions on issues and progress particular to their region and culture.
In Jakarta, the event was co-organised by Lazada, Alibaba’s e-commerce flagship in Southeast Asia. Local award-winning journalist Najwa Shihab said women need to challenge the clichés and stereotypes they face. By leveraging their entrepreneurship and leadership roles, women can help create supportive communities that elevate and empower other women.
Speaking from Australia, Jessica Rudd, the creator of Jessica’s Suitcase with a successful shop on Alibaba’s Tmall platform, candidly shared with the audience her struggle with self-doubt. Offering her empathy and encouragement, Rudd expressed an unconventional view on doubt, calling it a “sign of intelligence and wisdom.”
At the Tokyo event, keynote speaker Mika Kumahira, President of Career College at Showa Women’s University, encouraged participants to believe in themselves. “Let your passion and authenticity lead you and let your wellbeing inspire others wellbeing,” she said.
New Opportunities in the Digital Era
Chen Yan, born with congenital blindness, was abandoned by her parents and only lived because her grandmother took her in. Despite not being able to read music, Chen excelled on several instruments and later became the country’s first blind piano tuner, without ever laying an eye on any of the 8,000-plus components of a piano.
Notwithstanding the naysayers, Chen started her own piano-tuning business in 2004. Eleven years later, Chen challenged social norms again, opening her own piano-tuning service shop on Taobao. Now, her Taboao store employees over two dozens of visually impaired piano tuners and serves thousands of customers all around the country.
“My message to all female entrepreneurs is just do it. Don’t dwell on the hardship,
because if you only focus on the difficulty, you will never take the first step,” she said.