Jack Ma, founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding, delivered a video speech to a group of rural teachers on Sunday, as the Chinese billionaire continues to focus on the agricultural and education sectors in his post-retirement life.
During an event hosted by the Jack Ma Foundation in Alibaba’s home city of Hangzhou on Sunday, Ma thanked the teachers for their contribution to developing education in China’s rural areas, and shared his experience in exploring agriculture technology.
“I can see that rural education and rural teachers are a huge force that can truly change the entire poor areas of China, as the sustainable development of our country is only possible through education reform,” Ma said, after listening to about 20 rural teachers describe how they plan to use funds from the foundation to improve rural education in various regions in China.
During his three minute video presentation, Ma said he has studied agriculture in different countries during the past years, and that he sees an important role for talent when it comes to developing rural areas.
“I found that a place that does well in agriculture is not necessarily a place with good resources, but a place with unique thinking, and people with imagination,” he said. “I especially hope that our rural schools will cultivate people who are full of imagination, unique thinking, and who dare to create the future.”
“The rural areas do need technology, while I think unique thinking and creativity are important as well,” he said.
The Rural Headmaster Initiative, which was launched by Ma’s foundation in 2016, a year after its first Rural Teacher Initiative, picks 20 rural school principals from across the country every year and provides each with financial support of 100,000 yuan (US$13,787).
So far, the project has supported 120 rural school principals, according to the foundation. Plans shared by the 20 headmasters chosen this year cover new school facilities and additional courses for rural kids. For instance, Shan Youqing, a school principal from the central Qinghai province, said she hoped to step up artificial intelligence applications in rural schools and have a ChatGPT-like tool that can help teachers generate teaching materials.
Ma did not talk about Alibaba, which is undergoing a sweeping restructuring to spin off its sprawling businesses into independent entities. Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.
Sunday’s gathering, which also saw the participation of representatives from Alibaba fintech affiliate Ant Group and the Joe Tsai Foundation, is an annual event under the Jack Ma Foundation’s Rural Headmaster Initiative.
Ma, who stepped down as Alibaba chairman in 2019 and ceded control of Ant earlier this year, has turned his focus to agriculture and education.
In recent months, the 58-year-old has returned to public life as an educator and researcher, taking on new titles at different schools around the world.
In June, Ma conducted his first class at the University of Tokyo in his new capacity as visiting professor. That came two months after he accepted a three-year term as honorary professor at the University of Hong Kong, where he will focus on research in finance, agriculture and entrepreneurial innovation.