Insights & Analyses

UN, Alibaba’s Jack Ma forge startup assistance program with Estonia’s e-Residency

The U.N. Conference on Trade and Development has joined forces with Alibaba founder Jack Ma to create “e-Trade for All,” a new program that aims to make it easier for people to start a business online, especially in developing countries.

As a special advisor to the UNCTAD, Ma will help foster growth of online businesses, particularly in areas of the world where internet access is limited or nonexistent. The efforts were announced on Tuesday in Geneva, as part of e-Commerce week.

“e-Trade for All” will be based on Estonia’s established e-Residency program, which also serves as a founding partner of the U.N. initiative. Currently in a public beta phase, the program already helps entrepreneurs in 137 countries around the world, and anyone in the world can apply.

Estonia’s efforts allow entrepreneurs to receive a secure, government-issued digital identity, which then enables them to establish their business and open a bank account. The services are provided for just a €100 filing fee and background check.

Those efforts stood out to Ma and the U.N., who seek to help aspiring businesspeople in the developing world, particularly women and other marginalized groups.

Through Estonia’s e-Residency program, e-Trade for All will be able to offer essential tools, such as international payment providers, that can help get upstart businesses off the ground.

Work is already taking place in Delhi, India, where the program is helping women start online companies in collaboration with the Women Entrepreneurship and Empowerment.

The online and international components of e-Trade for All are of particular interest to Ma, who believes that 90 percent of all businesses will be on the internet within the next 30 years.