The SARS outbreak has dealt a huge blow to the business community in China, leading to a shift to the digital economy
When the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak hit China in 2003, Alibaba, a four-year-old tech start-up that was facing an uncertain future due to the major public health crisis, decided to launch its first consumer-facing platform.
That platform was Taobao, and it is now one of the largest online retail marketplaces in the world.
Alibaba, currently a multinational tech company, rose to the occasion once more during the present COVID-19 pandemic, when it implemented various initiatives to provide support towards small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) who were struggling with business challenges posed by the impact of the pandemic.
For instance, when physical stores in China had to close, businesses from diverse industries, including rural farmers with their agricultural produce, shifted to Taobao Live in an effort to reach online consumers and maintain their sales performance.
The company has also established a retail chain called Freshippo, which aims to help bring fresh goods to consumers in the city by allowing them to place orders directly through its app and choose contactless shipping options.
Additionally, its online collaboration and communication platform DingTalk launched a feature that enables more than 200 million employees from more than 10 million companies to keep in touch with each other.
Alibaba’s success has shown that even in times of crisis, entrepreneurs can turn whatever challenges they face into opportunities to move forward as long as they have the confidence and determination to achieve their goals.
It further demonstrates that despite the severe effects of the global economy resulting from the current pandemic, the digital economy has proven to be crucial in combating COVID-19.
Its founder Jack Ma notes that those who have embraced internet technology in the past will most certainly have an advantage in furthering business growth and the ability to leverage digital tools which have been deemed a necessity for businesses to survive in the ongoing crisis.
Needless to say, entrepreneurs need to be supported to be able to reap the benefits of the digital economy, subsequently enabling them to help solve community-based problems so that they have better chances of surviving and thriving in the long run.
As we have seen over the past few years, the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation in nearly every economic sector and brought about change in consumer behaviour that may last forever.
How then can entrepreneurs empower themselves by leveraging digital technology and innovation in such challenging times?
Firstly, there is a need to recognise the reality that the digital economy has become increasingly important as the global economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
As exemplified by Alibaba’s experience in China, the ecosystem built on the digital economy is resilient and capable of adapting quickly to changes.
In building such ecosystem, entrepreneurs need to consider platforms that provide avenues for various players to resolve problems together.
To begin with, they can look into digital services that we have come to rely upon during the pandemic, including online marketplaces, cashless payments, contactless shipping and live streaming.
Secondly, the ability to establish new digitally driven systems can boost the rise of SMEs and entrepreneurs from emerging markets, placing them in a more favourable position in the economic recovery post-COVID-19 and in turn offers great opportunities to them.
This is because SMEs have been vital in creating jobs and contributing to the economy, thus they need to be able to mobilise their efforts to adopt digital technology and enable their customers, partners and diverse local communities to participate in the country’s socio-economic development.
In Malaysia, for example, a national collaboration platform called RumaKita was created to obtain, allocate and deliver much-needed resources to frontline healthcare organisations effectively and efficiently.
Founded by Daniel Lim, the platform was a result from the Netpreneur Training Programme and supported by other eFounders and Netpreneurs in the country’s logistics and manufacturing industries.
In essence, entrepreneurs who take advantage of digital technology are not only adapting their own businesses to meet new challenges, but also supporting others and leading the path to recovery, more so as the world is coping with the impact of COVID-19 and the digital economy is becoming an integral part of people’s lives.
Impact of COVID-19 on Entrepreneurship