Philanthropy across borders: Chinese billionaire starts Australian scholarship
Alibaba Executive Chairman Jack Ma arrives at Trump Tower in New York, Monday, Jan. 9, 2017, for a meeting with President-elect Donald Trump. Image via AP.

Billionaires set up scholarships for many reasons: taxes, vanity, genuine intention to help their alma mater, etc. For Jack Ma, founder and chairman of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba and the latest billionaire to set up a scholarship fund, his reason was to honour a late friend from Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia.

Last Friday, the Jack Ma Foundation announced that it will be donating US$20 million (AU$26.4 million) to the University of Newcastle (UON) – the biggest donation ever for the university and the first of its kind.

The Ma-Morley scholarship, which is the foundation’s first contribution in Australia, aims to pay tribute to Ma’s personal connection to his friend, Ken Morley, and as a token of gratitude to Australia.

“To honour the experience and the special relationship I formed with the Morley family, the Jack Ma Foundation is delighted to announce The Ma & Morley Scholarship Program that will inspire, educate, and cultivate tomorrow’s leaders,” said Ma.

UON Vice-Chancellor, Professor Caroline McMillen, said the scholarship would have a transformational impact on the lives of students and shape the next generation of leaders.

“Through this remarkable friendship spanning decades, a new generation of talented students will have the opportunity to reach their full personal and professional potential,” Professor McMillen said.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with and Alibaba executive chairman Jack Ma after their meeting at Trump Tower in New York, U.S., January 9, 2017. Image via Reuters.

The announcement of the scholarship is part of Ma’s visit Down Under to open Alibaba’s latest overseas headquarters in Melbourne last Saturday. Founded by Ma in 1999, the Chinese company is now the world’s largest retailer, and is worth US$328 billion with operations in more than 190 countries. Ma, who was previously a lecturer in English and international trade at  Hangzhou Dianzi University, is now China’s richest tech entrepreneur, with a net worth of about US$28 billion.


The unlikely friendship between Ma and Ken Morley began in the 1980s, when the People’s Republic of China was just opening up to the West.

The Morley family had embarked on the Australia-China Friendshi Society Tour across China. There, a young but already aspirational Ma, was practising his English with tourists.

Ma struck a conversation with David Morley, the eldest Morley son and from then on, his long and profound friendship with the Morley family and Australia began.

Their relationship was a global one, intellectually and geographically. There were debates about values and ideals, as well as frequent trips between the two countries.

When Ma wanted to make his first Australia trip in 1985, Ken Morley crossed many hurdles to make the visit happen. That visit turned out to be “turning point” for the Chinese billionaire.

Speaking in Newcastle last Friday, Ma said: “I am very thankful for Australia and the time I spent there in my youth. The culture, the landscape, and most importantly, its people had a profound positive impact on my view of the world at that time.”

The bond between Ma and the Morley family remained strong until Ken Morley’s death in 2004.

In the spirit of their friendship, students will be selected based on their interest and commitments toward “cross-cultural understanding” and “social justice and equity”, among others. It will also prioritise students from disadvantaged and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds.

The Ma & Morley Scholarship Program plans to support 90 students annually when in full capacity and aims to “equip them for leadership in the global environment”.

“Alibaba was built by young people and we are committed to lifting up and empowering students so they can reach their dreams and ambitions,” Ma said.

David Morley, who still lives in Newcastle, said his family was really happy to see Ma remember his Newcastle connection and to be honouring their dad’s egalitarian values through this generous scholarship program.

“Dad would be extremely proud of Jack’s commitment to making a difference to students in our hometown, and so touched that their close friendship has led to this program, which will transform the futures of hundreds of University of Newcastle students, to hopefully do good things in the world,” he added.

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