Alibaba in Mexico: Adapting the Digital Villages Model to Latin America

Guillermo J. Larios-Hernandez


Based on experiences in China where rural development is said to have been accelerated through use of its e-commerce platforms to create so-called “Taobao Villages”, Chinese digital conglomerate Alibaba has sought to export its vision of “inclusive globalisation” to other economies in the global South, through initiatives intended to reduce inequality by specifically supporting small enterprises.  Some research has already charted its multi-dimensional “Electronic World Trade Platform” approach.  However, its more narrowly-focused “Digital Villages” approach, currently being implemented in Latin America, has yet to be analysed.

Using evidence from interviews and primary documentation, this paper analyses the activities in Mexico of Atomic88, an Alibaba subsidiary in Mexico that (initially) focused on digitally-enabled development of small enterprise.  It finds that Alibaba’s nascent position in an e-commerce market dominated by US and Latin American platforms led it to follow a quite different path from the Chinese Taobao Village model.  It sought out the action areas – training and consultancy – that would not directly compete with incumbents, and worked as an indirect facilitator of local actors, rather than directly intervening.  While inequality-reduction impact of Alibaba’s approach could be called into question, what it has done is build relationships with key digital economy stakeholders in Mexico.  These show signs of providing valuable stepping stones towards a larger and more direct presence in Mexican e-commerce.

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