Empowering `Ants`: Lessons from ANT Group`s ESG journey

Efi Pylarinou
6 min readOct 19, 2023

Business KPIs are growing in numbers and complexity, as they are increasingly intertwined. Even a medium-sized business will have three or four dozen KPIs across Strategy, Sales, Marketing, Operations, Procurement, Customer Services, Finance, Human Resources, Legal, and IT. Add to those KPIs at least a dozen for each of the ESG components, E for environmental, S for Social, and G for Governance.

Companies with innovative, growing, and complex business models like Platform-based ecosystems or SuperApps, are developing multi-dimensional ESG strategies. I emphasize `developing` because ESG strategies range from a `checking-the-boxes approach` all the way to connecting technological and business innovation with ESG business KPIs.

My recent discussion on 𝘾𝙤𝙣𝙫𝙚𝙧𝙨𝙖𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙨 & 𝙄𝙣𝙨𝙞𝙜𝙝𝙩𝙨 with Dr. Peter Evans on “𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐞𝐦𝐞𝐫𝐠𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐂𝐢𝐫𝐜𝐮𝐥𝐚𝐫 𝐏𝐥𝐚𝐭𝐟𝐨𝐫𝐦 𝐦𝐨𝐝𝐞𝐥” shows the potential of a new business model, the Circular Platform, that can be born out of an ESG strategy.

The recent 100-page ANT group Sustainability Report speaks to the complexity of the topic. which goes well beyond achieving Scope 1 and Scope 2 carbon neutrality for the 2nd consecutive year.

Source: ANT Group Sustainability Report 2023

ANT Group has undoubtedly, empowered countless `ants` in China — small businesses and individuals — with the tools and resources to participate in the evolving digital economy. As a Service SuperApp business, its ESG KPIs are heavily focused on Digital Inclusion and Technological Innovation that empowers all `ants` on its platform to embark on their own ESG journey.


ANT`s Social journey continues with these two core questions in mind:

· `How can ANT`s business help close the new and widening digital divide`

· How can ANT become an enabler for others to embark successfully on their ESG journey in the evolving digital economy?`

In 2022, their financial training sessions around financial literacy and financial health for both young and elderly were attended by over 55 million people.

Alipay has developed already an accessibility function that makes it easier for close to 2 million visually impaired users to access digital technology.

Alipay has launched elderly-friendly features like voice commands, large text and visuals for the most used functions. In 2022, the Elderly Assistance Digital Lab was launched and introduced upgraded AI fraud detection features, a fraud prevention mode with accessibility options, and inclusive identity verification tools.

This digital inclusion initiative is part of Blue Vests for Elderly which is a phygital public, private, philanthropic partnership (PPPP). Blue Vest volunteers serve the elderly in more than one ways. There is a special hotline to assist the elderly with services like mobile payment for utilities and making medical appointments. In 2022, this was used 20 million times. In addition, 24,000 volunteers were organized to serve the elderly in over 900,000 service instances.

Empowering women has been part of the Cyber Mulan for women program. Through this program, ANT has cumulatively provided 3.75 million free insurance policies for women!

The program is named after the legendary Chinese warrior Mulan, who is known for her courage and determination.

Empowering emerging talents and future tech leaders beyond ANT`s borders is another way to walk the talk of the S in ESG and Openness. Over the past 5 yrs (since 2018), Ant Group initiated the 10x1000 Tech for Inclusion program in collaboration with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group. The focus has been addressing the global Fintech Digital Skills Gap. The mantra is to train 1,000 young talents every year for the next ten years.

In 2022, the program certified over 1,700 learners who completed the Fintech Foundation Program and Fintech Leadership Program (a 63% yoy increase).

In 2023, as of the end of August, over 2,100 learners completed the Fintech Foundation Program, of which over 97% are from developing countries and 54% are women. The top participating countries and regions include the Philippines, Thailand, Nigeria, Indonesia, and Hong Kong SAR. The learners are from 323 organizations, of which 50% are MSMEs (employee scale < 300)


ANT`s green initiatives are growing in many different ways. Through partnerships, digital tools for the development and measurement of Green standards, and ANT group customer experiences supporting green activities.

The ANT Forest app is already known (I wrote about it in late 2019, as it won the 2019 UN Global Climate Action Award — AntForest, an award-winning Techfin gamification app — Global Climate Action). According to the ANT Sustainability report, the ANT Forest App has collaborated with 4 provinces to launch a `platform + city `advocacy model promoting a green urban lifestyle. ANT Forest also launched the Fantastic Ocean initiative expanding its gamified efforts to the ocean.

ANT group has also established a partner program with the large IHG Hotels & Resorts chain. Customers who opt out of using single-use toiletries (toothbrushes, combs, slippers, etc.) will earn 92 grams of green energy in the Alipay Ant Forest mini-program within the Alipay app after 72 hours of checking out. These green energy points can be used to support various conservation projects within the Ant Forest/Fantastic Ocean app.

ANT Group also continues to improve and innovate their green rating model for small and micro enterprises, to help SMEs transition towards green and low-carbon production and operation methods. They have been instrumental in developing the first Green Evaluation Standards for Small and Micro Enterprises in China. Over 6 million SMEs have already been rated and ANT group has provided preferential green loans to 420,000 of these rated SMEs.


Openness in business is also multi-dimensional and largely overlaps with ESG KPIs. Openness can refer to internal Communications, Inclusivity across the value chain, Transparency to all stakeholders around decision-making and Governance, using and sharing Open-source Technologies, Open innovations through Collaboration, Agility, Collaboration with Social Impact, etc.

Openness goes beyond externalizable APIs (which are also included). Ant`s resilience during the recent regulatory clampdown which abruptly changed their closed ecosystem architecture, is admirable. Through our Western lens, we `see` a closed super app system being forced to open by regulators. However, ANT`s openness permeates its business culture in different ways. In 2022, ANT Group ranked in the top three Chinese companies in terms of total activity in open-source projects (based on reporting from the China Open-Source Blue Book). ANT group has developed open-source code and has been involved in more than 300 open-source projects.

ANT group practices Openness through R&D collaborations with academia and through extensive partnerships with the public and philanthropic sectors. ANT collaborates with think tanks, universities, associations, to conduct research, and deepen their understanding of carbon neutrality-related policies, and explore relevant technologies.

Partnerships are core to accomplishing any ESG goals. Partnerships that go beyond your current business borders and that give back to the young, are purposeful. Delighting your customers in business is surely a great business KPI. Delighting people by empowering their future is building a legacy, striving for long-lasting impact, and managing your KPIs with a 100-year horizon in mind. Openness as a business mindset, includes seeing beyond this quarter`s and next quarter`s success and laying the seeds for lasting impact. Upskilling others is the way forward. Share knowledge and insights. Businesses that can do this at scale for their own teams, their customers, and beyond, have understood the shift in societal values.

This article is based on information provided by Ant Group but the opinions are mine.

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Efi Pylarinou

№1 #Finance Global Woman Influencer by Refinitiv 2020 & 2019. Top Global #Fintech Influencer, Futurist, #AI, #Blockchain +: 30yrs FINANCE — https://linktr.ee/Ef