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Reference No. 15/009C Publication Year 2015
Author(s) Steve Yang, Minyi Huang
Company Alibaba
Industry Retail & Wholesale, Internet Software and Services
Geographic setting China
Functional Area General Management and Strategy, Corporate Social Responsibility


Alibaba Group is the largest online platform provider in China. In 2012, Alibaba announced a platform CSR approach as their CSR strategy. This strategy leveraged the group’s existing online platform businesses to develop CSR projects, usually from the bottom up in the decentralized decision-making process common to internet companies. By aligning business and philanthropic objectives, Alibaba has successfully produced a wide range of value-added public welfare projects for its stakeholder groups on the corporate, industry, and wider community levels. However, this decentralized CSR approach makes it difficult to explain Alibaba’s platform CSR approach systematically to the outside world. This case not only describes the company’s CSR approach, but provides some interesting examples of the innovative and creative aspects of Alibaba’s CSR activities, such as employee entrepreneurship and a rural e-commerce development program.

This case can be used to teach students how to evaluate CSR strategies and make strategic decisions about them. As an emerging systemic CSR (or CSR 2.0) approach, Alibaba’s platform CSR strategy helps students learn about CSR development trends, understand how the systemic CSR approach differs from other CSR approaches, and become aware of the benefits and challenges of adopting this approach.

Learning Objectives

The case’s teaching objectives are for students to learn and understand:

1. General CSR development trends
2. Different CSR strategies
3. How to evaluate a company’s CSR strategy systematically
4. The benefits and challenges of adopting a systematic CSR approach
5. How to make recommendations on improving CSR strategy by evaluating different options

Suggested questions for students

1. What are the different stages of CSR development? What are the features of each stage?
2. At which stage is Alibaba’s Platform CSR strategy?
3. How would you evaluate Alibaba’s platform CSR strategy in terms of strengths and challenges?
4. What are your recommendations for improving Alibaba’s platform CSR strategy?

This case was fully supported by a grant from the Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China (UGC/IDS12/14).