More than 30 prisoners at Qiao Si Prison, the largest prison in China’s Zhejiang Province, received a training course in e-commerce last December, according to an article by Jenny W. Hsu for an Alibaba publication.
Taobao University, which offers the e-commerce course, was established in 2009 as the educational arm of Alibaba, the Hangzhou-based tech giant. A team of e-commerce specialists and industrial players are involved with the university.
The program’s primary aim is to teach online business methods and worldwide practical insight. Topics covered in the course include how to launch and manage a successful cyber-store and inventory, dealing with customers, creating invoices, and keeping track of what equipment to buy.
Su Su, an instructor at Taobao University as well as a vendor on an online retail platform, came to the prison to teach the e-commerce course.
Qiao Si Prison is one of the few prisons in China that teach marketable job skills to inmates prior to their release. Other pre-release programs include courses in reintegration, tea cultivation, tailoring, auto repair, and massage therapy.
“There are definitely many talented individuals inside here,” said Su Su, who admitted being nervous on the first day of her prison assignment. She recalled a “bespectacled prisoner who was able to quickly resolve some technical issues with the audio-visual system in the classroom that day.”
When Su Su arrived to teach the lesson, “the last thing she expected to see,” according to Hsu, was a well-lit room with well-mannered prisoners “eagerly waiting” to take in the lesson she had prepared. During the session, Su Su shared the struggles and successes she encountered while opening an online shop from scratch, along with stories from her exchanges with customers.
Prison officials told reporter Hsu that all the prisoners who attended the class are well-educated and held white-collar jobs prior to incarceration. But despite having marketable skills prior to coming to prison and learning additional skills while in prison, a great many of these formerly incarcerated people find it hard to secure a job after release.
The e-commerce course was added to the curriculum to provide former inmates an option to bypass a job search and start their own businesses online.