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Developing the Ma & Morley Scholarship Program at The University of Newcastle was quite a feat for the advancement team. Emily Cox tells the story of the complexities involved in coordinating this landmark philanthropic commitment.

Developing the Ma & Morley Scholarship Program at The University of Newcastle was quite a feat for the advancement team. Emily Cox tells the story of the complexities involved in coordinating this landmark philanthropic commitment.


In February 2017, The University of Newcastle (UON) and the Jack Ma Foundation announced a US$20 million philanthropic commitment to fund the Ma & Morley Scholarship Program at UON.

The Program aims to inspire, educate and cultivate the next generation of globally aware and socially conscious Australian leaders.

Named in honour of Alibaba founder Jack Ma and Novocastrian Ken Morley, whose unlikely friendship spanned many decades, the Program is based upon four core values that the two men held close: peace, de-militarisation  and cultural respect; equity and justice for all peoples; ethics in entrepreneurship and workers’ rights; and environmental sustainability and biodiversity conservation.



An Australian business contact of Ma became aware of his close connection to Newcastle and his intention to make a positive impact on the city through philanthropy. This person got in touch with UON through a graduate and then offered to facilitate an introduction. The offer was, of course, gratefully accepted.

That first conversation occurred in mid-2015 and resulted in an introduction between UON’s Director of Advancement, Rebecca Hazell, and one of Ma’s senior staff. At this early stage, the main priority for UON was to understand exactly what Ma was hoping to achieve through a potential philanthropic gift to UON.

During ensuing discussions, it became clear that Ma was interested in supporting UON in honour of his lifelong friend and mentor, Ken Morley, who was an electrical engineer.

Left: Ma with Morley’s son, David, who Ma had approached to practise English. Right: Alibaba founder Jack Ma and Novocastrian Ken Morley, whose unlikely friendship spanned many decades.

The pair had met in 1980, when Jack was just a child in Hangzhou. Morley and his wife, who had a keen interest in Chinese culture, took their three children to China on an Australia China Friendship Society Tour. On an excursion to West Lake, Ma approached Morley’s son, David, to practise English.

From there, a close friendship between the Ma and Morley families blossomed. Morley became an inspiring role model for Ma, and Ma’s first trip abroad was to visit the Morley family in Newcastle in 1985. It was a life-changing experience.

Ma went on to become an internationally recognised businessman, founding Alibaba, an ecommerce platform that now  has  hundreds of millions of users. Today, he is also one of the world’s leading philanthropists.

The two families remained friends throughout Ma’s skyrocketing career, and remain close since Morley’s passing in 2004.


Ma indicated his intention to support students through scholarships. As a former teacher, he highly values education and has made it the key focus of the Jack Ma Foundation.

Over nearly 18 months, a small team comprising members of UON’s Advancement program, senior leaders across UON, Ma’s special assistant and a representative of the Morley family worked together to create and refine the concept that eventually became the Ma & Morley Scholarship Program.

Together, the team worked through many iterations over time in a truly collaborative process that is reflective of the partnership that has been established between UON, the Jack Ma Foundation and the Morley family.

Impact was very important to Ma. He wanted to recreate the experience that his friendship with the Morley family afforded him, but on a larger scale. Both Ma and the Morley family agreed that this Program should reach beyond financial support to nurture the hearts and minds of students with potential to make a difference in the world.

This idea led to the concept of centering the program around a set of values, and providing a comprehensive enrichment program to scholars, so that the Program would create a vibrant community of like-minded students who would experience a journey of growth and development together. Upon graduating, these students will become part of UON’s alumni network as Ma & Morley Ambassadors.

Some key considerations for UON while collaboratively developing the program concept included:

  • Ensuring the program’s values aligned with UON’s Time and again, we discovered between UON and Ma, which cemented the relationship and ideally placed us to deliver on his intent.
  • Ensuring the ambitious program was achievable for UON and aligned with our strategic priorities. We consulted many key stakeholders across UON during this refinement process, including the Vice- Chancellor, the Chief Financial Officer, Student Services, the Centre of Excellence for Equity in Higher Education and the Wollotuka Institute.
  • Ensuring the gift allowed for adequate resources to successfully deliver the program. The proposed program budget included program-related administrative costs (for example, a program coordinator salary), which would be supported through the donation.


The announcement event held at Newcastle Conservatorium on 3 February 2017 was more than just a celebration of a landmark philanthropic commitment to UON. It was an opportunity to engage UON’s students and staff, the broader Newcastle community and UON’s global alumni community in an exceptional act of generosity that will make an impact on their lives for many years to come.

The key focus for the announcement event was to share the remarkable story of the transformational friendship that Ma and Morley shared. It was also an opportunity for UON and the Jack Ma Foundation to demonstrate the real partnership that had developed over time.

Staff from all across UON – from facilities management and media relations to event management and security – worked with staff from the Jack Ma Foundation, Alibaba and the Morley family to deliver an event unlike any other in UON’s history.

We made a decision to invest in sharing this piece of news, acknowledging that, if we did this once-in-a-lifetime event well, UON would experience far-reaching, long-term benefits.


The story behind the relationship that led to the Ma & Morley Scholarship Program is an inspiring demonstration of the power of friendship. We shared the story through a video that was played at the announcement event. We created the video with the help of a local agency owned by a UON graduate in collaboration with the Morley family and the donor.

We felt it was important to do the story justice; to tell it in a very respectful and authentic way to truly allow our audiences to understand and connect with the Ma & Morley Scholarship Program and the motivation behind it. We also hoped the story would crystalise the important power of friendship and kindness for our audiences. For an investment of about $6,000, we created a powerful piece of content that was shared across the globe.


These included:

  • Patience Working with such a busy donor meant there were inevitable lags in
  • Flexibility Working across different time zones made for some teleconferences at odd hours!
  • Respect This was a very personal journey for both the donor and the Morley family.
  • Authenticity We are genuinely grateful for this opportunity, and absolutely committed to the Program’s values and
  • Collaboration Input from a range of stakeholders strengthened this unique, Australian-first
  • Tenacity The initial referral could have been dismissed as too improbable to pursue, but we followed the lead all the way to an incredible outcome for our students.
  • Alignment The correlation between UON’s, Alibaba’s, Morley’s and the Program’s values is strong and true, and the alignment between the Ma & Morley Scholarship Program and UON’s NeW Futures Strategic Plan is clear.


Organising an event with Jack Ma as the keynote speaker was an incredibly complex task. The event was organised with a very short lead time to accommodate Ma’s fluid schedule, so required an immense amount of cooperation and reallocation of resources – in January!

Jack Ma with Students from Belmont High School at the announcement of the donation.

It was particularly important for both UON and the donor that students and teachers from local schools could share in the excitement around this inspiring program. Getting invitations out to schools and community groups in the first week of a new school year was challenging, but it was important for us to demonstrate to both the donor and the wider community (indeed, to a global audience!) that we have the capability to deliver programs and events of this size and scale.

Many staff across UON played a role in making the event a success, including reaching out to their personal networks in the school communities. As a result, we hosted more than 100 students and staff from 23 local schools.


At the request of the donor and to protect the Morley family’s privacy, UON kept the details of the gift in strict confidence until the announcement. The working group with full knowledge of the gift was very tight, and much of the consultation across UON during the process of refining the Program concept only referred to an anonymous potential donor. Even initial invitations to the announcement event did not give much away, and Ma’s attendance was only publicised days beforehand.

Confidentiality was a constant consideration. We carefully managed which members of UON’s staff were briefed at each stage of the process. The Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (International and Advancement) were engaged throughout the process and the Vice-Chancellor briefed other key leaders as required. to comply with UON gift acceptance requirements, UON Council was briefed when the time to formally accept the gift drew near.


Both UON and the donor agreed on the importance of sharing this news as widely as possible, and we worked collaboratively with Alibaba’s PR staff to do so. We wanted to make the most of this unique opportunity to honour Morley and celebrate the Ma and Morley friendship. We also wanted to share the Jack Ma Foundation’s first gift outside of China, which was also the largest philanthropic commitment ever given to UON. This occasion was an opportunity to highlight the impact and importance of philanthropy at UON.


UON’s Ma & Morley Scholarship Program comprises:

  • 30 new Ma & Morley scholarships will be offered each year.
  • 20 scholarships will continue throughout the students’ degr
  • Half of the continuing scholarships will be awarded to students who have gained entry to their undergraduate degree through an enabling
  • The 20 students will be drawn from three categories: Educational Disadvantage; Indigenous; Academic
  • 10 scholarships will be one-off scholarships for an eye-opening immersion
  • All Ma & Morley Scholars will demonstrate alignment to the Program values:
  • peace, de-militarisation and cultural respect
  • equity and justice for all peoples
  • ethics in entrepreneurship and workers’ rights
  • environmental sustainability and biodiversity conservation
  • All Ma & Morley Scholars will have access to a transformational enrichment program including  mentoring,  which will encourage them to adopt a global perspective and expose them to ideas and networks that will help them grow into the change-makers they would like to become.


In many ways, this was not a typical major gift process. There were no related visits to or from China until the Ma & Morley Scholarship Program was announced. In fact, a significant amount of key communication took place via an app used by Alibaba staff called DingTalk. There were also countless emails and regular teleconferences.


Stewardship is of prime importance for us now. We have adopted a framework for ongoing collaboration with the donor through the Ma & Morley Scholarship Program Advisory Committee, which meets twice annually and comprises representation from the Jack Ma Foundation, Alibaba, the Morley family and UON.

The Committee will provide input and advice about the Program, and this structure provides a vehicle for ongoing, structured reporting back to key stakeholders. We have plans to involve our academics in rigorously evaluating the Program, which will allow us to provide comprehensive reports to the donor on the Program’s impact over time.

Apart from the Committee, we have developed plans for regular contact with donor representatives and the Morley family to ensure that, to the degree they wish to be, they are involved with UON outside of the Ma & Morley Scholarship Program.


Emily Cox

Emily is the Philanthropic Grants & Research Officer at UON. She joined the University in 2013, working across various alumni and community engagement roles before making the shift to philanthropy in 2016. She holds a Bachelor of International Studies from UNSW.

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