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Mastercard: Bringing digital innovation to refugees across the globe.

Tori Utley
|
15 May 2018

A huge number of people are currently living in deplacement, with the estimated number now at 65 million people and the majority of refugees hosted by developing countries. Humanitarian aid is needed more than at any other time in human history, and with refugees and asylum seekers experiencing longer stays in refugee camps there is a huge need for solutions. Instead of seeing this as an insurmountable problem, Mastercard, the global financial payments company, has used its digital technology to create an innovative solution, paving the way for others to achieve social impact.

Mastercard has been partnering with organisations around the world to use technology to create public financial and retail infrastructure in communities that need it most.

THEIR GOAL
To empower refugees and the local economies which support them.

THEIR SOLUTION
Mastercard has created an offline payment platform and prepaid cards, as well as digital financial identification and point-of-sale systems for local merchants. "We've essentially created a digital version of the paper voucher" states Tara Nathan, Mastercard's Executive Vice President of Public-Private Partnerships.

USING REAL-LIFE EXPERIENCE TO CREATE INNOVATIVE SOLUTIONS AND SOCIAL IMPACT
Mastercard is using innovative digital solutions and financial technology to create real life solutions to a growing global crisis. They are working with refugees and the communities which support them to create opportunity and empower those who need it most.

Before the creation of Mastercard’s network, Nathan says "we would give grants, send a check, and that's how we engaged. But we began to hear more ideas about creating mobile apps or payment technologies – and it piqued our interest. It became obvious that we could help design the right solution for the context and desired outcome."

USING EXPERT KNOWLEDGE AND FOCUS
Mastercard’s focus on what they already know and systems they already have in place has helped to create lasting impact, with effective communication between users and innovators. Nathan states that "instead of episodic engagement, we need to focus on creating lasting change through infrastructure and sustainable platforms. If we believe we're going to have scalable, sustainable impact on the public sector, the key is leveraging private sector technologies and capabilities."

EXAMPLES OF THE PLATFORM'S SUCCESS

  • Development of a digital model with Western Union to give refugees access to basic necessities, education, services and finances through the use of digital tools
     
  • Creation of a cashless payment system using pre-paid cards distributed to refugees in Greece and Serbia through a partnership with Mercy Corps. This cashless model enables refugees to purchase goods efficiently, minimising overspending and loss of value through unused goods or services
     
  • Development of a digital food programme for Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan in partnership with the World Food Programme. The project created downstream efficiencies for the operations and operational costs of the programme
     
  • Digitisation of supply chain tools for small farmers in Nairobi in partnership with the Gates Foundation and 2Kuze Mastercard Labs
     
  • Partnerships with local governments in South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt, giving refugees and citizens digital identities, which can be used to make payments
     

LASTING SUCCESS
Mastercard’s initiatives haven’t just helped displaced people around the world today, but helped to develop data and insights which could transform the future of humanitarian aid programmes and provide more transparency.

"Digital infrastructure helps support local merchants while providing refugees with the dignity of choice," Nathan says. "They can choose the food they want, the clothing they want, and can receive the medical care they need. It gives greater purchasing power to refugees while simulating the local market in a way that is fully transparent with visible understanding of spending," Nathan states.

Mastercard’s partnership with the World Food Programme in developing a digital food programme has added over $20 million to the economies of Lebanon and Jordan, with the 250 merchants involved seeing a 6-12% increase in revenue.

LEADING THE WAY
Mastercard is leading the way for other organizations to do the same. "Large institutions can influence global change, but the key is having a long-term commitment and leveraging your core competencies. It cannot be episodic and cannot be philanthropic only," says Nathan. "You need to ask yourself and your team – what do we do better than anyone else? For us, it's been building ecosystems and leveraging data."

Nathan believes the future of corporate social innovation is in collaborations and partnerships. "I would love to see a network of private sector companies and the development and emergence of private collaboration – private-private cooperation. We need companies coming together in a commercially sustainable manner to effect key development and humanitarian outcomes”.

THIS IS JUST THE BEGINNING
While Mastercard’s innovations and parnerships have produced real, lasting change their ambitions don’t stop there. By 2020 Mastercatd aims to give 500 million people access to financial services. 

 

Original article by Tori Utley, Forbes.com


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