Technology for social good - Mastercard

Profile picture for user catheverett By Cath Everett August 10, 2017
Cath Everett speaks to Mastercard about how its digital voucher platform is helping distribute humanitarian aid more efficiently.

Mastercard is a great example of how it is possible to employ technology for social good, while also fulfilling key corporate aims at the same time.

To this end, the financial services giant, which was recently one of the finalists for Business in the Community’s ‘UPS International Disaster Relief and Resilience Award’, set up its Aid Network (MAN) towards the end of 2014. The move came about following a three-day educational workshop with five international aid non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to learn more about how they operated in the field. The NGOs were CARE, Grameen Foundation, Mercy Corps, the World Food Programme and World Vision.

They revealed there was a gap in the market for a user-friendly tool that was able to work offline, capture high levels of detail on how and what transactions were conducted and provide aid recipients with a means of making their own choices based on their needs. Mastercard picked up the gauntlet and just over a year later came out with its first product in the shape of a digital voucher platform. Sasha Kapadia, the company’s director of international development, public private partnerships, explains the rationale:

It’s about reaching those people who may never have heard of us before. Our CEO set the very ambitious goal in 2015 that we were going to financially include 500 million new consumers. But we can’t do it on our own and so we see our partners in government and in the international development and humanitarian aid space as being key enablers to help us achieve that goal. Ultimately, it helps our long-term viability as a business as we’re operating in areas that we’ve not worked in before.

As the firm had no previous experience of working with low-income consumers in frontier markets, the idea was to become a services provider and “deliver shared value” by responding to request for proposals from NGOs or agencies such as the United Nations. Kapadia says:

We see value gain across three dimensions, that is revenues, product innovation and by improving the value of our brand both internally and out on the market.

Aid delivery tool

If the company wins a tender in the space, it supplies the bidder with an aid toolkit, comprising an Android device, a Bluetooth-based card reader and EMV chip-based smartcards, which are distributed to the target population. The Android device and card reader are provided to local merchants and the agency or NGO involved configures the back end application to authorise which goods are to be made available to those in need. Kapadia explains:

If it’s a food security programme, there might be 5,000 beneficiaries, each receiving 300 points per month that they can use to access, say, 20 authorised items at 10 different stores. This information is synced by the NGO and sent to the merchant. Then when it’s time for the aid recipient to collect her assistance, she’ll just go to a store, insert her card in the reader, which shows her what goods are available to redeem, and pick what she wants from a touch screen display. She’ll also use a PIN for security purposes, but because the transaction takes place in points rather than in currency, it’s all done entirely offline.

While the shop requires an internet connection to log onto the NGO’s host in order to synch its data using a ‘connect’ button, if none is available, an NGO worker can physically go to the store, download it onto a USB and synch the information back at the office.

But based on feedback from the field, a new iteration of the platform, which is due early next year, is now in the process of being developed. This new release will include dual-purpose cards, which not only support points-based transactions but financial ones too. Kapadia says:

We’re creating a dual-purpose card not only to allow the distribution of goods to be tracked, but also to enable people to access cash, with the agency determining which elements should be used for which intervention. But there’s also increasing pressure from donors for agencies and NGOs to consolidate and coordinate better, so we’ll be enabling multiple organisations to use the same card in order to better address the needs of the population too.

The company has so far worked in nine countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, helping to distribute aid to more than 110,000 households, each of which is estimated to consist of an average of five people. As Kapadia concludes:

It’s about seeding the market. For example, in Mozambique, we had a large-scale project covering 70,000 households that was looked after by a large consortium of NGOs. But at the time, we had not a single credit, debit or pre-paid card in the country. So our first foray there was through an aid delivery tool.

My take

What all of these case studies demonstrate is that using tech for social good can also very much benefit the business concerned too in terms of everything from employee engagement to increased revenues and a positive brand identity.