Mastercard relies on employees to spur innovation for financial inclusion

NAIROBI, KENYA: Digital payments giant Mastercard is investing in employees to drive a financial inclusion agenda worldwide.

According to the New York-based firm, the Mastercard Lab for Financial Inclusion is serving its strategic growth efforts by seeking to create groundbreaking solutions that will impact millions of people by helping them manage risk better, better plan for the future and lead empowered lives.

“Financial inclusion matters; if done well, it can help grow an economy that`s more equitable and sustainable,” said the lab’s Vice President Salah Goss.

Further, Ms. Goss said since its launch in 2015, the Nairobi lab also functioning as the continent’s research hub, is currently incubating three scalable solutions in the areas of agriculture, micro-retail and education namely the Mastercard Farmer Network, Kionect, and Kupaa.

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"Our portfolio also includes several early-stage initiatives currently under active research and development," she said.

Set up at about Sh1 billion, the facility is equipped to develop and deploy new payments systems such as mobile money apps and cashless payments that will make transactions faster and easier for consumers.

Giving a snapshot of one of the solutions, Ms. Goss said Kupaa-- Swahili for to fly high-- is a platform that eliminates inefficiencies in the education sector by digitising payments and information flows for schools and linking both parents and schools to specialised financial products.

"Kupaa is currently in over 350 schools with over 160,000 students and 110, 000 parents or guardians using the solution," she said, adding that the platform was initiated in low-income rural schools in Uganda where many guardians and teachers had little experience with technology and digital payments.

However, she said many of these schools have successfully adopted the platform where they are enjoying the full benefits of financial inclusion.

"The platform has also been deployed to additional institutions in Kenya," she said.

Also, to accelerate innovation, Goss said Mastercard had set up an annual challenge where successful employees get funding to further their ideas.

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“The Mastercard Innovation Week happens every year in every Mastercard location where up to six diverse teams get to work on ideas that are targeted for funding,” she said.

Also, she said, the Nairobi challenge had taken place last week and the best ideas were chosen for a global competition to take place in the course of the year.

"Aside from the Innovation Week, we also carry out startup engagement forums with universities and colleges to accelerate impact," said Ms. Goss.

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