Much has been written about big data initiatives and the efforts of market leaders to derive critical business insights faster. Less has been written about initiatives by some of these same firms to apply big data and analytics to a different set of issues, which are not solely focused on revenue growth or bottom line profitability. While the focus of most writing has been on the use of data for competitive advantage, a small set of companies has been undertaking, with much less fanfare, a range of initiatives designed to ensure that data can be applied not just for corporate good, but also for social good.
One such firm is Mastercard, which describes itself as a technology company in the payments industry, which connects buyers and sellers in 210 countries and territories across the globe. In 2013 Mastercard launched the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, which operates as an independent subsidiary of Mastercard and is focused on the application of data to a range of issues for social benefit.
In an interview with Shamina Singh, President of the Mastercard Center, Ms. Singh described some of the initiatives that the Center is undertaking to address issues of social benefit and social good. According to Ms. Singh, the mission of the Mastercard Center is “to deploy Mastercard data assets for positive social impact.” She describes how, by tapping into a rich set of data assets and talent, the Mastercard Center can help “unlock the power of data to create sustainable, lasting solutions to society’s greatest social challenges.” In establishing the Center, Mastercard is hoping to establish a model for corporate big data responsibility that others can emulate.
In testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs on May 4, 2017, Mastercard Vice Chairman Walt Macnee, who serves as the Chairman of the Center for Inclusive Growth, addressed issues of private sector engagement. Macnee noted, “The private sector and public sector can each serve as a force for good independently; however when the public and private sectors work together, they unlock the potential to achieve even more.” Macnee further commented, “We will continue to leverage our technology, data, and know-how in an effort to solve many of the world’s most pressing problems. It is the right thing to do, and it is also good for business.”
Mastercard believes that there is an opportunity to break down traditional business and data silos to create greater opportunity for social and economic inclusion, which they characterize as “inclusive growth.” As an example, Mastercard executives point to the addition of 500 million new consumers and 40 million new merchants as instances of how the world’s 2 billion underserved constituencies can be brought into the global economy. The firm believes that greater financial inclusion around the world is a path to long-term sustainable economic growth. It was for this reason, and with this vision of the future in mind, that Mastercard launched the Center. Today, the Mastercard Center is committed, through a series of initiatives, to working on the front lines to foster inclusive growth.
Data Have’s and Have Not’s
Ms. Singh describes the world today of “the data have’s and the data have nots,” where Mastercard can play a critical role as a change agent to reduce the current gap. According to the U.N. Advisory Group on a Data Revolution for Sustainable Development, “New technologies are leading to an exponential increase in the volume and types of data available, creating unprecedented possibilities for informing and transforming society.” The U.N. Group goes on to state “But, too many people, organizations, and governments are excluded [from the new world of data] because of lack of resources, knowledge, capacity, or opportunity. There are huge and growing inequalities in access to data and information and in the ability to use it”. Ms. Singh notes, “If income inequality is the issue of our generation, information inequality is a problem for the ages.”
Central to the mission of the Mastercard Center is the notion of “data philanthropy”. This term encompasses notions of data collaboration and data sharing and is at the heart of the initiatives that the Center is undertaking. The three cornerstones on the Center’s mandate are:
- Sharing Data Insights– This is achieved through the concept of “data grants”, which entails granting access to proprietary insights in support of social initiatives in a way that fully protects consumer privacy.
- Data Knowledge – The Mastercard Center undertakes collaborations with not-for-profit and governmental organizations on a range of initiatives. One such effort was in collaboration with the Obama White House’s Data-Driven Justice Initiative, by which data was used to help advance criminal justice reform. This initiative was then able, through the use of insights provided by Mastercard, to demonstrate the impact crime has on merchant locations and local job opportunities in Baltimore.
- Leveraging Expertise – Similarly, the Mastercard Center has collaborated with private organizations such as DataKind, which undertakes data science initiatives for social good. Mastercard provided DataKind with 100 data scientists to work on social impact projects in U.S. cities and globally. As DataKind founder and CEO Jake Porway explains, “data is in abundant supply, but human capital is scarce. The Mastercard Center teamed up with us to provide data and the data scientists.” The range of social impact projects that the data science teams tackled included initiatives correlating disease and scarcity of food sources in Africa, teaming with the Red Cross to reduce fire deaths in America, and working with a community college to track drop out and success rates.
Data for Good Initiatives
Mastercard has long been committed to deploying its data assets and expertise for greater social benefit. Vice Chairman Macnee sets the tone when he speaks of “integrating purpose into our work at Mastercard.”
Under the leadership of Shamina Singh and Mr. Macnee, the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, is combining data, expertise, technology, and philanthropic investments, and bringing together stakeholders from business, government, academia, non-profits (NGO’s) and a global community of thinkers, leaders, and innovators to tackle challenges stemming from the growing data divide.
Just this past month, the Mastercard Center released initial findings from its Data Exploration: Neighborhood Crime and Local Business initiative. This effort was focused on ways in which Mastercard’s proprietary insights could be combined with public data on commercial robberies to help understand the potential relationships between criminal activity and business closings. A preliminary analysis showed a spike in commercial robberies followed by an increase in bar and nightclub closings. These analyses help community and business leaders understand factors that can impact business success.
Late last year, Ms. Singh issued A Call to Action on Data Philanthropy, in which she challenges her industry peers to look at ways in which they can make a difference — “I urge colleagues at other companies to review their data assets to see how they may be leveraged for the benefit of society.” She concludes, “the sheer abundance of data available today offers an unprecedented opportunity to transform the world for good.” DataKind’s Porway agrees, “through the Center for Inclusive Growth, Mastercard is setting an example of corporate leadership by taking a thoughtful approach to combining data and expertise to deliver positive social impact.”
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