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BREAKING NEWS: MasterCard Launches Innovation Lab in Nairobi Unlocking the benefits of a cashless society with support from the Gates Foundation

MasterCard is opening its seventh global innovation lab, MasterCard Labs for Financial Inclusion, in one of the world’s most culturally vibrant yet economically distressed regions: East Africa.

BREAKING NEWS: MasterCard Launches Innovation Lab in Nairobi Unlocking the benefits of a cashless society with support from the Gates Foundation

MasterCard is a technology company that has a long history of innovation. We pioneered the world’s first contactless and mobile payment solutions, and continue to bring to life safer, richer and more compelling shopping and payments experiences for consumers around the globe.

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In the space of a few years, MasterCard has transformed itself from a credit card company into an innovative force in business and, increasingly, in tech. With products born from its cutting-edge MasterCard Labs — like the in-context purchasing platform ShopThis! with MasterPass and the versatile mobile-payment app QkR, — the company is reinventing commerce before, during, and after the “transactional moment.”

But today the company announced what might be its most transformative innovation to date – at least as measured in terms of the sheer impact on people’s lives. MasterCard is opening its seventh global innovation lab, MasterCard Labs for Financial Inclusion, in one of the world’s most culturally vibrant yet economically distressed regions: East Africa.

Based in Nairobi, Kenya, and funded in its first three years by an $11 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (after three years, MasterCard will fund the project), the lab is MasterCard’s first to be completely devoted to a specific issue: namely, fostering what MasterCard calls “financial inclusion.” The goal: To help tens of millions of people whose financial prospects are profoundly limited by the realities of cash-only economies.


“People everywhere who live in poverty are trapped in cash economies that carry huge and often hidden costs,” says John Sheldon, MasterCard Labs’ head of Innovation Management. In fact, an estimated 2.5 billion men and women around the globe are effectively excluded from the world’s more stable, and increasingly interconnected, financial systems.

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“In Nairobi,” Sheldon says, “we’ll be working with NGOs, universities, governments — and the Gates Foundation, of course — to help people manage risks, plan for their futures and help them live better lives.” MasterCard, which is striving to build what Sheldon calls “a world beyond cash,” has a huge stake in financial inclusion, and the Nairobi lab will put that philosophy into practice, employing the same strategies — thinking big, taking risks — that have enabled Labs to create hundreds of prototypes in the past four years in areas like “persistent authentication” (designed to do away with keyed-in passwords) and seamless payment acceptance. Says Sheldon, “We could not be more thrilled about addressing the challenges, and the opportunity to increase the prospects for the people of East Africa, that this new initiative represents.”

This article was authored by FastCo Works, Fast Company’s Content Studio.