Tell us a bit about yourself and your organization.
I am the daughter of Indian immigrants and grew up in a small town in southern Virginia. I spent the first part of my career working in the public and non-profit sectors – on political campaigns, for a labor union, at government agencies and on Capitol Hill. I’ve had the privilege of serving in three presidential administrations and of working for three Fortune 500 companies. So I like to work on interdisciplinary issues and have a real interest in bringing the best of the public and private sectors together in service of humanity.
We founded the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth in 2013, when the company was just starting out on its financial inclusion journey. At the time, we recognized that financial inclusion was not the end goal, but a critical building block for an inclusive economy. We also understood that networks power the modern economy, and proximity to these networks determines how far and fast individuals, communities, and countries can grow. These are the networks that enable young people to get an education and workers to access the opportunities they need to thrive and flourish. It’s everything from roads and electricity to the Internet and formal financial services.
Mastercard works at the intersection of technology and commerce. We have a unique opportunity to use the company’s global reach, platforms, data insights, and expertise to connect people to virtual and digital networks that can power a more inclusive economy.
Your keynote is about the intersection of digital inclusion and economics. Why is this topic important?
Technological progress has spurred unprecedented shifts in the global economy. The pandemic has accelerated the growth of the digital economy in many parts of the world—disrupting the way we work, operate businesses and access vital services. But there is also a whole segment of people in both developed and emerging countries at risk of being left behind.
Whether it is access to broadband and devices, usage of digital tools by micro and small businesses, and underserved populations, or even cybersecurity—we need to ensure that technology works for people, meets their needs, and makes their lives better.
How can organizations like Mastercard impact the future of digital equity?
With more than half the world’s population now using mobile internet, the digital divide has become more of a continuum of varying degrees of connectivity and use of digital technologies, than a binary have / have not situation. Connectivity and affordability aren’t the only barriers to digital equity—we also need to build the capacity of people and organizations to truly benefit from digital tools and services. At the Center, we’re investing in products, programs and partnerships that meet people and organizations where they are in their digital journey – whether it’s an entrepreneur navigating the vast array of digital tools for their business or a non-profit organization looking to tap into the power of data science to drive impact in underserved communities.
We also see innovative companies, like our own, using data science to improve every aspect of their operations. However, those same capabilities aren’t as readily available to social sector organizations, researchers, governments, or small businesses. That’s why we are focused on building the field of data science for social impact and joined forces with The Rockefeller Foundation to launch data.org as a platform to address that growing information inequality gap.
For example, through data.org we’re supporting the Internet Equity Initiative at the University of Chicago, which is working to map and mitigate the urban digital divide in Chicago, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the digital divide. Researchers have found disparities in the level of performance for the same service, provided by the same internet service provider, in different neighborhoods and have been able to correlate those disparities with differences in income, race and unemployment. Researchers will work with technical and civic partners to use the insights to improve connectivity in the least connected neighborhoods—and build a model that can scale and be applied to other cities.
The Decade of Digital Inclusion brings together a unique intersection of technology, policy, and digital inclusion perspectives. How does that interdisciplinary focus intersect with your work?
We often say the problems of the world are too big for any one company or sector tackle alone. Partnerships, collaboration, and knowledge-sharing are critical. Working across sectors and disciplines is deeply embedded in the work we do—it’s why we created the Center. To have a meaningful impact, we recognized that we had to break down silos and work with those who are closest to the problem—NGOs, researchers, and think tanks and policymakers who work across a variety of disciplines.
At the Center, we have invested in connecting and mobilizing a global network of practitioners and researchers to build a body of knowledge around financial inclusion and inclusive economies. For example, with The Fletcher School at Tufts University, we have launched IDEA2030, a research initiative that is studying various dimensions of digital inclusion globally and within countries—with actionable, practical insights for policymakers and practitioners.
Through this initiative, researchers have developed , an interactive tool tracking the progress of 90 economies in closing the digital divide based on three measures: gender, rural-urban, and socioeconomic. For example, the research shows that the Philippines has been driving the changes in closing the gender gap on many fronts. It is one of the few countries to close its gender gap in senior roles and in professional and technical roles. Regarding financial services, women use digital payments at a 14% higher rate than men, and women might have better savings behavior than men. With insights like these, we aim to spark discussion and foster knowledge sharing across sectors and geographies.