Mastercard - Finalist in the UPS International Disaster Relief and Resilience Award

This award is supported by the Department for International Development

Working with five NGOs, the business has created a simple app and digital voucher system to give people the dignity of choice when it comes to how humanitarian aid is spent, in the short or long term.

There is no shortage of demand for international humanitarian aid. Millions of people are affected by poverty, political turmoil and natural disasters every year, and assistance reached a record high of $28bn in 2015.

Business cannot succeed in a failing world. We believe the private sector has a responsibility to mobilise its strengths for good – in Mastercard’s case; this means we find new and relevant applications for our technology and expertise. Only by working together can the public and private sector succeed in solving the world’s toughest problems.”

- Paul Musser,
Head of Humanitarian Development & Donor Partnerships, Mastercard

Little choice for victims

But victims of such conflict often don’t get to choose what aid they receive. Such choice provides basic human fairness and dignity and helps people use resources more efficiently. But while cash may be king, it has its issues, transparency being one.

In mid-2013, Mastercard gathered five international NGOs – Mercy Corps, CARE, Grameen Foundation, World Vision, and the World Food Programme – to identify challenges around aid distribution.

A little over a year later, the Mastercard Aid Network was launched – a non-financial digital voucher platform, giving beneficiaries greater control and dignity. It is more efficient and transparent than cash and paper vouchers and also stimulates local markets.

All it needs is a chip card, Android device and an easy-to-navigate app. The card can be pre-loaded with a parcel of physical goods – from food and medicine, to shelter.

Merchants are given an Android device that runs the app. And beneficiaries use their card and select what they want (such as weekly groceries) by tapping the corresponding photos on a screen, entering a PIN to confirm.

The item details are also tracked, so programme staff can better understand what their population needs. As it operates offline, the platform can be used virtually anywhere, and both for short-term disaster relief and on-going, long-term developmental support programmes.

Food for Peace

In less than two years, more than 120,000 households have received Mastercard Aid cards, and the company expects to reach over 600,000 people.

For beneficiaries, it’s convenient to use – they no longer need to line up and collect assistance – and there’s a reduced risk of loss and theft. Better yet, it’s the first step to financial inclusion. For some merchants, this is their first experience with electronic payments, which shows how this can be used to increase revenues.

Initial challenges 

But it hasn’t always been easy. One of the Network’s initial deployments was with Save the Children in Yemen, where they were running a USAID Food for Peace programme providing humanitarian assistance in the wake of civil unrest. “Preparing for the pilot challenged a number of our assumptions on operational practices,” says Paul Musser, head of humanitarian development and donor partnerships at Mastercard. “We had to very quickly learn how to move hardware, secure software export clearance, and meet financial regulatory compliance.”

It also faced challenges when conditions on the ground in Yemen made it impossible for Save the Children’s international staff to safely remain in the area. “This provided valuable learning and, as a result, we added the ability to conduct remote monitoring of the program from outside of the country. Our program with Save the Children in Yemen continues to run and has been successful in reaching more than 6,000 households.”

Helping partners meet their goals

Mastercard has committed to reaching 500 million people previously excluded from financial services by 2020 including millions of merchants. Unlike other initiatives, this work isn’t under a CSR or philanthropy umbrella – rather, the aim is to deliver profitable products and services that help partners meet their goals.

Creating social good

Being a force for good in the world is simply part of the DNA at the company, says Musser. “Our CEO, Ajay Banga, challenges us to bring our hearts and minds to work every day. As a result, social good is at the heart of every business decision we make.”

This makes employees proud to work at the company and instils a desire to innovate new solutions, which could help tackle some of society’s most pressing problems.