Mastercard Lab for Financial Inclusion

Mastercard Lab for Financial Inclusion Nairobi seeks to create ground-breaking solutions that will impact 100 million people by helping them manage risk better, financially plan for the future and lead empowered lives. With the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Lab brings together Mastercard's innovation and global financial inclusion capabilities under one roof, combining these with local expertise and insight. Mastercard Lab features eight innovation hubs globally in New York, Miami, St Louis, Silicon Valley, Dublin, Nairobi, Singapore, Pune and Sydney.

The Lab, at present, has products on three key thematic areas; Mastercard Farmer Network in agriculture, Kupaa in education and Kionect in micro-retail.

Mastercard Lab for Financial Inclusion is part of Mastercard's broader commitment to connect 500 million people previously excluded from formal financial services through the use of public-private partnerships with governments, the private sector and non-governmental organizations. We strongly believe that together we can improve access to and use of formal financial services, which will ultimately deliver more inclusive growth and empower people.

Fruit and Veg seller South Africa

The Mastercard Farmer Network (MFN) is a platform that digitizes marketplaces, payments, workflows and farmer financial histories within the agriculture sector. MFN increases farmer linkages to markets and formal financial services relevant to their needs and aspirations. The platform brings together various agri-sector stakeholders, such as farmers, farmer producer organizations, buyers, financial institutions and value-added services providers, amplifying the collective positive impact on farming communities.

MFN is being rolled out in East Africa and India and is designed to support small-holder farmers that are critical to developing economies across the globe. Despite their importance and large numbers, small-holder farmers remain marginalized and face barriers to improving their livelihoods and managing risk. They also face varying levels of access and capability challenges to adopt technology-enabled solutions. MFN turns these challenges into an opportunity to offer a simple, standard interface for farmers and buyers that facilitates greater efficiency in the agriculture value chain.

Education is the premise of progress in every society and in every family. In Uganda, despite the government providing free universal primary and secondary education, there are still incidental costs that parents/guardians are required to pay in lump sums to schools. It is estimated that 70% of the Ugandan population are small-holder farmers and small-scale traders. Parents within this population have sporadic and unpredictable incomes and need to make payments when they have money.

The difficulty they face paying one lump sum for school expenses negatively impacts their child’s attendance. Guardians and parents also endure long trips to pay school fees as they often live far from both the school and banks. They face long and time-consuming queues at banks and frequently suffer from theft and cash leakage during the onerous payment process. Schools, on the other hand, have challenges with administering and reconciling instalment payments as they work with paper-based records.

Kupaa - Swahili for “to fly high” - is a platform that seeks to eliminate inefficiencies in the education sector by digitizing payments and information flows for schools and linking both parents and schools to specialized financial products.

Kupaa is implemented in partnership with the Ugandan Ministry of Education and Sports, UNICEF Uganda and Yo Uganda. FSD Uganda and Centenary Bank are the digital financial service partners for Kupaa.

Happy young South African girl with a big smile

Female vendors at store in Accra, Ghana

Across emerging markets, small-scale traders (kiosks) and their wholesalers are trapped in a cycle of cash use and informal business operations. This cycle limits their ability to grow and access relevant financial products, and it reduces the availability of quality data for decision making across the value chain.

We recognize unique product supply challenges in informal and rural settlements and the high value of cash transactions as opportunities to digitize the flow of payment, information and products across the value chain.

Kionect is a supply chain platform that links micro-retailers, wholesalers and FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods), and it supports market growth through data and tailored digital financial services. Key features of the platform include:

  • Multichannel transactions generating valuable data
  • Data-driven savings and loans products
  • Creation of formal financial histories that are sharable with financial service providers
  • Aggregated purchasing by retailers

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why is Mastercard Labs for Financial Inclusion important?

With two billion adults living without access to mainstream financial tools and services, there is an urgent need to speed up the creation of commercially viable products and services for this audience on a global scale. 

Why is Mastercard Labs for Financial Inclusion located in Africa?

We believe that this region represents some of the most successful countries in terms of implementation and reach of digital financial services. While the lab is based in Kenya, we anticipate that it will have both a regional and a global impact.

How much money is the Gates Foundation contributing and how will it be used?

Through an $11 million grant over three years from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Lab will generate new ideas with local entrepreneurs, governments and other stakeholders across Africa, and rapidly move from concept to reality.

What is the Labs proven innovation methodology?

We have implemented a focused, practiced and proven process that includes broad ideation as well as technical and business evaluation leading to prototyping and pilot execution and finally execution. At ever step, we combine Mastercard best practices gained from operating in the payments arena for nearly 50 years with leading-edge technologies.

What does it mean to be financially excluded?

When you are excluded, you don't have access to the basic financial tools we take for granted like saving or borrowing money or getting insurance. It means being stuck in a cash-based economy that makes you vulnerable to increased crime, inconvenience and higher costs.

What's Mastercard's strategy for meeting the challenge of financial inclusion?

Our approach to financial inclusion is not through corporate social responsibility or philanthropy. We address it by leveraging our existing digital payments technology and applying that through public and private partnerships.

What does a future where more people are financially included look like?

The future is a global economy that is closer to being truly global because we're more connected digitally and less dependent on cash. Increasing financial inclusion:

  • expands the middle class
  • generates equal opportunities
  • increases social engagement and economic mobility
  • narrows income inequality
  • empowers people