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“We are committed to helping build a digital economy that works for everyone”

“We are committed to helping build a digital economy that works for everyone”

Ann Cairns

Ann Cairns, the President of International markets with MasterCard, was in the capital earlier this week invited to take part on a high-profile panel on women empowerment during the visit of Ivanka Trump.  Here, she reflects with Samuel Getachew of The Reporter on the role of MasterCard in Ethiopia, on inspiring the next generation of African women leaders, on the long-term vision of the company and on using technology to empower millions of people within the continent. Excerpts:

The Reporter: You were recently on the panel with Ivanka Trump in Ethiopia on the issue of women empowerment, something MasterCard is known to support. What were some of the highlights?

Ann Cairns: MasterCard is built on financially empowering people and businesses, and the unbanked are a key focus for us.  Across Africa, women make up a large proportion of the unbanked market and the growing micro- and small enterprise segment.  Therefore, it was an honor for us to be part of an initiative such as this, which aims to empower women by setting them on a path to better education and economic independence.

As professionals, entrepreneurs, consumers and participants in the global economy, women are catalysts for growth, innovation and social change. When women work, economies grow. In fact, closing the workforce gender gap could add $28 trillion to global economic growth by 2025. And as a market, women represent an opportunity bigger than China and India combined. They control $20 trillion in consumer spending but despite their dominant buying power, most companies fail to serve them effectively.

A slew of initiatives were also announced. Tell me about that?

A key program announced at the event was the 2X Africa Initiative to support investment in women in Africa. This program, driven by the US Government’s development finance institution - the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) - aims to unlock the full economic potential of women in Africa. It will catalyze USD one billion in funding, with a direct investment of USD 350 million, for businesses and funds owned by women, led by women, or which provide goods or services that intentionally empower women on the continent.

This initiative is in line with number of women’s empowerment initiatives MasterCard is already running across Africa, and we fully support projects such as this, which offer more opportunities to women of Ethiopia and Africa.

MasterCard is a financial brand known around the world. In Ethiopia, it’s known more for its worthy public projects, in particular helping women get their footing financially. Share with me some of the projects MasterCard supports within Ethiopia?

MasterCard operates in three ways. First, we have our day-to-day business, running a massive international payments network. Secondly, we have our Centre for Inclusive Growth - our philanthropic arm that invests in areas such as data philanthropy and targeted education of SMEs. Thirdly, we have the MasterCard Foundation – a global foundation established by MasterCard in 2006, whose mission is to advance education and financial inclusion and catalyze prosperity in developing countries.

The Foundation runs projects around the world, including some in Ethiopia. These include a scholars’ program in partnership with University of Gondar, aimed at helping develop Africa’s next generation of leaders, and the ‘Young Entrepreneurs in Silk and Honey’ project for unlocking beekeeping and silkworm farming employment opportunities for young people in Ethiopia.

One of the initiatives of MasterCard in the region is the African Women Leadership Network. Tell me about the group and why it’s an effort worthy of support from MasterCard?

MasterCard is working with the UN across a number of areas around the world, including the UN Women and World Food Program (WFP), and we are open to exploring further opportunities relevant to Africa.  Our cooperation with WFP is particularly important as it is aligned with MasterCard’s commitment to delivering 100 million meals for children globally; which also incentivizes parents to send their children to school, where they will be fed.

CNN once described you as “the first female engineer to work on offshore oil and gas rigs in the UK (and someone who) knows what it’s like to be the only woman in sight for hundreds of kilometers”. At the UNECA event, you reflected on how the executives of MasterCard have grown to increasingly include women. Tell me about that?

Our commitment to nurturing inclusive teams cascades down to our HR policies, with diversity and inclusion as the foundation of our recruitment policies.

In fact, last year, 83 percent of our open positions globally had at least one female candidate. As a result, in 2017, 40 percent of our global hires and 55 percent of our university hires were women. Moreover, we are also proud that we have almost complete pay parity – our female employees get paid the same as their male colleagues. Globally, 40 percent of our workforce is female and in the Middle East and Africa region, more than 50 percent of our hires last year were female. As many as 50 senior women in our company are at Executive Vice President level.

We also promote and encourage women’s re-entry to the workforce where applicable. In addition, we allow 4 months’ maternity and 2 months’ paternity leave for our staff everywhere in the world.

You are a role model to many women. To a young African woman who may want to emulate your journey, as a noted corporate leader, what advice would you have for them?

I believe that every woman should make a conscious effort to invest in education and continuous learning, as well as to look after herself and take out time to pursue what makes her happy.

It’s about finding the right balance between different roles we all play in life and pursuing those things that matter most, with determination and commitment. Finding the right mentor or sponsor – a senior person speaking up for them, helping them make the right decisions in career or business, and opening up new opportunities –  can also be tremendously beneficial.

Every society has slew of challenges and Africa is no exception. The old ways of foreign aid is looked as an old band aid solution that has not worked. Increasingly, some of the long-lasting innovative solutions that are changing the narrative of the continent are coming from the corporate world. MasterCard is a prime example of that. Share with me some of the projects that you think are good, worthy projects that can be emulated elsewhere and spearheaded by MasterCard?

In 2015, MasterCard has set itself a target of bringing half a billion excluded people into the financial system. To date, we have brought 380 million people into the financial system and we are on track to reach our goal by 2020. Many of these people are women.

Some of the initiatives we have launched in and for Africa are in the domain of education and unlocking finance for women entrepreneurs. In the education arena, our Kupaa program has already reached 200,000 people and aims to benefit one million by the end of this year. Kupaais a digital payments tool that allows multiple caregivers to contribute towards a child’s school fees by making small payments using basic cell phones. We also run the Girls4Tech™ education program, developed in conjunction with top engineers and technologists, to teach STEM principles to girls aged 10-13 around the world. This program is committed to reaching 200,000 girls by 2020.

In the business arena, JazaDuka, a program launched by MasterCard in partnership with Unilever, created a first-of-its-kind digital lending platform in Kenya. The platform tracks how much Unilever product a store owner has purchased over time and combines that data with MasterCard analytics. The results are used to provide a micro-credit eligibility recommendation to Kenya Commercial Bank, who can provide an interest-free credit line.

There is also the MasterCard Farmers Network, a digital platform that enables farmers in East Africa and India to buy, sell and receive payments for agricultural goods via their feature phones – without having to walk for hours to the markets.

And last but not least, we have “pay-as-you-go” payment solutions to increase access to equipment such as solar home systems and water pumps, which can benefit women in their homes and helps them grow small businesses.

What is the long-term vision of MasterCard in Africa?

Technology advances create significant opportunities, but also some challenges.  We are committed to helping build a digital economy that works for everyone, everywhere, because we believe that forging new paths for sustainable and inclusive economic growth improves the quality of life and the financial security of all segments of society.