Panama Takes Action to Drive a Digitally Inclusive Recovery
Darren Ware, Vice President Government Engagement, Latin America and Caribbean
Today, the Government of Panama has announced that it will join a growing group of nations in taking a strategic approach to digitization, launching a Digital Country Partnership in cooperation with Mastercard. This is a multi-pronged approach that aims to accelerate inclusive economic growth – a strategy key to driving recovery and enabling societies to thrive again.
Around the world, we're going through perhaps the most challenging economic period ever. It can be tough to think beyond immediate and urgent needs, but recovery demands it. Whilst we've not yet emerged out the other side, progress has been made in some vital areas. The pandemic changed how we work, how we socialize, and how we ensure financial security.
It has revealed that digital financial tools that are flexible, secure and offer choice, can empower people, businesses, and governments even in the middle of a crisis. We’ve had an opportunity to put words into actions - frequently through unconventional partnerships – connecting with governments, businesses across multiple sectors, international organizations and nonprofits.
Delivering Vital Services
At Mastercard, we know that the power and economic value of digital inclusion is profound. Already, during this pandemic, we’ve helped more than one hundred local and national governments digitize and efficiently deliver vital services for millions of people, including critical disbursements of emergency support for individuals and small businesses.
Digital Country Partnerships looks beyond single solutions, taking a tailored approach to support countries with their digital transformation ambitions, leveraging Mastercard's industry-leading technology and expertise. The aim is to work alongside governments to deliver tangible benefits that improve the quality of life for their citizens, aligned to their specific strategies and priorities.
Putting Digital Country Partnerships into Action
The priority for many governments that we are working with is how to accelerate an inclusive economic recovery, in an increasingly digital world.
As part of the Digital Country Partnership announced today with the Government of Panama, we'll be implementing payment technologies across the public sector to support financial inclusion to address these issues. The beneficiaries of the different social programs, for example, will have instant access to virtual cards on their devices – with the option of having physical cards as well. This will be rolled out alongside education programs and initiatives to communicate the benefits.
Micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) - the backbone of the Panamanian economy - will also experience expanded acceptance solutions for digital payments, even in remote and difficult-to-access areas. A key focus will be supporting companies in the agricultural and industrial sectors.
We’re also aiming to bring public transit into the fast lane by modernizing payments in the transportation system, making them more efficient and accessible to Panamanians. And we will help maintain confidence in new technologies while addressing the digital divide through cybersecurity programs and financial and digital educational support with world-leading solutions.
The objective is far greater thought and is partnership focused on building a digital infrastructure for a modern economy, while collaborating to accelerate a set of positive and interconnected outcomes for Panama. It’s not about a single technology, but what using technology strategically enables. By digitizing and reducing dependence on cash, it radically mitigates the various risks of fraud, making transit faster and cheaper and accelerating the digital payments environment in which SMEs will thrive and drive growth. Moving to prepaid cards to deliver social payments not only increases citizen satisfaction and trust but allows many more Panamanians to participate in the modern economy the Government is building. The objective – a thriving society.
They are not the only Government with this objective. Just last week, we also signed a Digital Country Partnership with Azerbaijan, building on a partnership that has been in place since 2018, that has helped to reduce the shadow economy and positively contributed to the country’s economic development. Working closely with the Central Bank, Mastercard will support cashless and digitization strategies including increasing electronic payments acceptance and enhancing the e-commerce ecosystem, with a particular focus on supporting SMEs. The program will also help to expand payment technologies across the public sector and improve the digital infrastructure.
In January 2020, we launched a Digital Country Partnership with the French Government and since then Mastercard has worked with public and private sector partners with a particular focus on three of the five pillars: Tourism, Artificial Intelligence and Fintech. To help address the profound impact of Covid-19 on the travel and tourism industry, we have delivered data insights to support the Ministry of Tourism and the Tourism Office of Paris as they monitor tourism flows. In the Fintech space, Mastercard renewed its partnership with le Swave, the first French fintech incubator that was government co-sponsored, to support the launch of over twenty new Fintech players in France and Europe. And we have initiated AI projects with Credit Mutuel, a leading financial institution, and global retailer Carrefour, to address fraud issues and improve credit scoring solutions. The sum of these parts is an agile and responsive economic plan, generating employment, creating jobs for the future in new and thriving industries and making existing industries more resilient and robust.
The Czech Government is also committed to taking a strategic approach to digitization. In 2019, Mastercard formed a long-term partnership with the Government to identify segments of the economy that would benefit from better digital payment infrastructure. One key area of focus had already been in the tourism sector, responding to a report which had shown that tourists almost exclusively spent money in city centers. This allowed the government to fine-tune its marketing to steer visitors towards the countryside, driving money towards the national economy’s often overlooked participants – enabling more citizens to benefit from tourists keen to experience the country, but also reducing overcrowding at better known attractions. The Czech Government then became the first globally to harness Mastercard’s Tourism Insights Platform in direct response to the impact of Covid-19, emphasizing that it will help identify the segments of travelers spending the most money on the road, and their preferences, to better target tourism investment and ensure a sustainable and equitable recovery.
Prioritizing Financial and Digital Inclusion
Now more than ever, financially excluded populations need help. Last year, Mastercard doubled down on financial inclusion and committed to bring 1 billion people and 50 million MSMEs, including 25 million women run businesses, into the digital economy.
At Mastercard, we continue to find new ways to live up to our commitment to rebuilding more inclusive and sustainable economies, that open up opportunities, not divides. Through our Digital Country Partnerships, we have an opportunity to strengthen collaboration with governments, using our global experience and technology to improve how people and businesses pay and get paid—because our common future depends upon it.