Why financial inclusion has always been personal

February 26, 2020 | By Salah Goss

When I was eight, my family won a contest for a trip to the Ivory Coast. While there, we visited an artists' trading market, where I saw beautiful wood statues of gazelles, Asante warriors and giraffes. At home in Chicago, you would usually find me with paint-covered hands, making a mess with whatever art project I was doing. Seeing these artists and the beautiful things they created was amazing to me.

Imagine my horror when I saw these elegant statues sold to tourists in exchange for worn jeans, toilet paper, playing cards and tattered sweaters they pulled from their suitcases.

I could not understand how such beautiful art could be traded for these mundane items. My child’s brain did not yet know about global economic inequalities, but I was so upset, and I knew something was terribly wrong. From that day, I also knew I needed to do something about it.

Goss in front row, holding a long bag, upon her family's arrival in the Ivory Coast in 1983.

That's why it was such an honor for me to accept on Mastercard’s behalf an award from the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship — the sister organization of the World Economic Forum — recognizing the inclusion work Mastercard spearheads every day. 

The award recognizes the diversity of social innovation models across varying stakeholder groups to stimulate public-private impact collaborations.

At the Mastercard Lab for Financial Inclusion in Nairobi, Kenya, we’re improving the lives of unbanked, underserved and vulnerable communities by supporting economic stability and helping families plan for their futures – through our micro-retail, agriculture and education initiatives. We work with intention to build simple, safe solutions in areas that matter to emerging markets. We believe this will incentivize the transition away from cash — which is more complicated and less safe. 

Goss accepting the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship award on behalf of Mastercard.

The Nairobi Lab leads Mastercard's work in the digitization of payment streams that increase financial inclusion, such as education payments, micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises, lending and smallholder farmer payments. These are not only empowering people but also increasing Mastercard's share of payments in non-traditional sectors, thus mirroring the Schwab Foundation's objectives in social entrepreneurship. 

It's important to remember that the work we all do really does matter. Indeed, this award is for everyone at Mastercard who is doing the work to help underserved communities get the services they need to lead better lives.

The invisibility of exclusion touches too many groups — the millions without IDs, workers without insurance, women prevented from controlling their financial lives, urban factory workers paid in cash, and even salaried workers without access to medical services. Tearing down these invisible barriers is what unites our work across Mastercard and what makes this award so important for the company as a whole.

Little did my eight-year-old self know the impact one person could have. Imagine how, together, we can push toward inclusive growth for everyone, everywhere.

Photo of Salah Goss
Salah Goss, Head of Social Impact for North America, Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth