It’s time to problem solve — not paper over — inequities in our cities

November 18, 2021 | By Salah Goss

As our cities slowly recover from the pandemic, we need to hit the fast-forward button and speed up efforts to erase the stark inequalities the crisis has exposed.

Across the country, Black and Latino communities have been among the hardest hit by COVID-19. Their health has suffered more and they have been far more likely to lose their jobs and or close their small businesses on which their families depend.

As last year’s racial reckoning clearly underscored, we need to do much more than simply paper over the cracks. We must double down on solving the inequities dogging our cities and ensure everyone is part of a digital, data-driven and resilient future.

The benefits will be felt way beyond this pandemic. When people are financially literate and have equal access to resources, training and jobs, they are better prepared to cope with whatever shocks — from future health crises and natural disasters — that may lurk around the corner.

A good place to start is by empowering Black and women small business owners to drive their city’s recovery. A big part of that is providing entrepreneurs with the technological savvy to keep growing through programs like Mastercard’s Digital Doors, which helps small businesses get online.

In Birmingham, Alabama, we’re giving small Black-owned businesses mobile card readers to accept electronic payments and helping them digitize their storefronts and their back-end operations to make the most of opportunities such as the World Games that will be hosted by the city next year.

That’s just one of the ways we are working to close the racial wealth gap through our $500 million In Solidarity pledge. Closing the digital divide is crucial. Internet connectivity became essential infrastructure during the pandemic, and the digital acceleration shows no signs of stopping. That means ensuring everyone has equal access to broadband — and in New York City, we are contributing to the effort to connect 1.6 million people in the next three years, helping to end what the city calls “digital redlining” that has left Black, Latino and low-income communities  unable to benefit from the digital economy.


When people are financially literate and have equal access to resources, training and jobs, they are better prepared to cope with whatever shocks — from future health crises and natural disasters — that may lurk around the corner.
Salah Goss

In the early days of the pandemic, the city of Los Angeles, Mastercard and other partners were able to raise funds and distribute aid via prepaid cards to the city’s most vulnerable citizens – $37 million in just over a week. Now we are working on new ways to expand the functionality of those cards to provide access to city buildings such as libraries, homeless shelters, training facilities and more, and to support local retailers with incentives and discounts for cardholders.

Enabled by Mastercard City Key, part of the company’s City Possible network, this initiative  shows how technology, when delivered through powerful public-private partnerships, can play a vital role in reaching the most vulnerable populations in cities around the world. For example, in Jelgava, Latvia, a small city near the capital Riga, Mastercard is working with officials on a City Key card program initially for retirees and students. The card would enable them to pay for public transit or school meals as well as access to city services such as the library and swimming pool. Cardholders could also receive social benefits and discounts with local merchants through the card. Eventually, the program would be extended to all city residents.  

We also need to be intentional and ensure all decisions are data driven so that help gets to people who need it as quickly and effectively as possible. So, our Inclusive Growth Score uses broad data sets to clearly highlight, at a neighborhood level, where inequalities are most prominent and where investment and assistance is most needed; this is particularly important to ensure equitable outcomes with the historic amount of federal funding that is being made available to cities and states across the U.S. Already launched in the U.S. and the U.K., we are exploring bringing it to Asia and Latin American markets next year.

Inequity is a problem that requires all of us working together to really make a difference. Businesses need to put their investment dollars, creative talent and technical know-how behind city mayors and other local leaders working hard to revitalize urban areas.

It’s vital to maintain momentum even after the initial shocks of COVID-19 pass to ensure under-resourced communities are not left behind. The pandemic has provided a unique opportunity to harness public, private and civic sector efforts to rebuild more equitable and sustainable cities. Let’s get to work, lock arms with local leaders and communities to building a bridge to a more inclusive future.

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