How to spark a revolution in inclusion

April 22, 2024 | By Vicki Hyman

Smart people and smart ideas are a dime a dozen, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told an audience of, well, smart people with smart ideas in Washington, D.C., last week. These were CEOs and government ministers, university presidents and United Nations officials, philanthropists and development bank leaders, data scientists, renowned athletes and faith-based changemakers, all of them gathered for the annual Global Inclusive Growth Summit.

“A brilliant policy paper, a zillion people could write,” she continued. “Actually making it happen? Operationally? That’s tough stuff.”

Figuring out how to empower billions of people to harness the power of the digital economy is tough stuff, but the people at last week’s summit, hosted by the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, had no shortage of tangible plans to turn their ideas into reality. That included ways to forge stronger public-private partnerships to speed and scale impact, reform global financial systems to relieve debt and innovate the delivery of capital, particularly to women entrepreneurs, and expand access to information and technology, notably artificial intelligence.

"You could use your phone or use you card to go spend your money on groceries, to go spend your money on the things that you need for your family,” said Shamina Singh, who founded the Center, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. “It sounds easy for us. But it is revolutionary for somebody who is living in a place that does not have access to internet, does not have access to a bank account."

The sessions included personal stories, including music icon Elton John’s AIDS work and soccer star Megan Rapinoe’s activism, to impassioned calls to change the way we approach technology and opportunity. “We have to make it clear to folks that they’re not just leaving money on the table, they’re leaving progress on the table,” said self-described “actrivist” Rosario Dawson.

Women can be — and already are — agents of change for inclusive growth.

Chetna Sinha recounted her work to build a bank with rural women who were making less than $1 a day but wanted to save. Their banking license request was rejected because the women couldn’t write, and therefore couldn’t sign the application. So they applied again, issuing a challenge to the Reserve Bank of India: They couldn’t read or write, they said, but they could count. They would calculate the interest on a principal amount faster than their officers could without a calculator.

They got the license.

Today the Mann Deshi Bank, which Sinha founded, offers financial services and affordable credit to hundreds of thousands of women. “These people, they have a vision. It’s a matter of us listening to them and providing the solution,” she said. “Listen to them, and nobody will be left behind.”

In a separate panel, philanthropist Melinda French Gates led a discussion with Dawson on how to close the $160 trillion women’s wealth gap. “With the speed and the scale, if we capitalize women and if we open up their entrepreneurial nature and their possibility, we’re going to have an amazing compounding affect around the world," Gates said. 

Dawson is the co-founder of Studio 189, a sustainable fashion brand and social enterprise that features African artisans. “Our whole motto is work, not charity. It’s very much about knowing that investing in women has an absolutely cumulative effect … It’s not just access to capital, it’s the resources, it’s the network, it’s the community. It’s the encouragement.”

Global financial systems must flex to meet both inclusion and climate goals.

Mia Amor Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados and co-chair of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals Advocates group, underscored the challenges facing nations like hers, simultaneously struggling to pay down debt, strengthen health care and education and build up coastal infrastructure to avoid climate migration.

Restructuring debt is imperative, particularly for small island nations being battered by both climate change and economic instability. Without that, she said, “We may save the planet but lose the people.”

Mastercard Board of Directors Chair Merit Janow, left, convened a panel of multilateral development bank leaders to discuss how they can adapt to and collaborate in an evolving development landscape. From second from left, Jin Liqun, president of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Odile Renaud-Basso, president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and Ilan Goldfajn, president of the Inter-American Development Bank.

Mechanisms like early warning signs can reduce debt vulnerability, said V. Anantha Nageswaran, the chief economic adviser to the government of India, which held the G20 presidency in 2023. Low-income countries could also benefit from the scaling of blended finance — the combination of development finance and commercial capital for sustainable development projects, said José Viñals, group chairperson for the bank Standard Chartered.

And the relationship between donor countries and beneficiaries may need to be reconsidered. Lisa Nandy, the shadow secretary of state for international development for the U.K., called for a rebrand of what the world has  traditionally termed aid: “We call it long-term economic growth … Countries around the world, particularly across the Global South, have left us in no doubt that they don’t want Western partners to come in and save them. They want Western partners who come in and walk alongside them as genuine partners for the long term to help them achieve their own ambitions, not imposed on them.”

To drive change, we need to think big about thinking small.

Technology and connectivity have shrunk the world, and that will help bring hundreds of millions of people into the formal financial system, including small business owners and smallholder farmers. For example, said Michael Schlein, the CEO of the nonprofit Accion, “it used to be that with distances, it was hard to know our clients, but today with data and data analytics, we can know someone remotely.”

Achim Steiner, the administrator of the U.N. Development Programme, pointed to its network of accelerators in nearly 100 countries that is working to make technology “instantly accessible, increasingly affordable and, above all, also usable.” In India, for example, climate data is now available to small-scale farmers, helping them become more productive and resilient.

In Puerto Rico, the U.S. Department of Energy is making microgrids accessible to Puerto Ricans, whose island has been devastated by hurricanes. “There continues to be this feeling among many of the development banks that it’s not worth helping people unless we can build them a modern grid powered by nuclear power,” said Jigar Shah, director of the department’s loan programs office. “It’s just a travesty when you think about all of the devices that we have innovated where we can give people access to modern energy for $12.”

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, right, speaks with Mastercard's Tara Nathan, the founder of Community Pass, which provides tools and technologies to transform marginalized communities by increasing access to services. (Photo credit: Rebecca Abraham)

In Africa and India, Mastercard’s Community Pass is making smallholder farmers visible to banks by digitizing the agricultural value chain. It creates transaction histories for farmers that help them prove their creditworthiness in a sector where a $100 loan can make a huge difference, says founder Tara Nathan. It also connects them to multiple buyers, helping them fetch higher prices. “The digitization of agriculture can start to grow single smallholder famers into entrepreneurs, into larger entrepreneurs. They can build businesses where they now become employers themselves.”

The opportunities (and challenges) of AI need to be shared globally.

AI can be both a tool for advancing inclusive growth and a source of exclusion. Raimondo recounted the impact of technology access during the COVID-19 pandemic — small businesses able to embrace e-commerce and online delivery thrived; schoolchildren who transitioned to video learning benefited. Those without resources or reliable access struggled. “AI will be on that on steroids,” Raimondo said. “Those of us in the public sector and in the private sector have to make it so that everyone has equal access to the best technology.”

Manu Chopra is the co-founder and CEO of Karya, a nonprofit that pays its Indian workers far above the minimum wage to train AI systems — building the data sets that not only power the products and services that are transforming our lives but making them more equitable. These workers also earn royalties on the future sales of their data sets.

“If you want to build inclusive AI, you need to include people,” he said. “The real risk will be repeating the mistake of the Internet. Imagine 30 years from now, at another Global Inclusive Growth Summit: ‘AI changed your life and my life but 2.9 billion people have no access to AI.’” 

Banner photo: Philanthropist Melinda French Gates, right, spoke with Rosario Dawson, an actor and activist for gender equality, left, and Fatoumata Bâ, center, the founder and executive chair of Janngo Capital, about how to close the $160 trillion women’s wealth gap. (Photo credit: Rebecca Abraham)


Catch up with the Global Inclusive Growth Summit

The annual summit, hosted by the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth in Washington, D.C., last week, featured  entrepreneurs, innovators, policymakers and emerging changemakers sharing insights and advancing solutions on today’s most pressing challenges.

Watch the replays here
Vicki Hyman, director, communications, Mastercard