Doing Well by Doing Good

Leveraging its core assets of technology, data, expertise, insights, Mastercard is building inclusive communities through its Center for Inclusive Growth

With a vision to bring one billion people into the digital economy by 2025, Mastercard has launched many progressive initiatives through its philanthropic hub, the Center for Inclusive Growth. “Our vision is to make digital economy work for everyone, everywhere,” says Emma Stanton, Manager, Social Impact, South Asia, Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth.

To achieve its vision, the organisation has created three pillars. “The first is access to tailored financial services and digital tools. The second is access to skills and knowhow. And the third is access to markets and networks,” explains Stanton. Mastercard executes projects that benefit small business, workers and communities. In India, the focus is on enabling 1.3mn MSMEs, farmers and women entrepreneurs to succeed in the digital economy and become financially secure.

Women contribute 18 per cent to the country's GDP. A report by McKinsey Global Institute has estimated that just by offering equal opportunities to women, India could add US$ 770 billion to its GDP by 2025. And this could help the nation achieve its goal of becoming a $5 trillion economy.

Aligning its resources to boost the socio-economic standards, programmes span from wholly philanthropic such as portable Covid-relief hospitals to commercially scalable micro-enterprises.

Joyful childhood at Udbhav School, Hyderabad

Rural Women Chamber of Commerce

Marching ahead, rural women entrepreneurs have not left any stone unturned including making an LED bulb in just three minutes! Founded by Chetna Sinha, the Mann Deshi Foundation offers rural women entrepreneurs a network of contacts and education to help them expand their businesses through the Rural Women Chamber of Commerce (CoC). And it is supported by Mastercard to empower over 20,000 women entrepreneurs in the near future.

In 2014, the Mann Deshi Foundation started CoC across Mhaswad, Satara and Pune. CoC offers advisory services, customised marketing training, platforms for collective bargaining and access to new markets. Today, this network reaches across Maharashtra, Silvassa, Gujarat and Karnataka.

It has 12 business schools and eight mobile business school buses for providing practical business skills to rural women. These schools offer a variety of courses and training which are certified by the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) and include beauty, tailoring, catering, mehndi and rangoli, agro-products among others. One of the business school’s flagship programmes is its digital and financial literacy programme.

“Our partnership with Mastercard is three years old. As women entrepreneurs scale-up their businesses, they can change the small-scale industries landscape. Mann Deshi is working towards impacting one million women entrepreneurs in two years and we will be celebrating this with Mastercard,” shares Sinha. It’s a cyclical journey with these one million women creating more jobs for more women. “To grow and scale-up, the women are trained to use digital platforms, e-commerce. And with financial and technical aid from partners like Mastercard, this can progress smoothly.”

How does CoC work? First, the CoC does a need-based survey and interested rural women enroll in CoC which introduces workshops on various activities like tailoring, masala or papad making, wall hangings, among others.

Following the evolving market dynamics and growth of digital transactions, Mann Deshi Foundation and Mastercard announced the expansion of the CoC in 2021. This network connects women with new ideas, approaches to markets, skills, financial services, technology and networks, all essential to grow and thrive. For a small-scale start-up, CoC handholds right from the start.

The women entrepreneurs are given support in labelling, packaging and peer-to-peer marketing as well. “We also help them in lab testing for food products which is essential in marketing and also getting license to avail bank loans,” says Sinha.

Access to finance is not the only factor for success. Building business skills and access to markets is equally important. The Deshi MBA programme is a year-long course that trains rural businesswomen to strengthen their financial, planning, inventory, marketing and accounting system. Participants attend workshops, visit successful businesses, attend market fairs and are supported by a mentor who guides them throughout the year. Most of the courses are run by women entrepreneurs, many of whom have been students of business schools in the past and now serve as mentors for the new students.

Besides building skills and supporting networking, Mann Deshi Foundation rolled out Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank in 1996. Sinha was inspired by Kantabai, a welder from Mhaswad, Maharashtra who narrated an account of being repeatedly rejected by banks when she tried to set up a savings account. The aim of the Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank is to address a lack of access to formal financial institutions and be a safe space for rural women to save their money.

“These women are ambitious; they are challenging gender norms. They are mentors and want to start manufacturing units to hire and support more women. Covid brought their capabilities to the fore and they are the next generation of leaders,’’ says Sinha. During the pandemic, in a few weeks, 286 women produced over 300,000 high quality masks. About 800,000 masks were sold and the women were even making PPE kits. Everything was run online. They were provided the start-up capital, information on safety and quality and given access to distribution channels.

With mechanization and secured banking transactions, the skill landscape has helped rural women to speed up small businesses like wick making, garlic peeling, vegetable cutting, vermicelli making, among others. For instance, Sapna Katke, aged 28 years, is seeing better business in papad-making and her income has gone up to Rs 20,000 from Rs 5,000 on an average per month due to better packaging, branding, marketing and digital transactions.

Curiosity becomes a prerequisite to learn any art or run a business. At Dreamlight LED Pvt Ltd, founded by Bharti Randive, 10 ladies have come together by saving Rs 200 for five years. Despite having a lot of family problems, she learnt about various government welfare schemes. In fact, this is the first women SHG in Pune which is into LED bulb production, which started with an initial investment of Rs 3 lakh. This was made possible due to the intervention of Mastercard and Mann Deshi Foundation.

The CoC has also introduced a leadership academy for women entrepreneurs to conduct training on advocacy and provide mentorship. It increases members’ access to digital skills and knowledge, access to legal advisory services and marketing clinics, strengthen sales networks among women entrepreneurs and launch a pathway for these women entrepreneurs to become agents of change.


In the narrow bylanes of Okhla, Delhi, an anganwadi cum Saheli Samanway Kendra (SSK)-51 is buzzing with activity. Despite it being a Saturday, a group of women is attending a class on financial and digital literacy. Coming from underserved communities with high hopes of changing their future, they diligently listen to their instructor Zeba Kazmi, lead consultant with Learning Links Foundation.

“We have training sessions for four days. The course includes basic literacy and financial skills such as how to use a smartphone, introduction to online banking and transactions, how to make a project, sell online, take payments, knowledge of various apps,” explains Kazmi. The classes and hours are designed to suit the women who mostly work as helpers or are daily wagers. Some have not completed their schooling as well.

Addressing these challenges, Mastercard associated with Delhi-based Learning Links Foundation to empower 10,000 first- and second-generation women entrepreneurs from low-income families to become financially independent, secure and prosperous. The programme has been implemented in six states, namely Delhi, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.

Aptly titled, project WE & TECH stands for women entrepreneurship through technology. The course includes equipping women with knowledge of financial, digital literacy and business planning, knowledge of government schemes. Despite the fact that women account for nearly 50 per cent of the Indian population, they are not at par with the men when it comes to financial independence and contribution to GDP.

“I always advise the women to complete their schooling and learn about government schemes, bank loans, complete their documentation,” says Babita, supervisor who heads the SSK-51 centre, ICDS, Department of Women & Child Development. “Under this project, 12 women from this centre have been given seed funding for starting their own business.”

Through various enterprises such as beauty parlour, wadi-making, tailoring, retail sales, delivery services, the women are now letting their dreams fly high. Along with her mother, Babita Singh is making wadis. “The best thing is that I was taught how to save, even given a budget chart. I made a budget for my household expenses. Now, I supply wadis in my neighbourhood. I made a business plan to upscale my business. My project plan was approved and I received the seed funding of Rs 5,000,” she says.

Preeti Arya dreams of her own boutique. “We learned about e-commerce sites, Meesho app, Facebook marketplace, online selling and digital wallets. My sister taught me how to stitch. Now, that I have got the seed funding, I am going to buy an electric machine for my work.” Her current income does not meet her expenses, but with a boutique she can earn better, thereby leading to a better quality of life.

Sheela Chaudhary’s husband was unemployed and life was difficult. With this training, she started a wholesale clothing business and selling through Meesho app and WhatsApp groups.

According to government estimates, there are 63.4 million MSMEs. And International Monetary Fund estimates that India could increase GDP by 27 per cent if it increased its female labour force participation.

Learning Links Foundation has mobilized 9,972 women across the six states, out of which 5,344 have successfully completed the training. They received 1,634 business plans from the trained women. Around 500 women entrepreneurs will receive financial grants of Rs 5,000. “In Delhi, we trained 2,000 women in 500 SSKs,” says Kazmi. And the calendar for more trainings is already buzzing.

Portable Hospital Units

During a pandemic, time is important to save critically-ill patients who require hospitalisation with complete infrastructure. To address the gaps in hospital infrastructure across the country during the lethal second wave of Covid-19, Mastercard collaborated with American India Foundation (AIF) to install unique portable hospitals across the country. These hospitals are fully-furnished and equipped to provide in-patient and critical care services. While the organisation has a focus on financial inclusion initiatives, it always takes the lead to extend support during any major crisis. Mastercard has installed 2,019 portable hospital beds, 200 oxygen concentrators, 200 ventilators to 27 hospitals across 13 states as part of Covid-relief operations.

“As an organisation, Mastercard responds to a critical humanitarian need every time, anytime. We purchased oxygen concentrators through our partnership with the US India Strategic Partnership Forum, US ISPF. We even supported our staff with emergency services such as tie-ups with hospitals and oxygen concentrators,” says Stanton. Leveraging experience in providing critical relief during humanitarian crises, over 1,000 Covid-19 patients benefitted at the Rural Hospital, Rui, Baramati, through the makeshift units. The 100-bed portable, foldable, pre-fab mobile units were made in a turnaround time of about 20 days. “These rapidly deployable hospitals will plug a major health infrastructure gap to fight any pandemic, such as Covid-19, especially in rural areas and smaller towns,’’ says Dr Ashish Solanki, Programme Manager, Vaccination, Humanitarian Progamme, AIF. All praise for the intervention, Manoj Babanrao Khomane, Taluka Health Officer (THO), says, “These makeshift hospitals benefited over 1,134 patients.” The all-weather, all-terrain portable units can be potentially equipped with IT infrastructure for telemedicine too. Portable hospitals have durability of around 15-20 years. Constructed in close proximity to existing government hospitals, each of these self-contained portable units have separate zones for isolation of patients, intensive care and accommodation facilities for health personnel. “The fear of Coronavirus kept rising in the villages,” says 72-year Pandurang Umrao Musle, who was admitted in the Rural Hospital, Rui, during the second wave of the pandemic. “We don’t have big corporate hospitals that cities do. People were scared, but I survived with efficient treatment and care by the doctors and nurses.” According to a nationwide Covid-19 tracker, most of the cases were from rural areas. That was the time for acute shortage of oxygen-supported isolation beds. “The portable Covid-19 units reduced the burden on government hospitals, reduced rate of infection, thereby reducing contamination,’’ says Dr Sunil Darade, MS, Rural Hospital, Rui. In fact, many patients from Pune were also treated at this hospital. “Without government partnership, it would not have been possible to set these up. They helped with clearing the grounds, ensuring doctors are allocated, electricity and water sewerage connections are available. These hospitals are primarily in tier II & III cities and rural areas. If need be, the authorities can actually move them in a truck and take them to a new location and get a hospital running in no time,” says Mathew Joseph, Country Director, AIF. Development evolves with time, and Mastercard continues to support disadvantaged communities and leave a long-term positive impact in all ways.

Joy of Giving

What do you think the industry needs to do to take the benefits of digitization across marginalized sections?
At Mastercard, we talk about the ‘ABCD’ principle when designing digital and financial products. A is affordable and accessible digital and financial products that are the foundation for inclusive growth. For B, the benefits of adoption of these products, that is growth in business. C means they need to be convenient and minimally disruptive. D is dependable and trustworthy. If the small business owner has one bad experience with that digital or financial product, they will not use it again. The infrastructure and connectivity are critical to ensuring that it's inclusive by design. We also rely on partnerships with the private sector and the government to take the benefits of digitization to marginalized sectors.

What areas does Mastercard invest in to provide support?
We are working on a number of different programmes and partnerships, primarily in providing access to digital financial tools for micro entrepreneurs. We launched an expansive capacity building programme, Digital Saksham, in partnership with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), and National Institute for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, under the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME). This programme is designed to raise awareness about the benefits of digitization among MSMEs, and help them to adopt digital tools with handholding support and training. We've also partnered with ACCESS Development Services and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for small business acceleration under Project Kirana. We are reaching out to women entrepreneurs in Uttar Pradesh with capacity building programmes, focusing on best practices, access to skills and credit to help them get more working capital and stock more inventory so they can better serve their customers. We've also partnered with USAID, US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and HDFC Bank to catalyze $100 million credit facility for women entrepreneurs to digitize.

We also recognize that there is a need amongst micro entrepreneurs for a low-cost digital payments’ acceptance tool. We partnered with a number of different payment facilitators to design a soft point of sale device that can be uploaded on any Android phone and used to make that phone a payments acceptance device.

Please share the cross learnings that come with programmes implemented across the globe. One of the benefits of being a global company is that Mastercard is able to cross-pollinate a lot of learnings across different markets. I coordinate the social impact programmes across India and South Asia from our Gurugram office. My peers in Mexico, Kenya and Dubai, Indonesia, are doing the same thing. The purpose is to learn from each other and take those learnings to localize them to the specific needs of the market we're working in. To give an example of the Jaza Duka programme in Kenya, Matercard partnered with Unilever and KCB bank in Kenya to design a microcredit product for small retailers that enables access to a working capital solution to help them stock more inventory. We complemented that with capacity building training and adoption of digital tools for efficient growth. That model resulted in significant business growth for the small retailer. We are exploring how we can bring it here to India.