MasterCard is a successful technology company. Grameen is a microfinance and technology provider to the poorest of the poor in hard-to-reach rural areas. What do they have to offer one another? Apparently, quite a lot.
Partnerships are successful when each partner can both provide and derive value in a way that each could not do alone. As Patricia Devereux, group head of MasterCard International's Corporate Philanthropy and Citizenship division, pointed out, there's never enough money to solve the world's problems. What businesses can offer to NGO's are the time and talent of their employees, the technology or products they produce, and the business expertise they possess. The key to maintaining a partnership is directly related to the ability of both partners to extract value from the partnership, and then the ability to connect that value back for the benefit to the business or NGO.
Carlos Jose Fonseca, senior business leader of MasterCard Worldwide's International Markets Strategy team, was asked to choose one of three projects to work on as part of his training program at MasterCard. Two projects were internal, but he chose the one that would allow him to look outside of his company and make an impact. What began as an eight month project with a team of eight staff members giving 20% of their time has since grown into a three-year partnership that aspires to impact thousands of rural farmers in Colombia.
Megan Beck is the business development manager for the Grameen Foundation in Latin America and the project manager in the partnership. Her goal is to "put tools in the hands of the poor and the poorest," and she sees the corporate sector as vital to such transformation.
Financial inclusion is the key element of the partnership, which provides banana and plantain farmers with vital pricing, weather, and agricultural information via mobile phone. She says that poverty is a state of vulnerability resulting from a lack of access to information, services and tools. The goal of the Mastercard - Grameen partnership is to utilize existing infrastructure (the proliferation of mobile phones in particular) to empower the poorest of the poor.
The key to success for the partners has been the natural fit of the two organizations; Grameen is adept at working with corporate partners, and they are able to speak the same "language." Both are interested in financial inclusion, educational empowerment and social entrepreneurship. Both favor a disciplined approach to social mobility. Combine these essential elements with concrete milestones and healthy doses of patience and persistence, and both parties have a relationship that works for them.
The first challenge faced by the partners was the decision of where to locate the project. By utilizing logic frameworks that the company already uses to determine which markets to enter and why, MasterCard was able to provide Grameen with skills-based volunteering to make a decision that would ultimately yield the best results. Next, the team had to design a platform based on the cultural, local and governmental situation, a process with which MasterCard is also intimately familiar. Through their applied knowledge, farmers were able to gain access to essential information services, and MasterCard benefitted from the rich source of information to get to know a potential new geographic market. The bottom of the pyramid is a place for growth in any industry, and upwards mobility is a positive influence in economic development, particularly in developing countries. With such information, MasterCard is better placed to provide the return on investment that is so critical to its business.
At the end of the session, Fonesca was asked how he balances his work with Grameen with his "real job." His answer is illustrative of the way in which partnerships should operate: He said, "there is no difference. These two things are one in the same; technology is an equalizer." The efforts to improve the world, alleviate poverty, and provide business benefit to his company are one and the same effort. That's why it works.