Inclusive Growth

Geography is not Destiny: Bridging Opportunity Through Inclusive Growth

By: Shamina Singh

August 27, 2018

In 2016, a photographer named Johnny Miller launched a campaign called Unequal Scenes, a powerful visual narrative that documents the income and class disparities among people living in cities all over the world. Flying a drone at a height of several thousand feet, Miller captured birds-eye images of the literal divide between wealthy and poor neighborhoods – from Mumbai to Cape Town to Palo Alto – which were often separated only by a train track, highway or park. His photos throw into relief the stark reality of how geography – not talent – disproportionately determines destiny. Disadvantaged communities are physically cut off from the makings of a better life – clean streets, quality schools, safe playgrounds, healthy food.

Unequal Scenes – Kya Sands / Bloubosrand by Johnny Miller

While these images shed new light on inequality from high in the air, my colleagues and I have been on the ground documenting the impacts of these divides and the importance of connection to the vital networks that power the modern economy, the networks that enable young people to get an education, entrepreneurs and workers to thrive and opportunity to flourish. These networks include everything from roads and electricity to the internet and formal financial services.

We sat with women entrepreneurs in India, gig workers in Atlanta and shopkeepers in Nairobi – people from all backgrounds whose destiny is more a factor of their zip code than their genetic code. Though living radically different lives, all of them have one thing in common: they aspire to create better lives for themselves and their families. They are what we call “strivers.”

We learned that, overwhelmingly, strivers know what they need and see a path to growth; and that our role is to help clear the path and unlock the resources to propel them forward.  What they want are catalytic connections to the physical, social and virtual networks that can help transform their aspirations into reality. At Mastercard, we believe that connecting small business owners and workers to these networks is the key to achieving inclusive growth – economic growth that benefits all segments of society.

Our work on inclusive growth was born of the fact that cash-based societies are limited in the ability to grow. In 2014, the Center for Inclusive Growth took on the responsibility to advance sustainable and equitable economic growth to help realize Mastercard’s vision of a world beyond cash. Earlier this year, the company doubled down on that commitment by investing $500 million in savings from U.S. tax reform to establish a new fund focused on bridging to opportunity – Mastercard’s Center for Inclusive Growth Fund.

We also know that philanthropy alone cannot get the job done.  It’s only when we bring the full force of the company’s assets – tech, data, people, network, brand and capital  – that we can truly claim that we are supporting transformation at scale.

By integrating purpose into our business strategy, we recognize that success for the company is inextricably linked to the well-being of communities and countries. It is the path to shared prosperity that benefits us all.

Aspiration and ambition are universal. When we provide sustainable solutions to connect people to networks, it’s good for business and good for society. When the reach for opportunity is within the grasp of all people, that’s inclusive growth. And when more companies harness their assets and mobilize their people to achieve social impact, destiny can be determined more by who you are rather than where you live.

Shamina Singh is the president of the Center for Inclusive Growth. This post was originally published on LinkedIn.

Shamina Singh

Shamina Singh is the President of the Center for Inclusive Growth and the Executive Vice President of Sustainability at Mastercard. In these roles she is responsible for advancing equitable economic growth and financial inclusion around the world.