Solutions to build inclusive and sustainable economies

This year's Global Inclusive Growth Summit brought together purpose-driven leaders from around the world to shine a spotlight on promising solutions that are people-centric, climate-informed, equity-intentional and evidence-based

Solutions to build inclusive and sustainable economies

November 03, 2021

By Avni Patel and Barbara Ray

How do we harness collective ingenuity and resources from across industries and sectors to solve the big challenges of inequality, poverty, systemic racism and climate change? On October 14, more than 1,800 business, government and civic leaders came together to tackle that massive question at the second Global Inclusive Growth Summit, a virtual event co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. 

More than 50 speakers took to the virtual stage to shine a spotlight on innovative ideas, partnerships and solutions, and to announce $59 million in 10 new commitments that support bottom-up growth in communities around the world. From mobile apps that help farmers in India earn a more stable income to new partnerships that are redirecting capital toward underserved women entrepreneurs, we’ve been cataloging dozens of solutions discussed during the day. 

In the first of two posts, we highlight 14 solutions that advance economic growth and environmental sustainability and that put technology to work to better connect communities to opportunity. 

One clear takeaway: there is no shortage of promising solutions to build more inclusive and sustainable economies. However, to drive meaningful impact, organizations will need data and evidence to lift up what works, and a commitment to creating partnerships that combine the right assets, competencies and incentives to scale those solutions.

People, planet and prosperity

Speakers throughout the day highlighted how the challenges facing people, planet and prosperity are increasingly interconnected, as are the solutions. 

For example, environmental shocks brought on by climate change, such as droughts, heatwaves and floods, contribute to food shortages and economic insecurity for smallholder farmers around the world. Now advanced data science is helping to address all three challenges for farmers in India through a mobile app. Your Virtual Cold-Chain Assistant, a Inclusive Growth and Recovery challenge winner, uses data science to enable farmers to access clean and efficient cold storage and market intelligence, which ultimately can help them earn a more stable income and improve food security while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions that come from inefficient cold storage. 

Data-enabled solutions like this are critical to helping marginalized and underserved populations in developing countries mitigate the devastating impacts of a warming planet.  

Another challenge awardee, Solar Sister, is unlocking the power of clean energy to support women’s economic empowerment. A grant from will enable the nonprofit organization to partner with data scientists to put data in the hands of entrepreneurs and field staff to help them maximize business outcomes and bring light, and with it opportunity, to more people throughout sub-Saharan Africa. 

And finally, Acumen is committing $5 million to accelerate and invest in early-stage companies that both mitigate the impacts of climate change and create economic stability for informal workers. An example is India’s LabourNet, which creates paths to upward mobility through training.

“The environment is the economy”

Climate change is estimated to push 100 million people into poverty in just nine years, according to the World Bank, and it could cost the global economy 10 percent of its value--$23 trillion--by 2050, according to a Swiss reinsurance company. 

As Miami’s Mayor Francis Suarez points out, we need to move beyond outdated thinking that pits the environment against the economy. “In Miami, the environment is the economy,” said Suarez.

Miami is perhaps the U.S. city most threatened by climate change, and Suarez shared the city’s climate resiliency plans, including citywide greenhouse gas reduction, building efficiency incentives, waterfront infrastructure plans, a 20-year stormwater abatement and planting thousands of trees.

Unilever CEO Alan Jope demolished another false trade-off for businesses--sustainability vs. profit.  “We've got to see sustainable business as a pathway to better profitability,” said Jope.  

The Role of Consumers in Fighting Climate Change with Unilever CEO Alan Jope at the 2021 Global Inclusive Growth Summit

By 2023, Unilever’s raw materials will be sourced only from verified deforestation-free zones, and the company is aiming for net-zero emissions from all its products by 2039, from sourcing to the shelf. Unilever is among 345 companies (including Mastercard) that have committed to reaching net-zero with science-based targets aligned to limiting the rise of global temperature to 1.5 degrees celsius.

Technology that reaches the last mile

Nearly half the global population--3.4 billion people--still cannot meet their basic needs because of “last mile” hurdles. They may live in remote areas with few passable roads or are invisible to governments and aid providers because they lack a government-issued ID or birth certificate. 

Community Pass is a digital infrastructure powered by Mastercard that creates a shareable, digital identity that can be verified in different settings, such as local shops or a health care clinic. The pass uses chip-based technology that works offline or in low connectivity settings. It also illustrates another key takeaway of the Summit: The most effective solutions use technology to meet people where they are. 

In some cases, quite literally: 

  • In Rwanda’s western areas, limited infrastructure means when a health emergency strikes, help can take a long time to arrive. But now, thanks to drones that deliver life-saving blood to infusion centers, countless lives are being saved. 

  • In Togo, GiveDirectly used satellite imagery, cell phone data and machine learning to speed up and target pandemic aid to the most vulnerable residents. 

The harnessing tech to drive health equity panel at the 2021 Global Inclusive Growth Summit

Real-time data to respond to crisis and recovery

The pandemic has also shown us how critical it is to have real-time data to inform decision-making and help governments and businesses save lives and livelihoods. In Sub-Saharan Africa, new platforms have aggregated information to track COVID hotspots, and source critical medical supplies. 

Already preparing for the next pandemic, the Pandemic Prevention Institute is using various sources--from satellite images to wastewater data--to identify the early warning signs of an impending pandemic.

Other data tools are helping measure and track inequities in regions and communities. For example, the Center’s Inclusive Growth Score tool is helping policymakers in the United Kingdom better understand the widening economic and social divides between the country’s north and south regions. The tool, which blends open-source and proprietary data with Mastercard insights, enables leaders in the UK to track levels of inclusion and growth at the neighborhood level and develop targeted economic development strategies.  

Broadband for everyone, everywhere

In the U.S., the importance of broadband access was driven home during COVID-19 when thousands of students--often in rural or low-income communities--couldn’t connect to classrooms when schools shut down. While the federal government had created maps identifying where the gaps in access were, the maps were not exhaustive. Microsoft, however, was able to use data to identify the broadband gap more precisely. 

“It turned out that if you want to spend a lot of money, as we need to, as a country to bring broadband to the people who don't have it, you actually have to know where they live. Otherwise, you're going to miss the mark,” said Brad Smith, president and general counsel at Microsoft. 

While access is still a huge hurdle to overcome--30 percent of rural Americans still lack access to broadband--even the connected face barriers such as digital literacy and proficiency. 

Bhaskar Chakravorti and his team at the Digital Planet program at Tufts University have developed a new framework that can help policymakers address the various dimensions of digital inequality, along with an interactive map offering snapshots at county and state levels.

Broadband is advancing in Africa as well, with the goal of creating universal, affordable access to high-speed connections by 2030. Currently, only about one-fourth of Africans have such access. With support from the international community, Africa is laying subterranean fiber optic cables in the sea off the coast to connect eastern African countries to the rest of the world. These and other efforts will increase competition and lower the price of broadband. 

“We are making the market much more accessible to competition,” said Makhtar Diop, managing director and executive vice-president at the International Finance Corporation (IFC), “which ultimately will unleash the creativity of the tech industry in Africa.”

Michael Miebach and Makhtar Diop discuss tech in a post-pandemic recovery at the 2021 Global Inclusive Growth Summit

The scale of the challenges ahead are enormous, but these and other innovations inspire hope that with commitment and partnerships across sectors, global leaders can begin to solve the world’s most pressing issues. By building and connecting a growing global community of purpose-driven leaders committed to inclusive growth, the Center, in partnership with the Aspen Institute, is working to catalyze new partnerships that support bottom-up growth, advance economic opportunity and environmental sustainability. 

Next week, we will report on the innovations that are helping advance financial security for families and small businesses around the globe. Stay tuned. 

Avni Patel is director of content for the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. Barbara Ray is a Chicago-based writer who writes about social policy and research.