06.25.24
Jessica Helfand, Ellen McGirt | Audio

S11E6: Why an Inclusive Global Economy is a Redesign Project with Mastercard’s Shamina Singh


Twenty years ago, Shamina Singh took what might seem like an unlikely leap from a decade-long career as a labor and political organizer into an executive position at one of the world’s biggest financial institutions.

To Singh, this leap was a logical next step in her fight for equity and inclusion.

She is now the co-founder and president of Mastercard’s Center for Inclusive Growth. The Center, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this spring, is the credit card giant’s social impact hub that leverages Mastercard’s extensive business assets in service of people and the planet. As of 2023, the Center has brought 48 million small businesses worldwide into the digital economy, over half of which are led by women. 

In this episode of DB|BD, hosts Ellen McGirt and Jessica Helfand sit down with Singh to discuss why the creation of an inclusive global economy is a project that transcends sectors, and why humility is an essential part of this redesign puzzle.

“But that kind of conversation only happens if you have the willingness, and you have the ability to be a little bit humble, to remember why you're there in service of people who are not sitting at the table, “ Singh says. “And that's how you get to this really fundamental design question and the innovation question about what aren't we thinking about? There's got to be a different way to deliver this resource or deliver the solution…And that's where I feel like the innovators, the redesigners as you all call them. Like it has to be a conversation that happens at that level if we're ever going to get to a place where we really do eradicate extreme poverty. “

Singh also talks about why supporting small businesses is essential to global financial inclusion and championing A.I. solutions that have some equity intention in mind. She also shares the advice she received from iconic Texas governor Ann Richards that changed her career trajectory forever. 

On this season of DB|BD, co-hosts Jessica Helfand and Ellen McGirt are observing equity by highlighting the “redesigners” — people who are addressing urgent problems by challenging big assumptions about how the world can and should work — and who it should work for. 

This season of DB|BD is powered by Deloitte. 

Visit our site for more on this episode and to view a transcript.

To learn more about Mastercard’s Center for Inclusive Growth, visit their website. Click here to learn more about and to enter the Center’s A.I. challenge, in partnership with data.org.

For more information on What’s Around Design’s 2024 Conference in Portugal, click here.

Watch Design Observer’s video editor Daniel Paese’s award winning short Spots.

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Episodes are produced by Design Observer’s editorial team. The views and opinions expressed by podcast speakers and guests are solely their own and do not reflect the opinions of Deloitte or its personnel, nor does Deloitte advocate or endorse any individuals or entities featured on the episodes.



Transcript

Shamina Singh You get to have a really interesting conversation about: Hey, here's what I have, here's what I have. How do we all put those things together? But that kind of conversation only happens if you have the willingness to be a little bit humble, to remember why you're there in service of people who are not sitting at the table, and then to recognize your power. To say: I actually do have the credibility and the authority to move some resources in this way, and then to always be asking the question of: Who's not in the room? And that's how you get to this really fundamental design question about, with all the technology in the world now, what haven't we thought about?

Ellen McGirt Welcome to the Design of Business,

Jessica Helfand The Business of Design,

Ellen McGirt Where we introduce you to people from all over the world, from different industries and disciplines.

Jessica Helfand Who are here to talk about design, business, civility and the values that govern how we work and live together.

Ellen McGirt This season, we are observing equity.

Jessica Helfand I'm Jessica Helfand.

Ellen McGirt And I'm Ellen McGirt. This episode of The Design of Business | The Business of Design is powered by Deloitte's DEI Institute. Deloitte believes that bold actions can help drive equitable outcomes. And conversations like this can fuel the change needed to continue to build a more equitable society. Visit Deloitte's DEI Institute site at Deloitte dot com slash US slash DEI institute for more of their research and perspectives on equity. Later on, we'll hear from Kwasi Mitchell, Deloitte's Chief Purpose and DEI Officer.

Jessica Helfand Hello, dear Ellen, lovely to see you on this very warm morning. We're going to jump right in today. Today's guest is Shamina Singh the founder and president of Mastercard's Center for Inclusive Growth, which just celebrated its ten year anniversary. Shamina started the center in 2014 with the goal of leveraging Mastercard's resources to build an economy that works for everyone, everywhere.

Ellen McGirt I'm so excited to bring Shemina to our DBBD audience today. She really is a special person.

Jessica Helfand We're going to get into exactly those things that make her so special in just a moment, as if starting the center were not enough. But I wanted to ask you first. Ellen, you saw Shamina speak at the center's Global Inclusive Growth Summit this past April. And you came back just buzzing about her and her work. Can you tell us more about what had you so excited?

Ellen McGirt Well, I'm going to start with the simplest observation. The woman has star power. She really does.

Jessica Helfand It is really true.

Ellen McGirt It's amazing. You know, she wears these bright jewel tone colors, reds and pinks. And she stands on the stage, and she smiles and welcomes. And this entire diverse audience of true global power players relaxes, smiles back, and gets ready to do the work. And I just love the way she convenes. And then she delivers.

Jessica Helfand I mean, that's a really interesting model for leadership, and I think we could all use more of that in our lives and in this world. One of the things I find so fascinating about Shamina is that she started her career in the public sector. She's actually a graduate of the LBJ School of Public Affairs at University of Texas, where she was an activist and a labor leader, and in her interview—

Ellen McGirt I know.

—we'll ask her about leading these rallies, where she had this wonderful slogan, kicking ass for the working class.

Ellen McGirt /laughs.

Jessica Helfand She's also worked with the Department of Labor and campaign for the famed Texas governor, Ann Richards. Might not seem to most of you as it did, and to me, the most natural transition to go from working in government to being an executive at Mastercard. But the way to me to tell her story, it makes perfect sense.

Ellen McGirt You know, it really does. And it sort of describes that meandering path of purpose, which I love that too. She said in her commencement address to the LBJ graduating class of 2024, which she delivered so beautifully this past May, that sectors are an artificial construct. She believes that it requires all of us in whatever sector we are in, whether it's public, private, social or whatever, to use some clever redesign thinking to figure out how to pool our collective resources to create true financial inclusion.

Jessica Helfand Well, we love that word redesign. And I nod to you, my dear Ellen, for bringing it up in the Design Observer 20 list last year. That redesign thinking is present in everything she's doing and everything the center does and stands for, like bringing small businesses around the world into the digital economy, creating unlikely partnerships to power an inclusive financial system, and championing AI solutions that have some equity intention in mind.

Ellen McGirt Now I got my attention to the AI piece. She's also aware of what Mastercard's resources can do and what their limits are, which is fascinating. She talks about how a big part of building those intersect or partnerships is everyone having the humility to know when to step back and just listen. That's star power. But speaking of listening and not from us, Shamina is the star of this show. So let's not keep you any longer. Here's our conversation with Shamina Singh , the founder and president of Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth.

Jessica Helfand All right. So, Shamina, we have so many questions. You began your career in the public sector. You have a master's degree in public policy, wrote labor organizer in college. My personal favorite thing I've read so far, I had a labor organizer child. So this is music to my heart. Can you tell us a little about your switch to the private sector and what prompted it, and, what challenges and opportunities it offered you?

Shamina Singh Well, first of all, thank you so much for having me here. I feel like my coolness barometer has just, like, you know,

Ellen McGirt /laugh.

Jessica Helfand /laughs.

popped up a little bit because, I come from a, a wife who is in the design space, and all of her friends are in the design space. So when I said I was doing this podcast had many, many kudos. But looking back on it, it sounds really complicated, but actually it's pretty simple. As most things, you know, I've been going along a path doing really meaningful, impactful work in public sector, working for labor union, working for, you know, the, the president, the, the speaker of the House. And, I just hit a sort of a plateau in my career, not for any other reason than I just been doing it for about 20 years. And so, as with most people, I, went to a mentor of mine, who was, Governor Ann Richards. And so I moved to Texas to work on her campaign and, in 1993 and just, had stayed in touch with her and she, you know, sort of mentored me throughout my career. And I went back to her and just said, you know what, what do you think I should do? And it was actually her advice because she said, you know, if you really want to make good policy or if you really want to, help the people that you're trying to serve, it's really important for you to understand how money works and how money moves. And so it's time for you to go into private sector to get that part of your, career and your learning established. And so as part of that conversation, I, you know, if, if any of you know who Ann Richards was when she said something, you know,

Ellen McGirt Yes.

Jessica Helfand /laughs.

and so moved rather quickly to identify opportunities, in the private sector and ended up moving over to really start to understand what that means and what it looks like. And I ended up working for Citibank, and really just went straight to the heart of it into a bank to understand how money works and money moves. And then slowly from there made my way to Mastercard.

Ellen McGirt So let's pick it up there, because that's where I have seen you shine. And with all props to your designer wife and her amazing friends, I have seen you work a room from a stage, you know, dressed like the most glorious flower I've ever seen, these bright colors and bring a room, to abs- of powerful people to absolute silence as you tell the story. And Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth is a great annual summit. I watched it last year. I was lucky enough to be in the room this year and to discover it's your 10th anniversary, and you told a story of how it came to be that absolutely was thrilling, and I was hoping you could recreate that here today.

Shamina Singh First of all, Ellen, it was just wonderful having you at the summit, and I appreciate you coming because it does make a difference being in the room. I mean, we were fortunate that we had about 10,000 people tuning in around the world, from around the world, to the incredible content and, and the substance of the conversations. But as you rightly point out, being- the-the energy in that room where when you have about, you know, the room is pretty intimate, about 250 people in the room itself. But then there's a whole, a whole world that's happening outside of the room. Every conversation is going to be valuable, and there's going to be value add. But that came that that type of we're able to create that type of energy and create that type of, partnership and impact. Because we've spent ten years, really in the trenches trying to understand what an inclusive economy actually means, actually looks like and where our intervention will make the most sense. And so ten years ago, the, the CEO at the time, Ajay Banga, who is now the president of the World Bank, had a vision for what we call now doing well by doing good, meaning the health of our company actually is intrinsically and very clearly tied to the health of the world's economy. And so, for a company like Mastercard, where what we do as a daily occurrence over and over and over again to the tune of billions of transactions on the network, is we basically help, buyers and sellers exchange goods, in a trusted fashion. And they may not know each other from completely different parts of the world. So this network that's in over 210 markets, the data and the analysis that's happened during these transactions ensures that, you know, Mastercard has a network around the world that can also be delivering really powerful force for good initiatives around the world. And that's kind of where we started, was how do we leverage the assets of Mastercard in a way that really does serve people and the planet?

Jessica Helfand This idea of what's inclusive and what's, maybe marginalized in our own understanding of what the public needs and wants makes me think of this wonderful, rally cry you had when you were at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, where you talked about kicking ass for the working class.

Ellen McGirt /laugh.

Okay, like I want to bring that back. I want t shirts. I want bumper stickers.

Ellen McGirt We need swag.

Jessica Helfand I-we're going to bring in your designer wife. We're going to make this whole marketing campaign happen. But I wonder if you could talk- when I think about the, the things you're talking about in terms of what's inclusive, I know that you're also, represent what's sustainable, that you're certainly you're part of your remit, I think at Mastercard involves thinking about sustainability. Could you talk a little bit about how you actually maintain this work and keep it keep it suspended, keep it sustained for all of us?

Shamina Singh Look, I'm all for bringing back the kicking ass for the working class, but I have to attribute that to SEIU, which is the union I worked for, largest, public sector health care union, in North America. And so, it's actually kind of a funny story because, when I was working in-after I, completed the campaign for Ann Richards in Texas, I actually ended up working for her, daughter and son-in-law, who were leaders in the SEIU infrastructure, and, so while I was at LBJ, my classmates would joke that during our spring breaks and the December holidays and things like that, I would be, you know, off organizing workers and protesting and risk, you know, getting arrested while, you know, they were have their noses stuck in and policy books. But the important thing about that story is that, I, you know, although I had come from very, modest means growing up in southern Virginia, when you're on the frontlines with nursing home workers and you're working with, care aides and-and mostly women who are trying to balance, you know, their children with work, with transportation, with bill paying, with groceries. It's only then that I at least got a really true sense of what this work actually means and what it means to real people every day. And-and that has been the, element that is threaded through all of the work, that started at-at at SEIU. But this notion, as we talked about earlier, about economic growth, inclusive economic growth. What I learned from working at SEIU and on subsequent political campaigns is that people usually know what they need.

Ellen McGirt Yes.

Shamina Singh And you know, how to manage their money and how to make decisions about- because they're balancing decisions all day, every day. What they need help is they actually need the income. They need the the space to make decisions. And that's why we focus so closely on economic growth. What is- because, there's an inherent, you know, obviously an inherent trust, no judgment zone that, we have in partnership with many of the organizations that we work with, where we understand that our role is really to enable, productivity, enable people to reach their full potential. But how that also connects to sustainability, there's a very strong connection between sustainability, a la climate engagement and climate action and income management and economic development. And so at the Center and at Mastercard, we made the conscious decision that five years ago to keep these two things together. And so what that looks like here is we have programs related to what we call inclusive climate action, where we look at the intersection between, climate and economic health. We have a a wonderful partnership that we have with the Earthshot Prize, which is, a fantastic organization doing amazing work around climate change. And our job there is not that we're necessarily the climate, experts that that come in, because that's not necessarily where Mastercard's, expertise, is. But we bring financial inclusion and economic development to all of the businesses that they're supporting, because any climate business has to also have the basics of economic growth and small business expertise. And so our job in that space is to enable climate businesses to succeed in a climate economy and a digital economy.

Ellen McGirt Let's let's learn more about your model. I'm fascinated to learn more about it. And I and I think that will- my follow up question is going to be what have you learned about successfully partnering with organizations different from yourself? And I think that your model will answer that question.

Shamina Singh We spend a lot of time, thinking about traditional CSR and corporate philanthropy and, but as somebody who comes from a space of, of action and activism, there's often a mismatch or sort of a disconnect between public and private and social that I think, gets lost in translation because there's this notion that public sector people do this and private sector people do this, and social sector people do this, and the roles are so different and the sectors are so different and never the-the three shall me. Well, I mean, I don't have to tell you all this, but I mean, I don't think of myself and I don't think people think of themselves as public, private, or social sector people. I think that they they think of themselves as parents or mothers or employees or workers, and they don't have the benefit of separating that, and neither do we. And so I think that the model that we built is really understanding that the interconnection between public, private, and social sector is actually where the work happens and where, you can have exponential growth. That's what we opened our minds to and open the model to, to say: Let's get the right answer and then work backwards into what sectors that those belong in. But it's this idea of, well, as the designers would say, I guess human centric design around, impact and, and corporate engagement. The model we created is, one that focuses on networks, this notion that networks power the modern economy, and your proximity to these networks determines your space, your success, or your failure in a modern economy. And what do I mean by that? It's as simple as, you know, an electricity network, you know, like the closer you are to an-a to broadband or the closer you are to electricity, or the closer you are to a social network, like how many of us need that letter of recommendation or that call to say: Hey, this person might be good for this job, things like that. Those are all networks. Some are more tacit than others. But this idea that, at the center for Inclusive Growth, we break down the barriers to the financial services networks that people need in order to succeed financially in a digital economy.

Jessica Helfand It's so interesting to me that you mentioned human centered design, because I think embedded in, sort of everything you say is this deeply humane perspective on the people you're serving through these enormous, complicated initiatives. And I wonder, given that focus and given your own, experience doing this, how does, the the advent of AI impact the work you are doing and are going to do?

Shamina Singh It's a-it's an important question, and it's the question that everybody's asking. And it's one of the reasons, frankly, that I think that your podcast and this work that you all are doing is so important because one of the speakers I don't know, Ellen, if you remember, from the summit was, Manu Chopra, who he started an organization called Karya, which is an organization in India that is basically, working with women in India, farmers in India, to ensure that the language learning models that are being created for use by AI algorithms include languages from India, languages that may not necessarily be, you know, English or Spanish or mainstream languages that have been included in these language learning models. But the interesting thing about what he's doing there, he's using the power of the global ecosystem to say, I know right now that there's the competitive advantage to creating these language learning models. So instead of, you know, living close to these te-tech companies and saying: Pay me to build your language learning model, what he's saying is: Pay these women, pay these organizations to build your language learning models and then provide them residuals so that every time that language learning model is used, they get a royalty. That is revolutionary in terms of, how we're thinking about AI, but that's a design decision. What Manu said at the conference was design for desire, design to understand that everybody wants to go to the movies, everybody wants to take their kids, you know, on a trip. Everybody wants to feed their families. So how are we creating systems, especially with AI, that allow us to design for desire and that kind of out of the box thinking, is one — how AI was created in the first place, but two— will at least help us ensure that at the beginning of this technology, or at least where we are in this stage of technology, let's give the incentives, let's provide incentives for a race to the top to ensure that those that may have the least at least benefit some, if not the most, at the beginning. And I think that's what this conversation around AI and design is so important because it involves this idea of like places like the Center for Inclusive Growth, places like the conversation, like you had a couple of weeks ago with Robin Hood. You know, and so many other organizations who are trying to take the steps right now to ensure that, AI is built, at least with some equity intention at the core. And I think those are the types of things that we need to do a lot more of, if we're going to ensure that this, this particular technology works for us, not against us.

Ellen McGirt Yes.

Jessica Helfand Shamina, we know you have the AI challenge coming up. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Shamina Singh Yes. You know, we've we've talked so much about ensuring that data and technology work for us, not against us. And and we're trying to align incentives to create a race to the top. So this upcoming AI challenge that we launched, in early June, we're hoping that people will go on the Mastercard Center dot org website and become a part of it. We have recruited the most amazing judges to be part of this conversation. Again, not necessarily the judges that one would think of as, the big tech, you know, pioneers. But we have people who are thinking about responsible tech, like, Navrina Singh who started Credo AI, we have people who have been on the front lines of the policy around data, like Dr Alondra Nelson, who is going to be a judge. We have funders who have become part of this, movement who are thinking about where are they going to fund, like Vilas Dhar from the McGovern Foundation. We have Anna Makanju who is coming in, to to talk from OpenAI. So we have this amazing group of people who are coming together to help work with, organizations, businesses, private sector, public sector, who want to engage around AI for impact through this AI for impact challenge. So please, I encourage people to go to the Mastercard center dot org website, have a look at the AI work, have a look at the AI challenge, and either get involved there or, join us in some other way.

Ellen McGirt I'm here with Kwasi Mitchell, Deloitte's chief purpose and DEI officer and good friend and sponsor of today's episode. Good to see you, Kwasi. Thank you for joining us.

Kwasi Mitchell It's good to be here, Ellen.

Ellen McGirt And we're spending this entire season thinking about what it means to redesign these systems. Any data to support the fact that DEI efforts are still important to the C-suite? Because I know there's a lot of conversation out there about that.

Kwasi Mitchell Ample conversation, and in particular, when you look at recent surveys that we've done and sponsored as an organization, we continue to find that over 90% of organizations are continuing to commit to DEI because they believe that is good for their business. It is a ample request and desire from talent coming into the organization, and ultimately leads to a diverse workforce that is truly innovative and nimble.

Ellen McGirt Very excited about this, but what do you tell people who aren't sure where to start? And you know, specifically when they're not coming from a position of power within the organization?

Kwasi Mitchell First, we'd like to start and dismantle the different aspects of what is a position of power within an organization to drive equity, right? I mean, and fundamentally, we all have to lead from where we stand. And there's individual decisions that we're making on a daily basis that drive equitable outcomes within our sphere of influence. Now, typically, we talk about having somewhat of a three pronged approach, you know: thinking, acting and connecting and using seven distinct practices that range everything from observing what's occurring all the way through, looking in, addressing the challenge, accepting one's individual roles, and ultimately forming the connections to drive action. So those are the items that we really start to help change that notion of driving equity is something that the C-suite does in comparison to anyone else within the organization, from from where their realm of responsibilities exist.

Ellen McGirt Kwasi, thank you so much for being here today.

Kwasi Mitchell Thank you Ellen. It's been a pleasure.

Ellen McGirt Could we circle back to the networking piece again? Because I wanted to dig into it a little bit more. The first time I saw an inkling of what you just shared so succinctly was years ago, when I was studying extreme poverty. Before I started the race and equity and leadership life, I spent five years really self-funding a look at why-why does extreme poverty continue to exist? And it was really a remarkable experience. But I was following an organization called water dot org who had a point of view. You can continue to spend money and drill wells, put your name on it and feel good about it. Or you can recognize that there's a water system adjacent to these impoverished people, and you can build you can build the relationships required, including microloans, but also probably political, to plug people into an existing system that can benefit them. That was why I was able to receive your model so profoundly. It's like I've seen something like that, I understand it. So can we talk about the work that has to happen to do that? Because I think that's where an organization of your size and your skill is really helpful, because in that public private stuff, there's a lot of messy conversations that people don't often like to have. Sometimes political, sometimes it has to do with cultural norms that vary from place to place. What have you learned about navigating that messy middle that connects people to a network that they need?

Shamina Singh I think that one of the ways that we have, helped, you know, enabled these types of partnerships is by recognizing, one — that we are not an expert in things we're not an expert in. So being a little bit humble to understand that, you know, there's some lived experience that we don't understand. And so we have to be humble and deferential to, those that know better and know differently, but also embracing what we do know and embracing the assets we can bring to the conversation around data and data analytics, building that evidence base, understanding the things related to safety, security, transactions, regulation, those are all really important tools that we can bring because we sit in a place like Mastercard, but it only works if we're able to work with other complementary assets, right. So the idea here is can we bring complementary assets to the table, in a way that benefits the most people the fastest. And one of the areas that I've seen this happen more recently, besides the summit, is I also happen to serve on the President's Export Council. So it is the advisory body that advises President Biden on issues related to trade, which is you wouldn't think that issues related to trade, and then you're going all the way down to financial inclusion and everything else, like how are these two things related? But they're incredibly connected. You know, you you heard Secretary Raimondo at the at the Inclusive Growth Summit, you know, drawing some of these connections that say, you know, if I'm on a, sitting at a table with, in this instance, the, you know, the prime minister from Thailand and, you know, the representative from Fedex is sitting there and the representative from, you know, United Airlines is sitting there and the representative from, you know, so forth and so on — and then you have government representatives sitting there. You get to have a really interesting conversation about: Hey, here's what I have, here's what I have, here's what I have, here's what I have. How do we all put those things together? But that kind of conversation only happens if you have the willingness, and you have the ability to be a little bit humble, to remember why you're there in service of people who are not sitting at the table. And then to recognize your power to say, actually do have the credibility and the authority to move some resources in this way, and then to always be asking the question of: Who's not in the room, or what are we not asking? And that's how you get to this really fundamental design question about and the innovation question about how-what aren't we thinking about? There's got to be a, you know, a different way to deliver this resource or deliver the solution. And with all the technology in the world now, what haven't we thought about? And that's where I feel like the artists, the innovators, the re-designers, as you all call them, the, you know, the interior designers, the architects, like it has to be a conversation that happens at that level. If we're ever going to get to a place where we really do eradicate, extreme poverty, Ellen, that, you know, an area that you have worked so hard on.

Jessica Helfand It's so interesting to me to try and even imagine the scale by which you are operating all over the world, all the time,

Ellen McGirt It is incredible.

Jessica Helfand 24 hours a day.

Ellen McGirt Incredible.

Jessica Helfand But I wonder if I could ask you about two ways your-your pies seem to be sliced, not-not business terminology, nor is that design terminology.

Ellen McGirt /laughs

Jessica Helfand I'm trying to understand! And it really comes down to me to these these two initiatives that you call the Strive initiatives, one, the Mastercard Strive initiative, which seems to me to be about working really globally. I mean, more businesses in Africa, Latin America, Asia, the Caribbean, I mean really very much outside what we tend to think of in Western culture as this, this world, which is a much bigger world than any of us inhabit, as you rightly point out. And the other, really focused on women, the idea that you, launched the Strive Women initiative. I think at the end of last year, I'd like you to talk about either, both, the nomenclature that the idea of striving, how that language came into effect and how they're, how they're going for you.

Shamina Singh You can't have a conversation with anybody and not talk about the importance of small business and small businessperson. Well, the thing that, you know, we recognized at the center is that, you know, what is it that's within our purview to, intervene with, you know, with small businesses? And again, what's the humilit? We have to know what we can't, intervene on. And it's a three step model. We start with insights, we go to impact, and then we include influence. And so we were building the evidence base for how we were going to do this work, recognizing that small business is a really big- it's a it's a really big area to to think about, so how are we going to slice the piece of the pie that we could, you know, take a chunk, and actually make a difference. And so building that evidence base, we realized that there was a what we call a missing middle. There was a, a group of small businesses that were either too large to apply for what we call microfinance loans, or they were they-they'd finished using their own personal credit card to run their business and, you know, maybe ask some friends and family, but they weren't big enough or had the credit or the collateral to pull down a loan from a bank. So there was this missing middle of small businesses that were falling through the cracks, many of which were women, are women. And, so we decided to set a course to say, you know, we think that there is this subsegment of small business owners, entrepreneurs called strivers, and these are strivers who they if they're successful, they catalyze growth above and they catalyze growth below. And if we can help build that bridge to get them over that hump and into the next, into the next set of funding, then we might be able to lift up, a set of small business owners and a set of small businesses that will propel growth. You know, once we sort of did the research and, you know, identified that area, we kind of moved into this notion of impact. Okay, so where do we make our investments that, again, at this point where Mastercard can actually make a difference? And there are three things that it doesn't matter if you're a business in Africa or Iceland or Austria, there are three things that every small business needs in order to succeed that Mastercard is uniquely able to provide: One is they have to go digital, and remember, this is pre-COVID. So we identified that they had to go digital, they had to have access to capital and markets. And they had to have access to money. Those three things were areas where Mastercard is really good and could leverage that in a way to build a global Strive program. And that's what we've done. Now, and that looks like, I think, you know, Mastercard made a commitment to bringing 50 million small businesses into the formal economy. We're 48 million, we have 48 million as of 2023 that we've brought in, 25 million of which are women owned or women led. But the thing that I say is, don't get trapped in the numbers. The the reach is really interesting. And we could talk about the billion people on financial inclusion that we brought in, you know, the 50 million the 100 mil- keep on going, because there's 100 million businesses on the Mastercard network. But the interesting thing is, when you dig a little bit deeper and understand, again, from this design perspective of what a women small business owners need that might be unique to women. And not surprisingly, access to credit and collateral is harder for women, especially in developing markets, because they don't have ownership over assets. And if you're trying to get a loan or if you're if you're a banker and you're trying to give a loan, the first thing you do is you either say, what's your credit score? And if you don't have a credit score, because remember, much of the world does not operate with credit scores. Credit scores are a new thing around the world. Then what do you have? You have proxy for credit score. So our intervention with partners like CARE and other organizations was to say, how do we redefine credit scores so that women can qualify for credit? And again, not everybody can do that. But because we are Mastercard and we have partnerships with banks and microfinance institutions and CDFIs and credit unions, that's our-that's the business we're in, we could work with our partners to say, for example, in Pakistan and in India, would you recognize gold as an asset? Because in Indian and in Pakistan, women have this is their asset, when they get married, when they have kids, gold is the thing that they have. And so working with our banking partners, we started to create these proxies, for credit score, which allowed, women to be lent, that they allowed lending to women. These small- these are not like, again, these are not like million dollar loans. This is like, let's try $250. And we started seeing like in some of, in many of the businesses, 20% year on year revenue growth for, these small businesses. Pay back rates, 99%, 100% pay back rates. So again, applying a little bit of your design mindset to the notion of lending and small business owners and trying to just break it down into bite sized chunks,— How do we help them go digital? How do we help them get access to lending? How do we help expand their networks and their knowhow? Those three things have, you know, at least for us, shifted the shape of how we do this work around the world.

Ellen McGirt So as you were talking, it occurred to me I hadn't quite thought about this as much as how how much of an opportunity Mastercard as a company provides. And it's a big company, and, you know, you you have to navigate internal stakeholders and new partners all the time as you're bringing on new new people and new innovators and new product sectors. What have you learned about making sure that everyone's on board around this central purpose? Because it feels like as much as you're working in a humble and wonderful way with external partners, keeping those internal relationships, alive and aligned is a big part of your job.

Shamina Singh Absolutely Ellen,it's a great question. And it's true. I mean, look, you know, well, first of all, the largest shareholder that Mastercard has is the Mastercard Foundation. A lot of people don't know that. But when Mastercard went public as a company, it created the Mastercard Foundation, and-with 11% of it's stock. And so the Mastercard Foundation has $40 billion now that they are focused on, using in Africa. When I started at Mastercard, we were about 5,000 people. Now we're 30, 35,000 people. And because it's so strong in the DNA, this notion of doing well by doing good, that success for our company depends on the success of a global economy and people having, the ability to, purchase and transact in, in real time, means that the lens through which we, do our work, we call it a financial inclusion lens, but it's really about an inclusive mindset and inclusive growth mindset. And that's what the company and people at the company really bring to the equation. It's not a mistake that the current CEO, Michael Miebach, actually his-for one of his first jobs at Mastercard, was running the business in Africa. And so his whole business case was financial inclusion. He had to build the infa- the financial infrastructure, of the continent in order for him to be successful as the head of that region. He then became the chief product officer for Mastercard. So he took that knowledge, and then he brought it to the product set. And, and now he's the CEO. And so these things, you know, they may seem like they happened by chance, but I think they happen by choice. And that's because the board understands the executives of the company understand that we've created something like the Center for Inclusive Growth. And so it really does, it is something that- and we tie it to compensation. And so we do have our compensation on financial inclusion is one of the metrics along with, with our gender and our net zero commitment that actually is tied to every, every, employee. It's tied to compensation too.

Ellen McGirt So when you tell a story, ten years ago, where South African women, heads of households walking three days to pick up a cash voucher and, you know, and there's leakage and they don't get all the cash, and then they have to get home and then their husband or partner's waiting for them. And then how they deploy that money. And when you bring that story to Mastercard, they see these- it- what you're saying is that it's it's a little bit by design. They see those women as customers to be served and they have at their fingertips product ideas, digital technologies that can then make sure that-that those remits are, are, are sent to their phone safely.

Shamina Singh Yeah, absolutely. I mean, look it's and that was when I first joined Mastercard, you know, whatever 11, 12 years ago I joined in the business. The my first job at Mastercard was to digitize social subsidy programs, because what we understood then was what we were seeking to understand was the the competition for Mastercard as a company in the world may or may not be, you know, Visa or Amex. The competition has really been cash. Because cash, if you're a woman or if you're anybody who is receiving a social subsidy and you have to receive your subsidy in cash, by the time it gets to you, on average, 33, or between 33 and 35% of it is taken by some middlemen, whether legally or illegally, there's just leakage and corruption that happens throughout that process. And so my first project was working in South Africa to digitize that social subsidy system, and in doing the research came to understand that, you know, women and families would literally have to walk 3 to 5 days and then camp for three days to get their social subsidy. And, you know, the government would send the cash trucks and they'd set up the organizations and they'd go line by line, and person by person, writing these things out. This still happens, by the way, today. This is not a this is not a foregone conclusion, but by ensuring that women got bank accounts or people got bank accounts who were eligible for these subsidies, and then the money going straight from, you know, the governments bank into their bank account. They had the money instantaneously and most of the time on their phone, or in a card, and they could immediately go and use that money at a grocery store or do whatever else they could.

Jessica Helfand What comes to mind for me, I- many years ago, I spent some time in India, and I got very interested in, this organization called SEWA, the Self-employed Women's Association, right. And so what this just quickly, what this organization did, it seemed to me, was take these women who were, citizens in their villages where the value that they had was really commensurate with whatever the community believed they could do, which involved no education, which involved, you know, waiting for their husbands to come home and make all the money. And over time, the value in the family, for example, if a woman's father was a farmer and she needed to go to school, learn math, they would teach her how to count seedlings. And she became someone who understood mathematical principles through the governance of her own very valued particular commodity in her village, in her family. And over time, this became a self-reinforcing principle. And now this has been around since 1972. They have stores where they sell their clothes, and the majority of the purchase place purchase price goes back to these families and these women in their villages. Which comes back to this question I have for you: How beyond the modernization and the digitization and the neutralization of these micro economies against a larger world, are you able to understand and negotiate and represent and support these very particular cultures who have very different, in some cases, value systems from the Western capitalistic mainstream?

Shamina Singh Yeah, I think it's again, just a fantastic question. And I think it's an embedded design challenge, right. Like whether it's seedlings or AI, the principle is the same. So it's, you know, digitization, but it's also any kind of work that you're doing, the principle is the same, which is you have to rely I think you rely on the experts, right. We're not the experts in this situation. So for us we have- SEWA is a great organization, we-we work with the we work with them in India. But the organizations that are closest and the people that are closest to the, to the potential problem are also the ones closest to the potential solution. And I think that, again, it's the the work that we do is we're enabling and learning and iterating. So I talked about three principles we use around the model, which is, you know: insights, impact, influence, —which is, you know, build your evidence base, invest in some programs, and then share the learnings and the knowledge globally. The way we do our programmatic work is we test, iterate, and scale. And so, everything you describe, by the way, is just as much as is in Brooklyn and the Bronx and White Plains and Texas as it is in Andhra Pradesh, you know, Uttar Pradesh, and, you know, and South Africa. So these are all things that are happening at different levels, certainly, but it's the same principle and the same idea of design, which is defer to the-defer to the experts and build build solutions, that matter for them. That is one of my other mentors and my inspirations, a woman named Chetna Sinha who started Mann Deshi Bank, which is a doorstep banking organization in India, says, always says, beseeches: Do not build poor products for poor people. And you combine that with Manu's, you know, advice which is,

Jessica Helfand Mhm beautiful.

Shamina Singh Design for desire.

Jessica Helfand So beautiful.

Shamina Singh So just because they're living there and just because it's seedlings and not, you know, cinema, the point is, everybody has desire. Everybody has ambition. Everybody has productivity, and everybody has potential. And so, appealing to that, understanding that there are cultural norms as you so uprightly point out, Jessica. But as we deliver programs as-as we partner, if we're doing it with humility, if we're listening as we go, if we iterate, then our ability to scale, in a way that is respectful of people and program, but also impactful and not extractive is, is increased exponentially.

Jessica Helfand That's a beautiful answer. Thank you for that Shamina.

Ellen McGirt I just want to go back to your your personal origin. I read Make Trouble, the book that Cecile Richards wrote. And, I read all of her work at the at the the organizing work, the SEIU organizing work. I didn't realize that was you. I have to go back and reread it because it was intense. And I'm curious about how, you know, how, a young girl, a queer girl growing up in an immigrant family in southern Virginia, ends up walking around Texas talking people into organizing for themselves, and then just and then and then marches on in the extraordinary way that you have. Because I feel like we could have lost you to a million, industries along the way. But we got very lucky that you, that you, that you stuck with it because this work is really hard.

Shamina Singh It is hard. And I'm so glad, that you brought up Cecile's name. Because Cecile is all of this. I have been,

Ellen McGirt Yes.

Shamina Singh Her supporter, her fan, her student, for my entire career. So I only have been able to do this because I have learned from the best.

Ellen McGirt Aww.

Shamina Singh And Cecile is the best. She and I work together. We've worked together since our mother's campaign, and we're still very dear friends. But any of these questions, if you ask her. She is such, values based, morally driven leader that is unafraid and unimpeachable in her standards and her ability to do the work that's required. And then always think outside of the box. And so I think if you look at Make Trouble, and you look at her career, it goes back to our theory of the case, and my origin story, which is networks power the modern economy. I had proximity to greatness with Ann Richards and Cecile Richards. Why? Because I did something really uncomfortable, which is — I left my comfort zone to move to Texas to work on a campaign. So I think being uncomfortable, discomfort is part of the part of the equation. Like, I think this work doesn't happen unless you experience some pain, some suffering, and some discomfort. My parents came from India and they left everything they knew to come to the United States because they wanted their kids — you know, again, they left one network to come to another network to get proximity to resources so that their kids network could be even stronger. And so all I've been doing is, I've been benefiting from what my parents have done, but have been so fortunate and so lucky to place myself or be fortunate to be around people who have an ability to extend their networks. Had Cecile and Governor Richards and other people, Ajay Banga, Mastercard, had they not open up their networks to people like me, then I couldn't realize some of my potential. And so now it's incumbent upon all of us to say, how am I opening up my network to ensure that other people can get access to the things that we have? I mean, just think about if we just extend our networks, whatever they are, extend our goodwill, extend a handshake, extend a phone call, extend— you know, those are the things that in isolation may not sound like much, but they are the things that when you add up, they create things like the Mastercard network. I just think that this power of networks and my own origin story, I'm an incredible beneficiary of of people like Cecile and her mom.

Ellen McGirt Shamina, thank you so much.

Jessica Helfand Thank you so much. What a wonderful, wonderful conversation.

Shamina Singh Thank you all so much.

Jessica Helfand So, Ellen, as we reflect on this extraordinary conversation with this extraordinary woman, here's the thing that jumped out at me. You used the word in our introduction— power. Power. This is really kind of tricky word. It makes people feel excluded. It makes people feel dominated and makes people feel misunderstood. And this is someone who understands that from power comes humility. And humility and power together really leads us to a very different place a place of listening, a place of understanding, and a place of, I think, growth by making and building something new with people not on top of them, and coming from someone who is a powerhouse in her own right and an executive at Mastercard, I find that incredibly inspiring.

Ellen McGirt I do too. And speaking of power, and not to get- move right to the bottom line here, I was really shocked and amazed to discover that the Mastercard Foundation has $40 billion under management. It was Ajay Banga who was the CEO at the time when Mastercard went public, he created the Mastercard Foundation and funneled actual shareholder value known as cash, over to the foundation. So when you think about everything that we just said: Star power, humility, listening, the ability to bring people from a variety of sectors together to design with, not for, and to come up with actual ideas. She brought us real use cases for A.I. that I could actually understand.

Jessica Helfand Yes. You know, I think designers who listen to this podcast will feel, affirmed in the fact that she's someone who really embraces the best principles of design, not the kind of logistical emphasis, not the, jargon. But really, I think maybe this goes back to her labor organizing roots. Maybe this goes back to being the child of immigrants herself. Maybe this goes back to the fact that she's just a lovely person with a beautiful character who, not for nothing, has a great sense of humor and that sense of style. I mean, she is just she's fired up to do what she calls, you know, how to get the job done. And it's not one job. It's not one job. It's a lot of jobs.

Ellen McGirt Yeah. She makes you believe. That's rare in a leader. She really makes you believe.

Jessica Helfand My favorite moment of the whole show. You know what that music means.

Ellen McGirt /Laughs. It's big swinging, small wins time.

Jessica Helfand What do you have this week for us?

Ellen McGirt You brought it to us. You observed something on our website that got my attention for a big swing. It's a huge and truly global gathering. And by the way, I've stopped calling things global, unless a country in Africa is invited to the party.

Jessica Helfand /laughs.

Ellen McGirt But it's being described as a pivotal gathering of the minds across sectors, which we just learned about to address the some of the world's most pressing problems: Extreme climate, mass migrations, housing shortages, waste pollutions, deforestation, all of that, and redesigning traditional approaches with an eye to sustainability. I love it. The What's Around Design conference theme is designing nature and humanity centered futures. It's in early October in Portugal. If you want to contribute, you can you can still shoot your shot to get on that podium. Check out our Design Observer dot com website and our shownotes for more information.

Jessica Helfand I just want to add one tiny little thing to that, which is that if you haven't been to Portugal and you need an excuse, you shouldn't need an excuse, it is one of the great best kept secrets of Europe. The people are lovely, the weather's incredible, the food is out of this world. It's affordable. And the people putting this thing together really sound like, you know, they're deeply, committed to this humanist enterprise that surrounds and attends all things related to design and other disciplines. But, man, going to any chance to go to Portugal. Seize the moment. Carpe diem. Carpe the Portugal.

Ellen McGirt I'll take it, I'll take it. It does sound wonderful. And it sounds perfectly on point for our episode.

Jessica Helfand And what do you have for our small wins?

Ellen McGirt It's a small but mighty one. Our very own video editor, Daniel Paese, is a film festival winner. He recently won Best Documentary for his wonderful short film Spots: A Way of Seeing at the Transparent Film Festival in New York City. It's a wonderful reverie on how skateboarders see and interact with the built world. We'll put the link in the show notes, but you can check them out at Daniel Paese, spelled D-A-N-I-E-L P-A-E-S-E dot com.

Jessica Helfand What a talented young man. And what a delight that he's being recognized for his exceptional work. That's terrific. Thank you for sharing that.

Ellen McGirt The man's got vision. And that's all for today. We're going to see you back here in two weeks with another re-designer who is observing equity while transforming their community, their field and our world. Bye everyone.

Ellen McGirt The Design of Business | The Business of Design is a podcast from Design Observer.

Jessica Helfand Our show is written and produced by Alexis Haut. Theme music is by Warner Meadows. Justin D Wright of Seaplane Armada mixed and mastered this episode. Our thanks to Adina Karp and to Focus Forward Podcast Studio in Providence for production support. And I'm going to add a little shout out to another Paese, Rachel Paese, who is your daughter, Ellen, and who, in a pinch came to me in my hour of need.

Ellen McGirt /Laugh.

Jessica Helfand My exhibit in New York is about to close. I'm working with an amazing designer, Clinton Van Arnam, who just got his MFA at RISD. We're thanking him. We're thanking, Rachel, these two young, talented, lovely people just jumped in the deep end and helped make a website for this body of work.

Ellen McGirt And I'll tell you, it's really great to have that work and research out in the world. Please head to the service society dot com to get an in-depth look in what art and history can do when combined to tell a story about a better world. And for more long form content about the people redesigning our world, please consider subscribing to our newsletters, Equity Observer and the Observatory at Design Observer dot com.

Ellen McGirt The Design of Business | The Business of Design is produced by Design Observers editorial team. The views and opinions expressed by podcasts, speakers and guests are solely their own and do not reflect the opinions of Deloitte or its personnel, nor does Deloitte advocate or endorse any individuals or entities featured on the podcasts.


Posted in: Design of Business | Business of Design




Jessica Helfand, Ellen McGirt Jessica Helfand, a founding editor of Design Observer, is an award-winning graphic designer and writer. A former contributing editor and columnist for Print, Eye and Communications Arts magazine, she is a member of Alliance Graphique Internationale and a recent laureate of the Art Director’s Hall of Fame. Jessica received both her BA and MFA from Yale University where she has taught since 1994. In 2013, she won the AIGA medal.

Jessica Helfand, Ellen McGirt Ellen McGirt is an author, podcaster, speaker, community builder, and award-winning business journalist. She is the editor-in-chief of Design Observer, a media company that has maintained the same clear vision for more than two decades: to expand the definition of design in service of a better world. Ellen established the inclusive leadership beat at Fortune in 2016 with raceAhead, an award-winning newsletter on race, culture, and business. The Fortune, Time, Money, and Fast Company alumna has published over twenty magazine cover stories throughout her twenty-year career, exploring the people and ideas changing business for good. Ask her about fly fishing if you get the chance.

Jobs | July 21