Hunger Hero and MasterCard CEO: ‘Business can be a force for good’

The World Food Programme has honoured Ajay Banga, President and CEO of MasterCard, with the “Hunger Hero Award”, an annual recognition of a partner who has made outstanding contributions towards Zero Hunger. Banga accepted the award during the World Food Programme’s annual dinner at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on 17 January.

CEO of Mastercard Ajay Banga (R) collects the Hunger Hero Award from WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin. Photo: Mastercard

Over the past five years under Banga’s leadership, MasterCard and the World Food Programme (WFP) have worked together on some important programmes, such as delivering electronic payments for refugees in Jordan and Lebanon. With the power of technology to unlock innovation in food assistance delivery, this partnership has brought fresh ideas to WFP operations while also raising much-needed funds.

Upon accepting the Hunger Hero Award, Ajay Banga told us more about MasterCard’s social philosophy and what partnering with WFP means to his organization.

1. How long have you been CEO of MasterCard? What achievements are you most proud of?

I have been CEO and president of MasterCard for nearly seven years and what they say is true — time really does fly when you are having fun! One of my proudest achievements in my time as CEO is moving our business to a more social enterprise, ensuring we are doing well as well as doing good. We have done this by embedding a focus on inclusion into everything we do. We are leveraging our technology, data, insights and our people to make it happen, which makes it sustainable in the long term.

2. Do you think it is important for companies to support social causes?

Social causes and issues are not just the responsibility of governments, aid agencies, NGOs and charitable organizations; I believe there is a clear role for the private sector to play in addressing some of the issues facing the world.

When the private and public sector come together through partnership, both parties are able to leverage their strengths. At MasterCard we have global technology that can be used in new ways to innovate and include data and insights that can help inform and educate, and a whole organization of talented people who are motivated to come to work every day to help make a difference.

MasterCard helped WFP strengthen its cash-based transfers, which allow refugees to buy food with money transferred onto an e-card. Pictured: a WFP employee explains the system to a refugee family in Lebanon. Photo: WFP/Bryan Denton

3. Why does MasterCard get involved in social causes?

MasterCard has a clear legacy of understanding and seeking to address the connection between social factors and success. Ten years ago, when MasterCard became a publicly traded company, we created the MasterCard Foundation, dedicating 10 percent of our stock to this newly created force for good. A decade on and that 10 percent is worth US$12 billion, which in turn enables the MasterCard Foundation to have a real impact in society.

I believe we have a responsibility to drive success for our business and to do good in the countries, societies and environments in which we operate. As I look forward, one of the key goals for MasterCard continues to be the displacement of cash, which I believe is beneficial for society and the economy for so many reasons. By doing this we also include people in the formal economy and provide them with the tools to participate in the digital economy, showing that business can do well and be a force for good in society.

WFP’s electronic voucher programme in Lebanon, in partnership with MasterCard, allows Syrian refugees to meet their food needs and helps boost the local economy. Photo: WFP/Dina El Kassaby

4. There are a lot of worthy causes that need support. What attracted MasterCard to the goal of Zero Hunger and to the World Food Programme?

The idea of Zero Hunger is an amazing goal and I hope it is something we will achieve soon. I am incredibly proud that the partnership we have built with WFP over the last five years has already had a profound impact on how we address the issues of the hungry poor around the world. Through working with and listening to WFP, we have understood that in many cases it is not lack of food that is the biggest challenge, but instead, when people are displaced by disaster, war or crisis, they don’t have the means to feed themselves.

Together with WFP, we are looking to build the technology and activate our partner network so we don’t just fill people’s short-term need to feed themselves, but also work towards the longer term goal of including them in society, giving them dignity and freedom from prejudice.

5. What other causes does MasterCard support?

MasterCard partners with organizations of all sizes around the world. For us it is more about the vision of building an inclusive society where financial, digital and gender inclusion are the norm. Alongside that we want to drive inclusive growth, understanding the challenges faced by different countries or societies, and look at how technology and data can solve them.

A great example of this is the platform we have just launched in East Africa called 2KUZE, which means “let’s grow together” in Swahili. Through this new platform we have connected smallholder farmers, agents and banks, enabling farmers to buy, sell and receive payments for agricultural goods through their phones. The platform takes an existing problem and delivers a simple solution that brings security and mobile commerce to farmers in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania — a smart solution for Africa built in our African laboratories.

Photo: WFP/Dina El Kassaby

6. What would you say to someone who believes that the goals of the private sector are not compatible with those of humanitarian organizations?

It’s an interesting question. In its simplest form the goals of the private and public sector don’t match as one is not for profit and the other is clearly for profit. However, I do believe that the business world is changing and that there is a much greater understanding of the opportunity we have to leverage private and public partnership for the betterment of the world around us.

We are already seeing the benefits of this way of thinking; one of them is attracting and retaining great talent. We know that the next generation is much more socially aware and socially minded than the generation before, and how we behave in business is also going to impact our reputation and the people we attract. Humanitarian organizations have an important job to do. My business is different but what is important is that there are ways we can leverage private and public for the development of society — and that has to be a good thing.

7. WFP presents the Hunger Hero Award at its annual dinner in Davos to show appreciation to partners who have shown significant commitment to the fight to end world hunger. What does receiving this year’s award mean to you?

I am honoured to have collected the Hunger Hero Award. This award recognises the efforts of everyone at MasterCard and is representative of a new type of thinking that is transforming how the private sector can participate in humanitarian efforts. At MasterCard we believe that those efforts begin with the belief that business can be a force for good in the world and that the public and private sector partner we can be transformative, doing great things that make a meaningful difference.

WFP would like to thank Ajay Banga and MasterCard for their commitment toward Zero Hunger.

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Insight by The World Food Programme

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The United Nations World Food Programme works towards a world of Zero Hunger.

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