MasterCard’s foundation gives aid to Africa

January 27, 2013

Who: Reeta Roy, president and chief executive of the MasterCard Foundation.

Company affiliation: MasterCard.

Charitable giving highlights: Over the past five years, the foundation gave $830 million to support nearly 5 million people in 49 developing coun tries.

Tell me about the company’s corporate philanthropy.

We were established in 2006 when MasterCard went public. The company took 10 percent of its wealth from the initial public offering at $500 million and created the foundation. Now we are worth $5 billion. We’re not a corporate foundation. They set us up as an independent organization. They wanted it to be global. No one from MasterCard serves on our board. No one from MasterCard is on our management team. We have an independent board that makes decisions on what we fund. We are focused on microfinancing for people at the bottom of the pyramid. The other [philanthropic] area is around youth education and getting young people ready for the world of work. We are global in scope but we have chosen to concentrate on sub-Saharan Africa.

Why was it important to make it a separate organization?

They wanted to create something that would be enduring.

What were the steps to setting up the foundation?

When they set up the foundation in 2006, they established a board by a blue-ribbon panel. They decided to focus on poverty with a focus on microfinance and youth education. The board hired a team to develop the real strategy to go deeper.

How were the areas of focus chosen?

We asked ourselves the question: Where can we have the greatest level of impact? The data was very clear. If you look at Africa, 80 percent of the people are unbanked, have no insurance or access to savings. Sub-Saharan Africa has 600 million people under the age of 30. Then when we looked at education rates, it lagged the rest of the world. The need was great.

Who are the board members?

It’s made up of eight dynamic and engaged leaders. We have people including the former president of Botswana and former vice chairwoman of Colgate.

Describe some of the programs?

We’ve already committed $800 million to projects in Africa. We’re working in 49 regions around the world. We have 74 large-scale projects. One of our very significant partnerships is with BRAC [formerly the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee], on a $45 million partnership to scale microfinance in Uganda. The MasterCard Foundation Scholar’s Program is a $500 million initiative focused on educating young people in secondary and higher education. It’s largely focused on young people in the developing world who would otherwise not have a chance to go to school. It’s about providing mentorship, careers, providing them with internships and making a commitment to give back. This program will run for 10 years.

How is the foundation structured?

We have 40 full-time staff. We have folks here that have deep field experience that have worked in Africa. We have people from nonprofit, development and business. We do a lot of work co-creating proposals for projects with other organizations. That might take six to nine months. We interview the communities who are going to be benefiting directly. Once the proposal is done, we send it out for experts to review. We pay the experts an honorarium. Then we present it to the board for review. Once the project begins, we’re in contact with the partner organization all throughout doing constant evaluations.

What do you look for in a nonprofit partner?

Share values and aligned mission. At the end of the day, this is about trust. We go out to the field and see them in action. We meet the staff. We listen to what others say about the organization.

Which organizations do you partner with in the Washington region?

Ashoka, World Bank, TechnoServe and Save the Children.

Any challenges associated with your giving model?

It’s always a balancing act in deciding the level of depth. It’s not just writing a check. It’s giving a scholarship. It’s about understanding the need. It’s not just covering tuition costs. It’s about the shoes, hygiene products, transportation, mentoring. The challenge is pulling those things together. What’s the scale? Do you go for big numbers or depth and quality?

How do you decide that?

It’s a lot of discussion with partners. We have to look at what we’re trying to do? Are we trying to give them a savings accounts at local banks? Are you trying to put someone through the whole four years of high school? That’s a different process. We always look at quality.

What is one example of the foundation’s work that stands out for you?

A young man I met in Kenya thanked me for this big scholarship program we have there for secondary school. He said, ‘My promise is that when I finish school, I will support someone else like me.’ His name was William. When I met William’s mom, she said, ‘I don’t know who is supporting my son, but whoever is supporting my son is my family.’ Those are the people that inspire me.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

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