Mastercard’s Big Data For Good Initiative: Data Philanthropy On The Front Lines

Interview by Randy Bean of Shamina Singh: Much has been written about big data initiatives and the efforts of market leaders to derive critical business insights faster. Less has been written about initiatives by some of these same firms to apply big data and analytics to a different set of issues, which are not solely focused on revenue growth or bottom line profitability. While the focus of most writing has been on the use of data for competitive advantage, a small set of companies has been undertaking, with much less fanfare, a range of initiatives designed to ensure that data can be applied not just for corporate good, but also for social good.

One such firm is Mastercard, which describes itself as a technology company in the payments industry, which connects buyers and sellers in 210 countries and territories across the globe. In 2013 Mastercard launched the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, which operates as an independent subsidiary of Mastercard and is focused on the application of data to a range of issues for social benefit….

In testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs on May 4, 2017, Mastercard Vice Chairman Walt Macnee, who serves as the Chairman of the Center for Inclusive Growth, addressed issues of private sector engagement. Macnee noted, “The private sector and public sector can each serve as a force for good independently; however when the public and private sectors work together, they unlock the potential to achieve even more.” Macnee further commented, “We will continue to leverage our technology, data, and know-how in an effort to solve many of the world’s most pressing problems. It is the right thing to do, and it is also good for business.”…

Central to the mission of the Mastercard Center is the notion of “data philanthropy”. This term encompasses notions of data collaboration and data sharing and is at the heart of the initiatives that the Center is undertaking. The three cornerstones on the Center’s mandate are:

  • Sharing Data Insights– This is achieved through the concept of “data grants”, which entails granting access to proprietary insights in support of social initiatives in a way that fully protects consumer privacy.
  • Data Knowledge – The Mastercard Center undertakes collaborations with not-for-profit and governmental organizations on a range of initiatives. One such effort was in collaboration with the Obama White House’s Data-Driven Justice Initiative, by which data was used to help advance criminal justice reform. This initiative was then able, through the use of insights provided by Mastercard, to demonstrate the impact crime has on merchant locations and local job opportunities in Baltimore.
  • Leveraging Expertise – Similarly, the Mastercard Center has collaborated with private organizations such as DataKind, which undertakes data science initiatives for social good.Just this past month, the Mastercard Center released initial findings from its Data Exploration: Neighborhood Crime and Local Business initiative. This effort was focused on ways in which Mastercard’s proprietary insights could be combined with public data on commercial robberies to help understand the potential relationships between criminal activity and business closings. A preliminary analysis showed a spike in commercial robberies followed by an increase in bar and nightclub closings. These analyses help community and business leaders understand factors that can impact business success.Late last year, Ms. Singh issued A Call to Action on Data Philanthropy, in which she challenges her industry peers to look at ways in which they can make a difference — “I urge colleagues at other companies to review their data assets to see how they may be leveraged for the benefit of society.” She concludes, “the sheer abundance of data available today offers an unprecedented opportunity to transform the world for good.”….(More)