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Preparing Cities for a More Sustainable Future

Partnering with the Global Reporting Initiative to drive positive economic and social impact

The United Nations projects that a third of the world’s population will live in urban areas with at least a half million inhabitants by 2030. By 2050, more than 70% will live in cities. That exploding density makes it more important than ever that our cities are built sustainably.

“Sustainability” today means ensuring everyday decisions and activities made by people, governments and businesses have positive economic and social impacts. For the 93% of the world’s 250 largest corporations that partner with Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), it requires organizing around business practices that are both sound and ethical. They call for enabling commerce, driving financial inclusion, giving back to the environment and maintaining a strong business model.

Addressing critical sustainability issues such as climate change, human rights, governance and social well-being is necessary to create a stable, growing economy. It leads to better jobs, more access to clean water, greater gender equality, reduced environmental damage and less child and forced labor, according to GRI. Sustainability efforts also help government leaders reduce costs, gain efficiencies and fight fraud and corruption, while they advance social progress in their communities. To get there, private and public organizations must work together to ensure access to the global financial system, allowing everyone, everywhere the opportunity to achieve financial security.

The concept is gaining proponents. Last October, more than 500 people – plus another 2,000 live-stream viewers – attended the first

The concept is gaining proponents. Last October, more than 500 people – plus another 2,000 live-stream viewers – attended the first first Global Inclusive Growth Summit. The summit, cosponsored by the Aspen Institute and Mastercard’s Center for Inclusive Growth, brought together more than 50 purpose-driven leaders from various sectors. The goal was to catalyze partnerships and shine a spotlight on innovative, data-driven, scalable and commercially sustainable solutions to some of the world’s most intractable problems.

More than $70 million was committed to support inclusive growth programs, including Mastercard’s own pledge of $26 million toward the creation of the Aspen Partnership for an Inclusive Economy. That partnership will combine the ideas, talents and resources of the public, private and nonprofit sectors to address income and information inequality through the lens of sustainable, inclusive growth.

It’s already happening. Mastercard, for example, in accordance with GRI reporting principals, last month released its third Corporate Sustainability Report, along with a commitment to bring a billion people into the formal economy by 2025. That includes adding 50 million small and micro merchants and helping 25 million women-owned and -run businesses access the tools they need to succeed and grow. In July, the company announced a new sustainability collaboration with Microsoft using AI to accelerate digital commerce, empower fintech innovation and improve financial inclusivity.

Thousands of companies are responding to the global pandemic with policies adhering to sustainability principles designed to help their employees, customers and communities — regardless of who or were they are — recover quickly. Many new programs target marginalized and underserved communities, which have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Just Capital, an organization that believes business can and must be a greater force for good, and that markets must be part of the solution, created the COVID-19 Response Tracker. It assesses how America’s 301 largest employers are treating stakeholders during this unprecedented time.

As a company organized around ethical business practices guided by a clear and sustainable purpose, Mastercard committed $250 million in financial, technology, product and insight assets over the next five years to support the financial security and vitality of small businesses and their workers as part of a sustainable recovery effort. The company coordinated with partners, including UberEats, iFood and Lyft, to provide meals and essential services for frontline workers and vulnerable communities, while also helping small businesses navigate the crisis. It also handed out $10 million in emergency grants to support frontline workers.

A program in Los Angeles that gave the city’s neediest residents pre-paid and fee-free debit cards, instead of paper checks, made distributing money to the unbanked as frictionless as possible. The Angeleno Campaign provided debit cards to residents with incomes below the federal poverty line before the pandemic and to those who had their hours or incomes cut by at least 50%. The campaign has been so successful it’s being expanded to 10 additional cities. The Open Society Foundation offered a $750,000 grant to build necessary infrastructure and Mastercard is providing resources and expertise.

Inclusive growth creates an economy in which all boats rise. It’s a key feature of sustainability, and one that especially impacts cities. To build a more inclusive digital economy, cities need help driving growth and connecting residents to stable jobs so they can reach financial independence. That includes providing workers with the tools they need to thrive in a rapidly changing landscape.

Mastercard leveraged its research, philanthropic capital, technology, data insights and network to create programs that increase access to education, health care, supply chains, commerce and more. For example, replacing paper-based assistance with electronic payments allows governments to achieve significant cost savings. Contactless payments make transit systems easier, faster and more convenient for passengers. The company collaborates with governments, as well as multilateral development and financial institutions, nonprofit organizations, universities, think tanks and colleagues across the private sector to identify issues and develop solutions.

City Possible, launched in 2018, is one of its key initiatives. It brings cities, companies and communities together to identify challenges and develop solutions that advance sustainable urban development. In 2019, the network grew to more than 40 cities, helping them streamline public transit and increase access to city services.

Its components include:

  • City Key, which helps economically disadvantaged people take the first steps toward financial literacy. “Keys” can be programmed with many different functions, including official identification, access to city services and a way to conduct digital transactions. The initial pilot launched last year in San José, California. Insights gleaned from the pilot will be used to explore additional uses, including faster distribution of social benefits and improved access to broadband and other digital services.
  • Inclusive Growth Score and Toolkit, a suite of tools that allows community leaders to steer impact investment dollars to locally-led economic development initiatives and unlock the potential of underserved neighborhoods. The Inclusive Growth Score is an interactive online map that provides evidence-based insights into social and economic growth in underserved communities across the U.S. at the census-tract level. The maps are based on timely and highly granular economic and location data and calculate an Inclusive Growth Score using both proprietary and open source data. The higher the score, the more likely growth is trending in an inclusive direction.

Globally, Community Commerce provides underbanked or unbanked individuals with a secure “bank account on a card” to receive and send funds or store cash, even without a mobile phone or internet access. In 2019, the newly launched pilot program far exceeded targets, registering more than 100,000 consumers and 500 merchants. During the pilot, more than 87% of consumers deposited money onto their cards, in addition to cashing out and making payments to merchants. Mastercard and partner Letshego Group plan to extend Community Commerce to 10 other sub-Saharan African countries.

Another ecosystem, Inclusive Identity, acts as a digital identity for individuals who lack basic paper identification, such as a birth certificate or passport. The system allows individuals to prove their identities using biometric hashing and artificial intelligence technology and can be used even without mobile broadband coverage and offers frictionless enrollment.

Wellness Pass is a platform for digitizing paper-based immunization records via a secure chip card developed by Mastercard and the Global Vaccine Alliance. It’s also an application that enables record portability and accurate treatment, even in offline health centers. It includes electronic notifications, so service providers can help more children stay current with their immunizations, and governments can work toward disease eradication.

Mastercard is leveraging several other partnerships to help cities advance inclusion, mobility and equity.

  • One with PolicyLink and researchers at the Brookings Institution is using data-driven network analytics to help local leaders in 500 metro areas better understand their regions’ unique strengths. The tool informs strategies for attracting the right industries to foster growth and good jobs. The Center for Inclusive Growth also partnered with PolicyLink on a report analyzing regional trends in the manufacturing sector and advanced industries and assessing the quality of service sector jobs for those living at or below 200% of the poverty level. Both tools help leaders better understand how national labor market trends are playing out at the local level so they can tailor solutions to help lower-income workers and their families become more economically secure and upwardly mobile.
  • A collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation pledged to help improve the health and economic mobility of at least five million people in five years through a jointly-awarded $7.5 million gift to Benefits Data Trust. The Trust streamlines access to food, healthcare, housing and other essential benefits for low-income people in the United States. The Trust will deliver at least $2.5 billion in benefits through a combination of digital products, machine learning, policy, research and new partnerships.
  • A million dollar grant allowed Accelerator for America to build prospectuses for 50-plus cities to foster inclusive growth. The organization, led by an advisory council comprised of mayors, labor leaders, corporate CEOs and non-profit executives from across the country, used data science to present a timely view of the economic activity happening in underserved neighborhoods and determine unmet needs of the communities

Focusing on sustainability allows local leaders to identify and manage risks, as well as create new opportunities to help set residents and businesses up for success. Ultimately, the goal is to protect the environment and improve society by creating more sustainable communities. But it can’t be left solely to governments. Remapping how our cities work will require the private sector to step up. Sustainability raises the bar for stakeholder engagement and improved governance, delivering short-term gains.

It also builds stakeholder trust and helps cement an organization’s reputation as one that acts as a positive force for change well into the future.

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