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Blog post: Financial Inclusion in the ‘other Africa’

Recently, MasterCard hosted a regional workshop in Dakar, Senegal to promote innovation in the prepaid sphere and provide a platform for over 150 attendees to exchange ideas and share experiences. The workshop culminated in a competition inviting delegates to design the best prepaid program for their markets; MasterCard will support the top five winners as they kick start their programs in their markets.

It is particularly important to mention that the workshop was conducted in partnership with GIM-UEMOA, the interbank card switching and clearing service of the West African Economic and Monetary Union. GIM-UEMOA is an entity that is majority owned by the Central Bank in the WAMU (West African Monetary Union) region, and the Central Bank welcomed the workshop as a key opportunity to further the financial inclusion dialogue in the region. MasterCard is leveraging our expertise and technology to help Central Banks across the region obtain the banking scale needed to drive economies and get the unbanked and underserved included in the financial mainstream.

So, why did we pick Senegal as the host country?

By hosting the event in Dakar, where the head offices of the Central Bank of West African countries are located, we shone a light on a part of the world that is frequently overlooked, especially when we talk about financial inclusion in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region. Many times, conversations about Africa tend to be focused on select (though undoubtedly promising) markets. But this happens at the risk of overlooking the enormous potential that lies in the WAMU region. This region consists of eight countries (Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Benin, Togo, Mali, Niger, Guinea Bissau and Burkina Faso) that are working toward greater regional integration. When we look at these countries on their own, we may struggle to see how they fit into the big picture of the continent. However, when we look at all these countries as one, unified region, with a population of over 90 million people, it is easy to imagine how much untapped potential exists here.

And this is where we see large corporates – such as MasterCard – fit in. To unlock the growth potential of these markets we need to better understand what the region’s needs are, and develop solutions that address these needs. Financial inclusion programs and initiatives are not a one-size-fits-all solution and need to be tailored to meet the specific needs of citizens in different countries and regions. In the case of the WAMU region, with its relative lack of infrastructure, innovation will need to be driven by the respective market needs to impact the broader communities and support the financially underserved. The key to successful financial inclusion here is to provide relevant, highly-convenient and low cost services that empower citizens to participate in the economy and ultimately have a tangible and long-term impact on their lives. With that in mind, prepaid products emerge as the perfect gateway to financial inclusion, bridging the gap between the formal financial services sector and underserved and unbanked communities across the world.

With 2.5 billion people around the world still lacking access to basic financial services, our journey to a financially inclusive world has just begun. Our event in Dakar serves as reminder that we need to take a hands on approach in markets across Africa – and across the world – to collectively address these issues as an industry and ensure a more inclusive future for all.