Financial inclusion is driving better access to health and education across Middle East and Africa, according to a new white paper from Mastercard.

The study, Financial Inclusion+ – Connecting People to Finance, Health, and Education, explores how health, education, digital, and financial inclusion are all intertwined to unlock greater prosperity and wellbeing for communities across the region.

It reveals that access to finance, healthcare, and education has become even more of a challenge over the past two years, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, as a result of movement restrictions and lockdowns. This has placed a greater need for digitally delivered financial inclusion; and for using this as a platform to distribute health and education services to the masses.

Mastercard is playing a leading role in addressing financial inclusion, with a previous goal to bring 500 million excluded individuals into the digital economy – a goal that was achieved in 2020 – and then raised during the height of the pandemic with a new pledge to include 500 million more – making a total of one billion people by 2025.

“It is our belief that we can enhance financial and digital inclusion using a multi-stakeholder approach that brings together governments, financial institutions, regulators, mobile network operators, equipment manufacturers, and education and health service providers united by a common purpose. This, we believe, will also drive increasing inclusion in the health and education spaces,” said Umar Hashmi, Vice President, Global Product and Engineering, Mastercard.

According to the Mastercard survey on which the white paper is based, 83% of respondents across the region say they own a smartphone, with Jordan being the highest (89%) and Morocco lowest (75%). Over 41% say they acquired a new smart device in 2020-2021, as more health and education services were forced online due to the pandemic – 56% say they are connected digitally to an education service provider.

Just over half (55%) say they use digital mediums to make financial transactions, and 43% say they are connected digitally to a health service provider, with Kenya and Nigeria coming in at 55% and Iraq at 11%.

Digital transformation is a cure for marginalized healthcare provision

A 2021 report revealed there are 130 mobile-enabled insurance services in 28 countries, with over half offering coverage for life and funeral or health and hospitalization. In 2020, 43 million policies were issued, 29 million of which were related to life and health insurance.

Mastercard is one of the stakeholders in this space in Sub-Saharan Africa, working on delivering a reinsurance solution with a partner. The reinsurance would mean that customers can recover some of their hospitalization costs with cash insurance.

Telehealth is another major enabler of health inclusion. A ‘voice-plus-text’ WhatsApp-based service, by which high-quality medical consultation can be made available to everyone, is already a possibility being explored by Mastercard for all its cardholders in key markets.

Finding the answers for education through digitalization

The Mastercard MEA Inclusion Survey 2021 reveals that people connected digitally to healthcare providers use their devices to pay for services; set appointments; get vaccination updates; get/manage/pay for health insurance; manage medical reports; and track and report symptoms, in that order of usage from most to least.

Similarly, those connected to education providers use their devices to attend live classes; interact with teachers and students; access recorded lectures; manage study schedules; pay for services; and access progress reports, in that order of usage.

Education includes skilling and upskilling of young adults. In South Africa, Mastercard has partnered with Junior Achievement South Africa to empower women by supporting entrepreneurship. This initiative is focused on empowering unemployed or self-employed young women between the ages of 18 and 35 to pursue entrepreneurial ventures of their own by training them. The nine-year partnership with JA South Africa has helped more than 3,000 girls and young women gain entrepreneurial skills, start new businesses, and create new jobs.

In collaboration with Mercy Corps in Jordan, Mastercard’s Center for Inclusive Growth launched the Arabic platform of Micromentor, which offers free online global mentorship and digital education tools to 3,500 entrepreneurs in Jordan.

The white paper concludes that inclusion into the financial mainstream, which also promotes access to effective health and education services, can only be enhanced by the fundamental or infrastructural availability of digitalization and digital devices that can access the online world.

Read the full white paper: Financial Inclusion+ – Connecting People to Finance, Health, and Education