Who's Giving Serious Money to Bolster Africa’s Next Generation of Tech Leaders?

The MasterCard Foundation has been upping its funding game in Africa for a while now. It wasn’t that long ago that the foundation introduced its $50 million Fund for Rural Prosperity, which aims to move up to 1 million of Africa’s rural poor out of the poverty cycle by improving their access to financial products and services.

Shortly after that announcement, the foundation awarded a $15 million grant to Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, or AGRA to support its continued work extending access to financial services and support for smallholder farmers in Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania. 

Related: The MasterCard Foundation Continues to Up its Funding Game in Africa

At the end of last year, The MasterCard Foundation once again showed its support for Africa’s rural poor by partnering up with the agribusiness project development outfit AgDevCo to launch the Smallholder Development Unit. Based in Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia, the Smallholder Development Unit seeks to increase farmers' productivity by providing training, implementing mobile technology solutions, and brokering long-term purchase contracts with reliable agribusinesses.

Smallholder farmers and the rural poor aren’t the only populations in which the MasterCard Foundation is interested in helping. Its Scholars Program is helping “economically disadvantaged but academically talented young people” gain access to quality secondary and university educations. The program, which is currently focused on young people living in sub-Saharan Africa, recently gained a new partner in Carnegie Mellon University.

The MasterCard Foundation committed $10.8 million to the new partnership, which will be established at Carnegie Mellon’s College of Engineering in Kigali, Rwanda. The program is expected to benefit 125 students from sub-Saharan Africa and help further the university’s continued efforts to grow Africa’s workforce in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector. According to the foundation’s press release, Carnegie Mellon’s graduates play a “strategic role in Africa’s trajectory,leveraging ICT to digitally leapfrog socio-economic development across the continent.”  The program is set to begin in fall 2016 and run until 2023.

Headquartered in Toronto, Ontario, the MasterCard Foundation—which is a completely separate entity from its namesake, MasterCard WorldWide—wants to see “a world where everyone has the opportunity to learn and prosper,” and with its assets holding pretty steady at around $8 billion, this funder has some seriously deep pockets to achieve those ends. And as far as its focus on Africa goes, when you break it down by the numbers, it makes a ton of sense.

According to the most recent WorldBank data, over 40 percent of people in sub-Saharan Africa live on less than $1.90 per day. And while those poverty numbers have been decreasing over the past decade or so, economic security and economic growth has not necessarily been equal across all African countries. Another matter of which the MasterCard Foundation is keenly aware is the continent’s youth bulge. According to the foundation “Africa is home to approximately 600 million people under the age of 25.”

A growing number of funders, including the MasterCard Foundation are realizing the importance of getting ahead of the curve here. Not only are these funders recognizing the economic and global security implications of having millions of disenfranchised and unemployed, but they are also recognizing their potential.

When speaking of the foundation’s latest commitment to Carnegie Mellon, The MasterCard Foundation president and CEO, Reeta Roy said, “Investment in STEM education is pivotal to Africa’s future and will ensure that African nations have the opportunity to identify, develop and deploy their wealth of talent.”

The MasterCard Foundation, which just celebrated 10 years of working in Africa, has reportedly helped more than 9 million people across the continent through its work in the fields of improving access to education, skills training, and boosting access to financial services.