MasterCard teams with Gates Foundation on Kenyan financial services project

19th International AIDS Conference Convenes In Washington
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 23: Co-founder and co-chairman of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and chairman and former chief executive of Microsoft, Bill Gates listens during a panel discussion of the 19th International AIDS Conference July 23, 2012 in Washington, DC. The International AIDS Conference, the world's largest one, is held in the U.S. for the first time sine 1990. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Photography by Alex Wong — Getty Images

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is giving $11 million to back a new MasterCard banking program aimed at providing credit and other services in East Africa, where cash is king.

The initiative, announced Wednesday, will give a wider range of financial services to residents of Kenya and surrounding countries along with funding local start-ups. Those financial services range from credit to prepaid and debit cards.

MasterCard (MA) says the grant from the Gates Foundation lets the credit card company gain access to a “new markets that may otherwise be commercially unviable” and offer residents options for digital payments.

“Through the investment made by the Gates Foundation, coupled with our strong innovation processes, MasterCard will create and scale financial services that open up a world of inclusion and help people build better, brighter futures,” MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga said in a statement.

The grant from the Gates Foundation, which also comes with an additional $8 million to be set aside to fund local business startups that reach the incubation stage, is intended to fund the first three years of the project. After three years, MasterCard will take over funding the Nairobi- based initiative.

Daniel Monehin, MasterCard’s division president for Sub-Saharan Africa, told Fortune that Kenya’s burgeoning tech industry makes the area a natural fit for the MasterCard project, which aims to provide support — and, eventually, funding — to “local innovators” in East Africa. Monehin notes that, despite the country’s recent economic growth, there are still plenty of residents who require access to a wider range of financial services.

“The general idea is that a rising tide will lift all boats,” Monehin says. “But, we’re seeing that [there is] a rising tide, yes, but not all boats are being lifted.”

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