MasterCard has struck a two-pronged global partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP) that will see the pair use digital payments technology to both raise and distribute aid.
Typically associated with dropping bags of grain from helicopters into famine-hit parts of the world, the WFP is seeking to improve how it targets the hungry and distributes aid to them.
The UN food assistance branch helps feed around 100 million people, in dozens of countries around the world, each year. Most of these people either receive food directly or through paper vouchers with which to buy it.
However, around two million people - five per cent of the WFP's recipients - get "digital food"; money delivered electronically that can be used in local stores. This provides greater transparency, security and data for tracking how money is spent, as well as, says Alan Brown, the WFP's head of private partnerships in the UK, making it easier to bring aid to people in countries that are hard to access physically.
This is being seen in war-torn Syria, where vouchers are currently being delivered to women for use at various shops in the country, Nancy Roman, WFP director of communications, told a press conference in London today.
Now, by tapping MasterCard's payment and technology expertise, the WFP plans to rapidly expand this digital project, refining and improving its systems so that in the near future 30% of people it helps get food vouchers via mobile phones or cards even if they do not have regular access to banks.
MasterCard is also helping the WFP create an online donation mechanism that will enable more people to give money. The platform will let retailers offer donations at their checkouts so customers can give without leaving the site. In addition, mobile applications or game developers will be able to offer options to support WFP right from within their app or game.
Brown says that the WFP initially hopes that the platform - set to be ready for use by early next year - will be used by retailers for promotions around specific occasions such as Christmas and World Food Day.
Says Roman: "By drawing on MasterCard's technical know-how and international reach, WFP will further develop both its electronic voucher programme that enables hungry families around the globe to buy nutritious food in local markets as well as its online donation mechanism that engages individuals and brands in a global community working together to solve hunger."
Ann Cairns, president, international, markets, MasterCard, adds: "MasterCard's vision of a world beyond cash is the perfect partner for WFP's vision of a world beyond hunger. Today we have committed to delivering a ground breaking partnership, which will ensure our Digital Food initiative will go on to meet the requirements of those who need it most around the world."