Stakeholder Capitalism

Here's how to make stakeholder capitalism a reality

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By incorporating basic human decency, businesses can make stakeholder capitalism a reality. Image: AbsolutVision/Unsplash

Ajay S. Banga
President, World Bank Group
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Better Business

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Decency can help a business can define their role in society and make stakeholder capitalism a reality.
  • Inclusivity includes a diversity of thought among employees and partners.
  • For capitalism to benefit all stakeholders, companies must continue to innovate.
  • Businesses must work to earn stakeholders' trust.

I believe it’s possible to have an economic engine that works for all stakeholders: governments, people, businesses and the planet. The World Economic Forum has established the vision, the UN has set the goals. Corporate leaders – myself included – have made a commitment. Together, we’ve charted a course to make stakeholder capitalism a reality.

But belief is not enough to get us there. Signatures, goals and conversations are only a starting point. For companies to fundamentally change the way we think about our purpose, demonstrate that we take our responsibility to society seriously and have real, positive impact, we have to do. And how we do is just as important as what we do.

Getting the “how” right requires something very basic: decency.

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Decency is the foundation for the relationships that drive innovation, urgency and enterprise-wide thinking and behaviors. It sets the stage for the listening, open-mindedness and diversity of thought that make us inclusive collaborators. And it helps build trust, the bedrock on which everything else is based. We have to know that we’re all working with helping hands at each other’s backs – and not in each other’s faces.

Don’t mistake me: business is not philanthropy. It can’t be. We have to make our margins, be competitive on price, drive profit and grow. That’s capitalism, plain and simple. For too long, a narrow definition of capitalism has pitted corporate profit against social purpose, relegating decency’s role in a company to a “nice-to-have.” But, when we dare to broaden our focus, we can see that purpose and profit are intertwined – and that decency is the connective tissue.

Yes, companies and nations survive on people making and spending money. But, when we bring our basic human decency to the forefront of our work, it’s easier to see that giving people a lift, expanding the middle class, helping them thrive and grow will also do the same for you. And reaching out to partners and combining strengths often results in a total impact greater than what any one party could have achieved on their own.

At Mastercard, decency underpins our sustainability as a company because it helps us see clearly that doing the right thing for society leads to the right outcomes for our business. And with that, it becomes easier to define our role in society and make stakeholder capitalism a reality. We use our network and technology to drive financial inclusion, digital empowerment and, ultimately, inclusive growth because decency is our guide.

Here’s what decency in action looks like for Mastercard.


Inclusivity makes stakeholder capitalism sustainable, both commercially and socially. We strive for diversity of thought among our employees and our partners. That mix of voices helps us see systemic challenges and helps us craft long-term solutions with the widest-reaching benefits.

For example, working with Unilever, we have helped entrepreneurs in Kenya grow their businesses by digitizing what were formerly cash transactions between shopkeepers and their suppliers. Those transactions become a purchase history, which can be used to secure micro-credit through a local bank. In Egypt, we’ve worked with the government to digitize alimony payments, making it faster and safer for divorced women to receive their money. Through these kinds of partnerships, we’re on the cusp of bringing 500 million previously excluded people into the formal economy. We continue to work with Queen Màxima of the Netherlands, UN Secretary General’s representative on financial inclusion, to encourage other companies to forge similar partnerships.


How is the Forum tackling global cybersecurity challenges?


For capitalism to benefit all stakeholders, companies must constantly innovate. But innovating from a place of decency is not just innovating for the sake of innovation. It’s listening, understanding and delivering what people want (smart, fast and seamless transactions) with what they need (inclusivity, choice and control).

This requires partnering with governments, NGOs and businesses that have deep, local understanding of the innovations different populations need. In the Czech Republic, for example, through a “digital country partnership” with the government, Mastercard is helping people move away from cash and enter the financial system, helping this nation of entrepreneurs gain valuable insights into how to expand their businesses. In Sweden, we’re collaborating with the Bank of Åland and fintech Doconomy to give cardholders the ability to track and reduce the carbon footprints of purchases.


The key to all of this is trust. It has to be at the center of what we do and how we work. We have to earn trust every day with every single transaction, solution, tool and initiative.

At Mastercard, earning trust means taking the lead when it comes to data security. We’re partnering with other financial institutions to build safety standards around EMV technology, as well as QR-based payments, contactless and tokens, to ensure people don’t have to trade convenience for security, or vice versa. We are also working to ensure that no one person or link in the security chain is exposed because they don’t have the resources to keep the whole system secure. We’ve partnered with Microsoft and others to create the Cyber Readiness Institute to help small and medium-sized businesses obtain the tools and resources they need to be more resilient and secure.

Mastercard's Global Data Responsibility Imperative
Mastercard is taking the lead on data security. Image: Mastercard

Above all, decency drives us to take a principled approach to how we work with any technology, from AI to our newest resource, data. We recently released our Data Responsibility Principles, which recognize a person’s fundamental right to own and control their data and establishes guardrails for how we act as responsible stewards of that data.

We live in a world where everyone, everywhere has the potential to thrive. Decency is the key to making sure people are able to connect with the opportunities before them. We just have to tap into our basic human decency and let it guide us in our work.

When we do that, the path to stakeholder capitalism becomes very real and very navigable.

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Related topics:
Stakeholder CapitalismForum InstitutionalEconomic GrowthFourth Industrial RevolutionSustainable Development
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