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McCANN POLAND AND MASTERCARD: DIGITAL GRAND PRIX

Mark Tungate 2024-01-24

Using data to solve a refugee crisis. As more than 1.5 million Ukrainians poured into Poland, McCann and Mastercard helped to avert chaos with a digital innovation.

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Europe hadn’t seen anything like it for more than 80 years. A mass migration of refugees, pouring across the Polish border from Ukraine as they scrambled to escape the Russian invasion. Some Polish people felt alarmed, others helpless. And many others wanted to help.

Among the latter was McCann Poland, which quickly began working with the network’s long-term client Mastercard. The result was “Where To Settle”, a digital platform eventually used by more than 20 per cent of the refugees, which enabled thousands of them to start new lives. By using data to direct them to smaller cities where they were more likely to find homes and jobs, it avoided turning Warsaw and other large agglomerations into giant refugee camps.

McCann Poland Managing Director and Executive Creative Director Marcin Sosiński recalls the atmosphere in Poland at the start of the invasion. “There was a massive movement among Polish citizens. They used their own cars to pick up refugees at the border, they welcomed them into their homes. So we knew we needed to do something.”

He points out that Mastercard and McCann employees in Poland invited people from the companies’ Ukraine office to stay in their homes. “Everyone wanted to get involved. This idea came from our collaboration with Mastercard, and previous projects we’d worked on involving data. After collaborating with Mastercard for such a long time, we don’t need a specific brief. We always know that we want to position Mastercard as a company that uses technology creatively, rather than one that just provides credit cards. We acted in accordance with Mastercard’s ‘data for good’ mission.”

The solution was to use everyday transaction data to identify the easiest places for refugees to find homes and jobs. Account Supervisor Anna Sokołowska says: “The data gave an estimate the cost of living in each place, based on the average spending there.” The figures included transport costs, the price of groceries, the typical size of families and other factors. “It showed how much the refugees would need to earn in order to live in those specific places.”

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All the data Mastercard uses is aggregated and anonymous, so there were no privacy issues. Similarly, the tool did not track the identity of the refugees or where they decided to settle.

Incredibly, the first version of the platform took only five weeks to develop. “It’s really crazy – and I’m very grateful to everyone who worked on the project. Kudos to all those who were manually coding to get this done in record time,” says Marcin. “We wanted to come up with a working tool as quickly as possible, to help the refuges relocate, then as time went on we added layers.”

How did it work concretely? Surely not all the refugees had a smartphone? “Honestly, we didn’t find that to be a problem,” says Marcin. Smartphones, even in their most basic form, are ubiquitous today. “There was also a website version, so getting access to the app wasn’t an issue.”

Anna adds: “All the communication was in Polish, Ukrainian and English from the very beginning, so we were prepared. And we were working with NGOs that were supporting Ukrainians, which helped us to spread the news about the tool.”

The app was an indisputable success, preventing a logjam of refugees in big cities by spreading the settlers evenly and giving them a fresh chance, away from violence. “While an obvious city like Warsaw might have become overcrowded, with rents rising and competition for jobs, which causes tension, there were smaller towns that positively welcomed refugees, because there were jobs to be done and positions to be filled,” says Marcin.

Now Mastercard and the agency want to “escalate”, expanding the platform to other countries that have a high influx of refugees.


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Marcin says: “What I like very much about this work is that we aimed to change the perception of refugees and make people realise that they are not a threat. They are useful to every economy. It’s a conversation we should all be having, especially as refugees are often used as ‘weapon’ by right wing parties to spread fear. If you enable refugees to settle in places where they are needed, the overall perception becomes positive.”



We aimed to change the perception of refugees and make people realise that they are not a threat.
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