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With data on 800 million people globally and a credit bureau that serves 53 per cent of the world’s population, Experian is arguably one of the pioneers of big data.

The launch of its global Social Innovation programme last year represented a call to action to its 17,000 employees worldwide to bid for funding to create pioneering products that improve millions of people’s lives by giving them a financial identity.

This is not some ad hoc sustainability programme, but goes right to the heart of Experian’s business. Many of its 1,000 plus products and services have an inherent social benefit, as well as a commercial value, including 30 which have changed the lives of ten million people by supporting financial inclusion, for example.

The Social Innovation programme has been designed to inspire people to think about how Experian’s capabilities can help to solve a social issue, with a stated objective to help five million more vulnerable people by 2018 through new products.

Staff were provided with real life examples of how Experian products make a difference, while roadshows brought regional teams together in an effort to inspire members to engage with the programme. Experian promised to fund the best commercially viable ideas.

The best ideas were then pitched to a Social Innovation Committee, comprising senior business and executive committee members, in an effort to gain funding to develop these, with the final approval process left to Experian’s chief executive Brian Cassin, underlining the importance of the programme to the business.

In total, 30 proposals for funding were received and 14 ‘big ideas’ proved successful. Experian estimates that 2.6 million people were helped through the Social Innovation Programme in its first year.

Among the successful products to receive funding was a Recovery Portal, an online one stop shop that is free to consumers, and allows them to access their credit records, connect with lenders and renegotiate unmanageable debts. This has proved highly successful in Brazil, where debt repayment is a major issue involving 120 million debt notification letters to 42 million consumers every year. Since the introduction of the Recovery Portal, more than 1.1 million previously unmanageable debts worth more than $1.6 billion have been settled.

And in India, where just 40 per cent of people have bank accounts including, more importantly, only nine per cent of rural communities, a new social innovation product is changing lives. Without access to banking facilities, many are forced to use non-banking channels, which can be expensive and risky. Experian’s Prove-ID, which connects to multiple sources, allows identities to be verified speedily, removing the need for lengthy background checks and inspector visits, and should provide access to state benefits and other financial services, such as credit cards and small business loans.

‘This entry had very clear objectives,’ said the judges. ‘It is a global, long-term programme that has been very well executed.’