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Photo: Leigh Amaro

Leigh Amaro ‘00

Senior Vice President, Enterprise Partnerships, Mastercard

Leigh Amaro, born in New Zealand, moved to Vancouver, Canada at age three. Growing up, she often visited family in New Zealand. When she was applying to colleges, she was looking for a program where she would be exposed to diverse cultures and have the opportunity to learn about international companies.

She visited the ILR School the summer of her junior year of high school and fell in love with it. She describes the winters here as a “shock to the system,” but “part of the experience.”

After graduation, she moved to San Francisco, where she worked for Visa. Over the course of 10 years, she moved up in the company. She then moved to TruAxis, a loyalty-based start-up in Silicon Valley and over to roles within Mastercard, upon Mastercards’ acquisition of TruAxis.

In her current role with Mastercard, she is working on a diverse set of enterprise partnerships including projects focused on financial inclusion, urban mobility, remittances and healthcare. “Only 47% of women worldwide have access to formal financial services (e.g. bank account), compared to 51% of men. In Africa, this number decreases to 22% of women” Amaro said. Amaro continued with sharing how “research shows that once a person has a formal identity and access to electronic payments, poverty reduces and prosperity grows”.

Amaro orchestrated with Western Union, bKash (funded by the Gates Foundation) a ground breaking service for Bangladeshis to receive international remittances immediately to their phone 24/7 within minutes. Before this program, rural women often had to travel very long distances to a branch or send a friend, frequently never successfully receiving the funds. Now due to this partnership all Bangladeshis have to do is flip open their feature phone, push a few digits and they have the funds instantly. 

Amaro also has a number of enterprise partnerships underway in urban transportation. Her team sees innovation in mass transit as key to helping those living in poverty in the U.S. and around the world. “In many cities, people are paying as much as 50% of their income on housing + transportation”, Amaro shared, “therefore partnerships between players such as public transit operators, private sector companies (Uber, LYFT) and data analytics providers, can reduce inefficiencies and improve the system for all. Across all the innovative spaces, financial inclusion, transportation, healthcare, remittances, you start at the bottom of the pyramid, never from the top. Build the right foundation through these enterprise partnerships and the sky is truly the limit”.

Amaro said she applies the skills she developed at ILR every day. She said, “professors took an interest in students and made sure we absorbed what they taught us. They are industry experts who are passionate about their work.”

Through class discussions and debates, she gained the confidence needed to express her viewpoints, while listening to others.

Cornell ILR gave her a global perspective which has supported her international work. She utilizes her negotiating skills when forming partnerships with organizations throughout the world.

Looking back on her ILR years, she credits ILR’s Office of Career Services with helping her launch a successful career and describes ILR as “such a remarkable school” and a “warm, welcoming, tight-knit community.”

When Amaro is not working, she is focused on her family. She spends time with her husband, daughter and son enjoying California, travelling home to Canada and New Zealand and exploring new areas of the world together.  “My kids have my travel bug”, Amaro shared.

Amaro is excited to have entered a phase in her career where she can give back to ILR by sharing her expertise and through gifts to the ILR Annual Fund.