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Identity is Everything: Creating a Digital ID Future


In the developing world, where over 2 billion people are without an official ID. Throughout South Asia, nearly 630,000 people remain unregistered. Sub-Saharan Africa is a close second where nearly 438,000 are unregistered. Only 56.7 percent of births were registered in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2015. In South Asia, 65.6 percent of births were registered.

Without identification, many in the developing world cannot access services vital to robust economic and political lives, such as bank accounts. In fact, nearly 40 percent of the world’s adult population lacks a bank account. Without a bank account, individuals can face incredible obstacles in accessing financial services that alleviate household stress, especially during lean months. And during one of the more politically vibrant years across the developing world, many cannot  cast a ballot without an ID.

In Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, the high cost of identification, political realities on the ground, the logistics of identifying enormous populations in low-resource environments, competing subsets of data and instability make it difficult for countries to issue complete identification. As a result, they depend on paper-based identification that serves as ID for a specific sub segment purpose, such as voter registration. And while some pieces of paper registry or data might exist for people, like a partial birth registry or school enrollment, the data set is not sufficient to provide an indisputable identity.

Digital identity can solve this problem. Digital identity, or “digital ID” can store the uniquely identifiable information of an entity in a computerized system. That entity can be a person, organization or a product. In the case of a person, a digital ID can be personal and biometric information, such as fingerprints or an iris or face scan. This information is held on a central database, which may or may not be government operated, or housed on block chain technology to ensure security. The biometric data can either overlay or take the place of an absent paper ID system.

If every country had a robust ID system in place, organizations such as UNHCR could deliver cash assistance products directly to specific refugees. Governments could pay salaries and benefits without a middle man taking a slice of the payments, as was the case in Afghanistan. Women and girls at the bottom of the pyramid could receive crucial services, such as healthcare and education.

In the drive to eradicate poverty, provision of identity might seem trivial, but identity underpins the effective delivery of goods and services, like food or cash assistance, used to eradicate poverty. Digital identity offers an unprecedented opportunity to level the playing field for each unique person on this planet.


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