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Digital Inclusion. The Human Right to Have an Identity

Identity and its subsequent digital identity are key to social inclusion and the so-called digital inclusion.

The bad news? There's no "one-size-fits-all" solution.

The good news? Countries can get invaluable expertise from dedicated organizations and best practices gathered from innovative initiatives worldwide.

Let's see now the true meaning of the challenge ahead and how to approach it.

For an illustrated overview of our citizen enrollment and voter registration solutions, visit our web dossier.

Our pledge for inclusion: a legal identity for all

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights outlines all the basic rights to which every person is entitled.

It is an exhaustive list compiled by people from different backgrounds and levels of expertise, but it takes for granted a reality that many don’t have – identity.

Many rights are bestowed on an individual because they are born, but others are difficult to achieve without any form of identification.

In sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, there are millions of people without any form of identity, people who cannot prove who they are.

The result?

They cannot access simple things like education, finance, and phones because they do not have any form of identification.

This has led to a global shift in identity approaches and the value it adds to humanity and society. 

The World Bank #ID4D Global Dataset found that an estimated one billion people cannot prove who they are. This has implications for individuals, society, and country.

  • It limits access to basic services and inhibits their ability to build a financially and socially successful future for the individual.
  • For the country, it means that these people cannot contribute to society, and they will lose out on revenue and growth. 
The implications of ‘providing legal identity for all, including birth registration,’ go beyond individual rights and opportunities: being able to reliably verify the identities of their population is critical for countries to deliver services efficiently, strengthen their ability to raise revenues, and foster growth in the private sector.

World Bank, The global identification challenge: Who are the 1 billion people without proof of identity?

Why is an identity so important to society?

As Jaume Dubois, Identity Systems Specialist at Thales, explains: “In some countries, mainly in Africa and Asia, less than half of the population has been registered to an identity.

These people, this one billion of the world’s population, are effectively invisible. They are unseen by society and the system, and they are more vulnerable. Often, these people are the ones who need the most help, but because they lack identification, they cannot be efficiently addressed by social programs.”

A lack of identity is a risk.

For those who cannot prove their existence, who cannot be missed by system or business, or society, they can easily disappear into the cracks where slavery and abuse continue to thrive.

If they don’t have a legal identity, they don’t ‘exist’: they don’t have a nationality, the state does not protect them, and they don’t gain access to essential services. And women and children remain the most at risk and the most likely to go without. 

For women in low-income countries, closer to one in two do not have an ID. They are effectively ‘invisible’ to providers of services and face a fundamental barrier to meaningful participation in their society and economy.

ID4D, 2019 Annual Report

The keyword here is ‘meaningful.’

The lack of identity is not just a loss in terms of being seen by the system and society. It is an exclusion that prevents people from achieving their full potential.

They cannot be educated, they cannot access healthcare services, and their children inherit this legacy as they’re born outside the system. A circle of identity deprivation collapses ever inwards as people fall further and further out of reach from society. 

“Exclusion doesn’t stop at just access to public services and legal rights,” says Dubois.

“People are deprived of their self-development; they cannot own a business or gain access to banking and telecom services. They cannot get a loan or even a mobile phone subscription. These families are kept in the cycle of poverty, and their children aren’t given a chance to change their destiny.

For example, many children in Senegal and Burkina Faso can’t study beyond primary school.”

How can we plan for digital inclusion?

Overcoming the challenges that face countries and individuals without access to identity isn’t a linear process.

It requires multiple approaches and investments that transform identity from a withheld or unknown entity to an expected part of daily reality.

Organisations like Rays of Hope in South Africa go into areas where a lack of identity is an issue. They put children into the system, one identity document at a time.

Getting a population registered is not an easy task, and there are multiple barriers that face progress and penetration. 

“Developing countries have difficulties in delivering identity documents to their entire populations,” says Dubois. “They also battle with maintaining admin."

But as legal identities move towards digital, this will reduce the costs of establishing and providing identity and open the path to a digital administration that will be more efficient and less expensive.

This is, for example, the aim of the PRODIGY transformation programme in Madagascar.”

Other organisations are doing a lot to help implement digital identification programmes across the world.

The World Bank supports more than 40 countries in their design and development of reliable and trusted digital identity programmes, and already this is showing results.

Jamaica, Nigeria, the Philippines, and Morocco are rolling out foundational ID systems and other essential services to give people more control over their identities and information.

This work is supported in the ten Principles on Identification for Sustainable Development; an initiative put in place by 25 organisations across multiple sectors and countries.

The role of the private sector can be key to support this investment, notably to build the supporting infrastructures but also to take part in the investment in Digital ID systems.,” says Dubois.

“The shift started about ten years ago with India's  move to digital identity, the AADHAAR programme, and since then the development programmes, notably by the World Bank, have been starting to support digital identity transformation in various countries.”

What’s the path ahead?

While there is no hard and fast solution for any one country when it comes to combatting the complexities of identity and inclusion, there are best practices and consistent investment.

The global pandemic highlighted the benefits of digital interactions with populations.

There's more.

It has made the development of the right infrastructures to support digital identities a priority

“This will take years to build the infrastructures, and for now, in parallel, it is required to accelerate identity registration,” concludes Dubois.

“For that to be efficient and agile, no ‘one solution fits all’ approach, but it is required to adapt the implementation to the context and capacities to different groups of the population. Proactive registration is essential, not waiting for people to do it themselves, and working with trusted partners in developing digital identities that leave nobody behind.”