Reflecting on GSMA’s Commonwealth Digital Identity Initiative

Lack of identification among women and girls is a major issue across the world because without it they cannot access basic service such as mobile connectivity, education and health. In 2018, in partnership with the World Bank and Caribou Digital, GSMA’s Digital Identity programme launched the Commonwealth Digital Identity Initiative. Through research, partnerships and advocacy assistance, the programme seeks to advance efforts to ensure a digitally-enabled identity is available to every woman and girl in the Commonwealth by 2030.
As the initiative draws to a close, we reflect on the Digital Identity team’s work and some learnings from the last two years.

One of our most in-depth studies to date, Digital Identity Opportunities for Women: Insights from Nigeria, Bangladesh and Rwanda, explores the incentives, challenges, and benefits that women and girls experience, compared to men, when engaging with digital identity systems or services. It also provides an overview of mobile and identity landscapes in the three countries. This study ends with recommendations of how mobile operators, government and organisations, building digital identity solutions, can leverage mobile technology to increase adoption, as well as the use of digital identification and identity-linked services, especially among women and girls.

Through our work, we have learnt the deployment of scalable, mobile-enabled digital identity platforms often depends heavily on a government’s commitment to building digital, secure and verifiable foundational forms of identity.

As policy, regulatory and cultural factors can significantly contribute to the identity gender gap, we conducted a comparative study to see how these factors impact women and girls across 10 Commonwealth countries. Exploring the Gender Gap in Identification: Policy Insights from 10 Countries, identifies the unique barriers women face when accessing and using official identification, and explores government-led initiatives that are in place or can be introduced to address these barriers.

This research has been pivotal to the advocacy work we have done under the Commonwealth Digital Identity Initiative. Using insights from the report, we developed our in-depth capacity building course – Digital Identity for the Underserved and the Role of Mobile. The course, aimed at policymakers with a relevant remit, examines the role of mobile operators and technology in establishing digital identification systems and how digital identity can empower people to become digital citizens and fully participate in today’s digital economy. To date 100 course participants from over 20 countries were exposed to insights on how mobile technology could bridge the identity gap (by supporting ID enrolment) and how it could facilitate access to services that would incentivise people to register for a digital ID. Yet, in order for these benefits to be realised, conducive privacy frameworks and trust between the government and the mobile industry are key.

While research and advocacy are important parts of what we do, it is not all we have done to advance identification for all women and girls in the Commonwealth by 2030. We partnered with 9mobile in Nigeria to assist them with the development of an economic identity service, 9ID. The service, aimed at small business owners, is based on the creation of an economic ID that verifies the identity of a business and demonstrates its trustworthiness to customers, suppliers and service providers. The aim of 9ID is to help small business owners prove their value so they can access the credit needed to grow their business. Piloted in March 2020, the service aspires to gradually offer additional services to these small business owners on the 9ID platform.

Looking ahead to the future we will be examining how we can build trust between governments and mobile operators, especially where governments are committed to building digital identity ecosystems and are open to the benefits of Public Private Partnerships with Mobile Industry players.

This initiative is currently funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Australian Government, the GSMA and its members.


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