Digital Identity takes a look at Tigo’s support of the new mobile birth registration system

July 25, 2016 | Digital Identity | Sub-Saharan Africa | Tanzania | Matthew Wilson

In addition to establishing a child’s identity, birth registration acts as a key enabler for a multitude of development outcomes including access to healthcare, education and social protection. It is also a vital first step in establishing a robust Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) system – an essential tool for governments to effectively plan and monitor public services, as well as development policies and programmes.

Nonetheless, it is estimated that globally the births of 230 million children have not been registered. Regional disparities in birth registration are significant: 99 per cent of unregistered births take place in developing countries, and more than half of all children in sub-Saharan Africa do not have their births registered before the age of five.

Mobile technology has an increasingly important role to play in speeding progress with birth registration and the provision of unique identities to the most underserved. This is especially true in Africa, where the mobile industry continues to scale rapidly and falling device prices are encouraging the rapid adoption of smartphones. These developments are already improving the means and efficiency by which birth data is collected, accessed, verified and stored.

As part of our work in the M4D Digital Identity team, and with the support of DFID, we are exploring potential digital identity solutions that are both sustainable and socially impactful. Understanding how mobile technology can unlock value in the birth registration process is an important part of this effort, and our latest case study looks into Tigo’s success in supporting the new mobile birth registration initiative in Tanzania.


Developing a mobile birth registration system

With a birth registration rate of only 16 per cent, Tanzania maintains one of the lowest birth registration rates in the world, and the third-lowest rate in East and Southern Africa. Registration is least likely to occur in rural areas or among children from poor households.

Among the barriers to birth registration are issues related to cost, convenience and awareness. Many households are unable to afford multiple trips to their district’s registration office, or the mandatory registration fee. A lack of awareness about how to complete the registration process and the benefits that accompany registration are also obstacles.

In 2011 RITA developed, with support from UNICEF and Tigo Tanzania, a five-year birth registration strategy that aimed to make the process more affordable, widely accessible and efficient. In addition to eliminating the processing fee and training an additional 700 registrars to provide services from local government offices, hospitals and health clinics, the partners developed innovative mobile applications that allow the registrars to collect birth registration data and upload it to a centralized system.

Following a user-centred design process, Tigo developed two bespoke applications – one for basic phones, and another for Android devices – that are capable of working on all models of handsets and on any operating system. Importantly, the applications work in areas where network connectivity can be interrupted, allowing information to be stored on the device until a connection is restored.

Information collected through the application is sent to a central server via an SMS message; once the server decodes the message and stores the birth record in the central database, a confirmation message is returned to the registrar and a birth certificate is issued. The entire process only takes a few seconds to complete. Although both applications have worked well, the partners have found that the Android application is easier to use, can include more features, and is inherently more secure (all data can be wiped remotely if the phone is lost or stolen) and resilient.

When the new mobile registration system was piloted in the district of Mbeya, registration rates increased from 8 percent to 45 percent within six months. Since then the system has successfully registered more than 420,000 births, and the partnership expects to reach one million registries by the end of 2016.

For Tigo, the strategic decision to partner in this work was driven by the value gained by expanding and deepening relationships with government and civil society partners, as well as a desire to showcase the role mobile providers can play in addressing a pressing social need through the application of their technology and expertise. Through this initiative they have also been able to develop a new innovative applications and introduce Tigo services to over 700 registrars, as well as the thousands of customers the registrars serve.


Key Success Factors

The case study concludes by highlighting five factors that have contributed to the new system’s success. These can be summarised as follows:

• Cross-sector Collaboration: The project’s multi-sector approach provided each partner with a clearly defined role that building on core competencies, and the project aligned each partner’s strategic objectives.

• Interoperability: The mobile application is designed to work across multiple platforms, allows RITA to explore partnerships with other providers and expand coverage.

• User-centred design process: Attention was given to the human and technical limitations of the market, including the capacity of local registrars and periodic interruptions in cellular coverage.

• Continuous process: Refining the technology is an ongoing process, and regular feedback from registrars in the field helped to inform the evolution of the mobile applications.

• Government commitment: RITA has taken ownership of the registration process and has helped strengthen the supply and demand challenges that contribute to low registration rates


Building on the success of this and other mobile birth registration initiatives, the GSMA Digital Identity programme will explore the long-term commercial sustainability of mobile birth registration and its role in the wider digital identity ecosystem.


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