Driving adoption of Digital Identity for Sustainable Development: An End-user Perspective

To help make digital identity solutions and identity-linked services more inclusive and impactful, it is vital for mobile network operators (MNOs) and other key stakeholders to take a bottom-up approach to design and implementation, where the requirements, needs and desires of end-users are understood and met.

At the GSMA’s Mobile World Congress last month, the GSMA Digital Identity programme released a new report that explores end-user attitudes and perceptions towards identity, the factors that are likely to influence the uptake and use of official identity documents, and how digital approaches to identity could increase access to value added services.

Download the Report

Our research utilised a multi-method approach to capture a wide breadth of perspectives on both mobile and identity, while also ensuring that local identity ‘ecosystems’ were explored through a variety of lenses.  The end-users participating in our research were all in the lower socio-economic groups, but represented a mix of ages, genders, locations (urban and rural), life stages, education and literacy levels.

Despite the fact that each country presented its own unique context and challenges, there were a number of important cross-cutting themes that we believe could shape digital identity opportunities in these and other emerging markets.  For instance:

  • An individual’s gender and their attitudes towards trust (in fellow community members, government and service MNOs) were the two most powerful influencers on how they used and valued identity documents or mobile devices
  • When people live and work in a localised, informal economy the need for an ID isn’t always top of mind; however, there are often ‘costs’ associated with not having ID: it limits access to formal services, individuals feel more vulnerable when traveling outside their community, and when ID is needed (police checkpoints, health centres) end-users may have to give bribes, pay extra fees or implement identity ‘work-arounds’
  • It is clear that mobile operators have a significant role to play in driving demand for, and use of, official identity: in all three markets, end-users conveyed a high degree trust in MNOs, and regularly cited the desire to gain access to identity-linked mobile services as a key reason they own and use an official identity document
  • End-users are willing to pay for new services offered by MNOs, so long as there was a clear payment structure and a clear incentive for them to use the service


Our report also includes a number of rich insights that are specific to each country. For example, in Cote D’Ivoire we found that people generally appreciate and benefit from the fact that the formal identity system is fragmented, finding a number of socially-acceptable ways to work around identity-related barriers in order to access the services they want. In Tanzania, high levels of social trust translate into end-users’ willingness to share personal details with MNOs and other service providers, and a deep sense of community means that local ward letters (which equally serve as letter of introduction) are the preferred proof-of-identity document despite being ‘less formal’. And in Pakistan, using a Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC) is not just an accepted route to accessing value-added services, but an essential and ‘normal’ part of daily life – particularly in urban areas where formal proof of identity is routinely required to pass through police and military checkpoints.

To understand the opportunity for mobile-enabled digital identities and identity-linked services, MNOs must consider how solutions will impact the end-user: What end-user need does it meet? What benefit or value-add does it provide? What problem does it solve? Our report ends by looking at the range of factors MNO’s will need to consider during all stages of the design and implementation processes in order for digital identity solutions to be socially impactful and inclusive of low-income consumers. These factors are broken down into four categories: education and awareness, positioning and messaging, design principles, and implementation.


The GSMA Digital Identity Programme is currently funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), and supported by the GSMA and its members.

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