Introducing the Digital Identity Programme’s ‘Roadmap for Digital Birth Registration’
It is estimated that globally one in three children under the age of five – roughly 230 million children in total – have not had their births officially registered. The World Health Organisation estimates that 99% of unregistered births take place in developing countries, and nearly 80% occur in South Asia or Sub-Saharan Africa. These are the same locations where the mobile industry continues to scale rapidly and falling device prices are encouraging the rapid adoption of smartphones, indicating that a significant opportunity exists for mobile technology to improve the means and efficiency by which birth data is collected, accessed, verified and stored.
Over the last year, the GSMA Digital Identity programme has been tracking and documenting the success of digital birth registration (DBR) initiatives in Pakistan, Tanzania, Ghana and Belize, all of which are supported through close collaboration between mobile network operators (MNOs), NGO partners such as UNICEF and local governments. More recently, we have been working alongside Telenor Group and Telenor Pakistan to investigate how mobile operators can support DBR projects in a way that is commercially sustainable while still achieving social impact. These commercial considerations include the development of additional revenue streams through data services, mobile payments and disbursements and links with other value-added services, such as maternal and child health advisory services.
Through this work, we have produced our new Roadmap for Digital Birth Registration, which looks at the Pakistani context, in particular and highlights key considerations which can be applied to other markets.
We hope that the Roadmap will be a useful guide for both MNOs and their partners as they seek new opportunities to use mobile to achieve greater impact, efficiency and efficacy in digital birth registration. Although much of the roadmap builds on lessons from, and our recommendations for, the Telenor-supported DBR project in Pakistan, it provides a number of insights, examples of good practice, and recommendations that will be highly relevant and applicable to birth registration stakeholders across other developing markets. The Roadmap outlines lessons and recommendations for each project stage and outlines critical components in regards to planning, developing and launching DBR services, with the aim of helping operators design and support DBR initiatives that have the potential to be taken to scale and deliver both social and commercial returns.
Some of the key insights from the Roadmap include:
- Incorporating revenue-generating services such as mobile payments, mobile data and mHealth messaging into DBR projects can allow MNOs to achieve long-term commercial sustainability, while also helping to ensure that DBR remains free to the end user and cost-effective for government.
- GSMA has found that a performance-based incentive model is more motivating for DBR registrars, will allow them to better manage any associated travel or administrative costs, better incentivises them to record data accurately, and will be more sustainable from a long-term perspective (as it reduces the project’s average cost-per-registration).
- When identifying who could act as a DBR registrar, project partners should ideally look for established and respected members of the community who have a face-to-face relationship with parents, have prior experience conducting official (government) processes, and are comfortable using digital technology. ‘Mobile’ registrars, with greater access to and knowledge of the local community, are particularly advantageous in rural areas.
- Despite the expanding footprint of mobile connectivity in most countries, coverage can pose a significant challenge to DBR projects in very rural and remote areas, making it difficult for registrars to submit forms or impeding the use of online services at local government offices. Applications should therefore be developed to work both online and offline, and allow forms to be saved on the phone and synced once connectivity becomes available.
- In Pakistan, it is estimated that the traditional birth registration process requires government offices to meet with each parent two times in order to complete the registration process (with an additional trip required to pick up a birth certificate). GSMA estimates that by reducing the application processing time to only ten minutes, the DBR process will free up an additional 10% of UC staff time, allowing them to complete a backlog of other vital public duties.
The Roadmap provides further evidence that in the world’s hardest to reach areas, mobile technology is well placed to provide national governments and other ecosystem players with the opportunity to leapfrog inefficient, paper-based birth registration systems and offer more inclusive methods of providing unique identities to the underserved, giving more children a foundation for fully participating in society. In 2018, the Digital Identity programme will be exploring new opportunities to inform and support mobile operators and their partners as they collaborate on these vital projects – be sure to check back throughout the year to discover what we’ve learned.
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