Among the DC think tank set, Alan Gelb and the Center for Global Development (CGD) have been early proponents of applying biometric ID management techniques to strengthen international development projects. See: Fingerprint Haiti Now: Biometrics in Haiti, One Year Later from late 2010.
More recently, Mr. Gelb has been joined at CGD by Julia Clark. Together, they recently published the working paper: Identification for Development: The Biometrics Revolution.
Their most recent contribution is an audio discussion of the state of ID moderated by the CGD’s Lawrence MacDonald.
The Biometrics Revolution — Alan Gelb and Julia Clark (Center for Global Development)
People who have identification, such as a driver’s license or social security card, frequently take it for granted, Alan explains. In fact, having identification opens doors—figuratively as well as literally.
“There are a lot of people in poor countries who are marginalized because they have no official identity. With no official identity, you can’t access government services; you really can’t participate in a normal economy,” Alan says. “So once you realize that ID is necessary, the question becomes what kind of ID you should have. And if one is looking for an ID which is robust, with which you can be reasonably sure that other people can’t pretend to be you, that’s where biometric ID comes in.”
The program ends with a plug for their free and open event in Washington, DC next Tuesday (Feb. 12).
I highly recommend that you click one of the links above.
Click for information or to register:
Identification and the Biometrics Revolution: Can ID be Harnessed for Development?
Tuesday, 12 Feb 2013 9:30 AM – 12:00 PM – (GMT-05:00) Eastern Time (US & Canada)
Center for Global Development, First Floor Conference Center
1800 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, District of Columbia
This event will bring together technical and development experts at the forefront of this new technology to discuss the role of identification in development, how biometrics are used in the field, what advances are likely in the future and how they might best be supported by donors, and what changes are needed to make the most of the biometrics revolution.
The CGD does good work.
After initial hiccups, the government’s ambitious direct benefits transfer programme through a unique identification number kicked off smoothly today, though the number of transactions carried out by the banks on the first day remained low. About 2,000 beneficiaries were transferred an amount of Rs 35 lakh on the Aadhaar platform, but the figure is expected to go up tomorrow. The programme is aimed at covering two lakh beneficiaries.
|Photo of UID taking off. Source: NASA
After several years of preparation and on-the-ground effort, the National Payments Corporation of India disbursed the first government payments directly to individuals using the UID (Aadhaar) platform. This is a big deal.
We’ve repeatedly used the “moon shot” metaphor here to describe the ID management projects India has been working on for the last several years.
The audio and video of UID won’t be as dramatic. The narrative won’t be as clear-cut. There won’t be a cathartic moment where a “one giant step” speech is appropriate. So, in this sense, UID falls short of the metaphor. [The audio of the Apollo 11 launch that inspired this post’s title is here (NASA.gov; 1 min.)]
But if the UID project succeeds it will have overcome daunting technical, logistical and managerial challenges to have a tangible effect on the material well being of hundreds of millions of people, awakening the rest of the developing world to new possibilities to simultaneously help the most vulnerable and reduce the corruption that keeps much of the world poor. Few government initiatives could boast of as much.
UID also reminds me of the great global efforts to eradicate small pox and polio in that they had to, quite literally, touch everyone.
ID management is about people.
The following article about Ghana isn’t about biometrics but it provides some of the context in which Friday’s biometric (registration and verification) elections will occur this Friday.
Biometrics have helped put rigorous ID management systems within the reach of organizations that couldn’t obtain them before.
Coup era over, Ghana showcases African democracy (Las Vegas Sun)
“The reason Ghanaians are so drawn to democracy,” analyst Jonah said, “is because they have seen that democracy in Western countries has brought a very high level of development, and they want to be like America, they want to be like Britain.”
He said that if the rulers can deliver the services the people need, “Then people will say, `OK, democracy isn’t just every four years selecting people. Democracy also brings development.'”
Namibia: Another Step Forward for Access to Banking (All Africa)
In terms of the agreement, PostFin will use the DBN credit line to finance small businesses, housing and education.
The micro-lending agreement builds on the existing relationship between NamPost and DBN. NamPost previously used DBN finance to implement electronic banking with biometric account management, which has substantially improved access to banking in Namibia, particularly in smaller centres and hard to access areas.
Read on and you’ll also learn that in Namibia, like in other countries, the postal service is getting in on the ID business.
Click the ‘Postal Service’ label below for more examples.
Pakistan’s “Pocket of Productivity”: Empowerment Through Identification (Center for Global Development)
Understanding how and why institutions like NADRA and REINIC succeed and gain trust could help inform the growing number of high-tech national identification projects in poorer countries.
A pocket here, a pocket there, and pretty soon you’re talking real development!
Read the whole thing.
This ‘speaking’ machine can curb misuse of ration (The Hindu)
Unlike smart cards, which can be pledged or could be handed over to another to get the benefits, biometric system prevents the misuse of ration card. Also, only genuine below poverty line card holder approaches the PDS shop as the well-to-do persons, who hitherto used to send their representatives/ agents to buy the products, hesitate to personally visit the shop, Mr. Gowda said.
This machine can help overcome the economic disadvantages of illiteracy collect better data on food disbursements, reduce the black market in welfare benefits, and can reduce the welfare benefits that accrue to those who do not qualify for particular programs.
But it’s not just the machine. There seems to be a system behind the hardware that can monitor the whole program in near real time.
Pretty cool deployment. I hope it works out.
This one reminds me of a system we developed to monitor teacher time-and-attendance for an aid project in West Africa.
Taking Banks to India’s Poor
Award: Start Up of the Year
Name: Manish Khera, CEO, FINO
Why He Won: For setting up the largest banking correspondence network in India and bringing financial inclusion to millions of people across 26 states, and using mobile tech in a smart way. It is poised to become the country’s largest banking correspondent.
You can make a lot of money catering to the poor.
It had invested in technology, had the sales force on the ground, and was flush with money. FINO’s custom-built devices went a long way in ensuring that its customers stayed connected to the grid. Their ‘pod machines’, hand-held biometric devices that recorded customer fingerprints, reduced the risk of fraud to a great extent. Its machines function both online and offline, so money still got transferred in areas without any network. By January 2010, it had 10 million customers (across 15 banks). It added another 15 million in the next year and doubled the base to 50 million by August 2012, two-thirds of the clientele base in the sector. It’s eyeing 100 million by 2015.
See also our post from earlier today:
Biometrics + Banking → Rising incomes in Malawi which describes more of a pilot project and study, but the numbers are also very impressive.
Today is the Day of the Girl, internationally recognized by the United Nations.
Map: What Countries Have the Worst Gender Gaps?
Plus, a simple yet powerful solution to help close the gender gap. (Slate.com)
Here’s how our proposed solution works: Use biometric identification, such as digital finger prints or retina scans, to give girls a formal economic identity and make sure they are counted and served by new policies and programs. Then build on advances in electronic payments and mobile money, which allow automatic provision of financial services via a digital platform or mobile device. This helps make sure the girls—not corrupt government officials or pesky relatives, for example—receive aid money. Transfer dollars electronically through systems linked directly to savings accounts owned and operated by the girls. Finally, tap into behavioral economics, which shows that simple “nudges” can lead to savings habits, asset accumulation, and investments in education, health and enterprise.
As we’ve said before, you can’t be a fully functioning member of the modern world without a legitimate ID.
Fingerprints for financing: Removing some risk from lending in Africa (PhysOrg)
Read the whole thing or at least watch the video below.
They were paprika farmers in Malawi participating in a new study that shows fingerprinting can help encourage borrowers to repay their loans. Like many impoverished countries, Malawi lacks a national identification system. Most of the population lives in rural areas with few government services. Even ID as basic as a birth certificate is rare in the southeastern African nation.
Another amazing thing abuot the study is that it found a 234% ROI on biometric spending and that loan performance among the riskiest contracts nearly doubled.
Biometrics can be a leapfrogging technology for building better institutions in the developing world.
Originally posted August 15, 2011
“Many Ugandans, if you ask them, ‘When were you born?’ They say, ‘I don’t know.'” (UPDATE: Video no longer hosted at YouTube.com by ESPN)
Uganda defeated Saudi Arabia to become the first African team to qualify for the Little League World Series. Exultation turned to disappointment when many of the players were unable to obtain visas to the United States (apparently) because of an inability to provide enough biographical detail during the State Department’s application process.
The video linked below is taken from a documentary currently in production that was featured on ESPN over the weekend. Please watch it before reading the rest of this post. It is not to be missed. (UPDATE: Video no longer hosted at YouTube.com)
|“…Little League was not ready for a country like Uganda to participate in the World Series.”
(UPDATE: Video no longer hosted at YouTube.com)
There is a temptation to place blame (upon the State Department, Little League, Uganda, Felipe Almonte, etc.) but the Ugandan coaches and players know the real source of their disappointment though they don’t use the exact same terms we use here: A legitimate ID is a prerequisite to full participation in the modern world.
The sad truth, and the true cause of the plight of Uganda’s Little League baseball team is the fact that (perhaps) billions of the world’s poor lack individual legitimacy because they don’t have an ID that can be vouched for by a trusted second party. These individuals are therefore unable fully to exert their talents through the world’s increasingly interconnected institutions. Because of this, we are all poorer.
Fortunately, and thanks in no small part to biometric technologies, the costs associated with maintaining an effective ID infrastructure are falling fast, enabling even poor societies with low adult literacy rates to provide their children with something they cannot reach their full potential without: a legit ID.
UPDATE – August 16, 2013:
Here’s a poor-quality YouTube video (someone filming their television) of the original ESPN spot referred to above.
Of course, I’d say policy and technology must be good bedfellows…
Policy and technology can be good bedfellows (The Guardian)
Technology-enabled reform of public services can create friction, as the public is required to adapt to new platforms for interacting with the state and its administrators have to learn a new way of working. At its worst, this friction can result in disjoined state paralysis following the wrong kind of policy making and subsequent commissioning. At its best, it can reduce the state running costs and better fit the mould of citizens’ lives, such as being able to book a GP appointment via a laptop or mobile.
Reversing Poor Data Management Culture (This Day Live)
In the conduct of studies in less developed countries (LDCs), while great emphasis is placed on study design, data collection and analysis, very often, little attention is paid to data management. As a consequence, investigators working in these countries frequently face challenges in cleaning, analysing and interpreting data. In most research settings, the data management team is formed with temporary and unskilled persons.
This article offers a lot of detail about how and why organizations crash into the hard lesson that biometrics for ID management (or any IT system, for that matter) can’t run an organization by themselves. The efficiencies and return on investment offered by biometric ID management (and other IT) systems are so great that they are almost irresistible. While they make organizations easier to manage, they can never truly operate outside the cultural environment where they reside.
When a hallmark of a management culture is to carve out administrative turf and defend it to the last, things like this happen:
Nine years ago, Nigeria spent billions of naira on the National Identity Card Scheme (NICS), and another huge amount was gulped by the National Census in 2006. Last year, the Independent National Electronic Commission (INEC), spent close to N90 billion on a voter registration exercise, while the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) spent an unjustified N6 billion on SIM card registration. This year, the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) is at it again as it seeks to expend N30 billion for a national ID scheme.
The issues discussed in the article are faced by all sorts of large organizations, not just LDC’s. A lot of the complaints would sound exactly the same coming from inside large universities in the United States.
Read the whole thing.
Back to Three Sides of the Same Coin
A State that desires to deliver the benefits to society that all modern people have come to require of it*, will find things vastly simpler with an effective ID infrastructure. Biometrics are a cheap and effective way of building that infrastructure and are a true leap-frogging technology.
Here’s another indication that Nigeria is taking advantage of biometrics as to build a modern identity infrastructure. This article is about the banking and finance sector, an important piece of the development puzzle to be sure.
Bank Customers to Face Biometric Verification (This Day)
According to the CBN, the activities and processes of customers’ due diligence that financial institutions must perform to identify their customers, among others, remain key to the development of the financial system.
It also regretted that: “Verification of customers’ identity has been very difficult in Nigeria because the identity environment is fraught with adverse and disparate types of identity systems, all running in silos and having no link, integration or standardisation nor a centralised identity database for verifying the identity of bank customers.
“The absence of a central standardised identity database, and the relevant infrastructure to support access to this database, for the verification and authentication of identity, have had a constraining effect on the country’s growth and development, effective credit administration, effective administration of most government services and collation of accurate data and statistics that could be leveraged on to drive effective planning, both in the public and private sectors.”
The extremely frank and technical discussion at the end of the article — what it all means, why Nigeria is where it is, the costs of the status quo, and the opportunities do be derived from a more effective ID management environment — is really good stuff. You don’t see it laid out like that too often in the mainstream press.
*National defense, basic education, vaccination programs, enforceable private contracts, well regulated public utilities, etc. Basically, it’s just really hard for the government to do anything well if it doesn’t know who anybody (perhaps everybody?) is.
“I have faced many difficulties because of a lack of proof of my identity. I remember one incident which jolted me, leading me to realise that I led a worthless existence.”
A unique, legally recognized individual identity is a prerequisite to any sort of decent society. It is an infrastructure without which many things those in the developed world take for granted simply cannot exist: compulsory primary education, successful immunization against preventable communicable disease, social safety nets, effective democracy, and more.
With growing financial independence, Ugandan women face new challenges
Nancy Acieng stands outside the door of Pride Microfinance Limited, a bank in Kampala, Uganda’s capital. A fairly educated woman, she works hard to earn money selling fresh food and fruit from a roadside stall.
She says her hard work used to go to waste because her husband routinely stole her ATM card and withdrew the contents of her account. But thanks to the bank’s new security measure that requires customers’ fingerprints to withdraw money, she now has full control over her finances.
“He still beats me sometimes,” Acieng says. “But he cannot steal my money anyhow, anymore. Using the fingerprint technology changed and improved my security – both physical and financial.”