Identity for the Underserved: 3 Pillars to Close the Inclusion Gap

If you’ve ever had the unfortunate experience of losing your driver’s license, passport or social security card, you know what an inconvenience it can be to replace those forms of ID. Now imagine if you were forced to live without them or any form of official personal identification. How would you apply for job? Secure a loan? Get medical care?

For the more than 1.5 billion people who lack any form of viable identification, these are the difficult questions they are faced with every day. Without an official way to prove their identity, they can’t open a bank account, vote in an election, access education or healthcare, or receive benefit payments. They are trapped by an identity gap.

Now consider the impact of this identity gap in a world that is becoming increasingly digital and you quickly realize the risk of these vulnerable populations being left further behind. That is why the United Nations has set a target through its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to provide “legal identity for all, including birth registration” by 2030.

However, there are many challenges that must be addressed to achieve this goal – data management, accountability and transparency, infrastructure and funding, just to name a few. Overcoming these challenges requires a standardized approach to developing an identity ecosystem – an effort that must be coordinated across a wide range of stakeholders.

The World Bank and 14 other organizations, including Mastercard, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the African Development Bank, UNICEF, and the GSMA, developed a set of ten organizing principles to shape a common approach to identification. The principles are detailed in a report released last week, “Principles on Identification,” and are organized into three pillars:

  • Inclusion: Identification systems should strive for continuous universal coverage from birth to death, free from discrimination and accessible to all individuals.
  • Design: Identification systems should be robust, context-appropriate, and interoperable. They should respond to user demand and long-term needs, and should collect and use only the identity data needed.
  • Governance: Identification systems must be built on a legal and operational foundation of trust and accountability between government agencies, private sector actors and individuals.

Mastercard has long recognized proof of identity as mission critical to advancing human progress in the 21st century – empowering individuals and enhancing their access to rights, services, and the formal economy. In South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt we have been working with governments to link identity solutions with payments – enabling people to become financially included on a massive scale.

The Principles on Identification represent an important step towards realizing the potential of a standard identification system to support development and achieve the SDGs. The next steps is for governments, intergovernmental organizations, private firms, NGOs, and development partners to endorse these principles and work towards secure, inclusive identification for all.