This is the first in an occasional series of blogs on social boundaries and identity. I’m interested in the topic for obvious reasons. Social boundaries and identities, at least in some forms (and that is the rub!) have been argued to affect generalized trust and/or prejudice, governance and cooperation, and development outcomes. They may also be relevant to certain recent political developments. Here at the World Bank, the Mind, Behavior, and Development Unit (eMBeD) is involved in projects that aim to support social cohesion.
With more than 1.1 billion individuals without official proof of identity, a myriad of technologies is advancing at a faster speed than ever before and becoming more affordable, making it possible for nations to leapfrog paper based approaches of the past. Yet, it is becoming a challenge to understand and keep up with the various technologies and advancements that are especially relevant for digital identification systems. Identification for Development (ID4D) launches a new Technology Landscape report providing an overview of current and emerging technology trends in digital identity.
. Technology choices can also enable identification systems to lead to tangible benefits across a range of areas, such as financial inclusion, health services, and social protection for the poorest and most vulnerable. This #ID4D Technology Landscape report reminds us that additional factors and risk mitigating measures need to be considered when choosing certain #digitalidentity technology. These include the need for proper privacy and data protection, open standards and vendor neutrality, that match with cultural contexts, economic feasibility and infrastructure constraints.
“There is a line of Salman Rushdie’s, I think it’s an essay, where he says: our lives teach us who we are. And I think that’s the case. It’s not that you have a set identity, it’s that by your actions you find out what sort of person you are. And the news is not always…lovely.”
- Zadie Smith - novelist, short story writer, essayist, and a tenured professor in the Creative Writing Program at New York University.
Quoted in Financial Times Weekend print edition November 12, 2016 "Lunch with the FT Zadie Smith" by Jan Dalley
"I am a Londoner, I am European, I am British, I am English, I am of Islamic faith, of Asian origin, of Pakistani heritage, a dad, a husband.”
- Sadiq Khan, a British Labour Party politician who was elected Mayor of London in the 2016 mayoral election, succeeding Conservative Party Mayor Boris Johnson. Khan's election made him the first Muslim to head a major Western capital. He won with the largest personal mandate of any politician in the history of British politics and the third largest personal mandate in Europe.
Less than a month after the adoption of the new global development agenda – Agenda 2030 – the question “A Legal Identity for All by 2030: What Will It Take?” brought together 32 development practitioners and scholars for a three-day workshop to discuss an answer to this question, and how progress towards a legal identity for all could be measured. The workshop was co-hosted by the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) based in New York and the Civil Registration Centre for Development (CRC4D) of The Hague, The Netherlands.
This week, multilateral development banks (MDBs) and IMF representatives gathered for Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa (FFD3) committed to extend more than $400 billion in financing over the next three years and vowed to work more closely with private and public sector partners to help mobilize the resources needed to meet the historic challenge of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
From this perspective, FFD3 presented a unique forum for recasting development financing to meet the approach of the post-2015 development agenda. But more is needed. Investment needs in infrastructure alone reach up to US$1.5 trillion a year in emerging and developing countries.
Meeting the staggering but achievable needs of the SDG agenda requires everyone to make the best use of each dollar from every source. This means tracking with precision where, when and to whom has the money been disbursed and for what development end. It requires knowing precisely who the beneficiary was and being able to uniquely establish his/her identity.
This is the first time that a target relating specifically to identity has been put forward as part of the global goals, as target #16.9: “Provide legal identity to all, including birth registration, by 2030.”
Not only there is an intrinsic value of conferring a universal legal identity, but the identity target in the post-2015 development agenda is instrumental in achieving many of the SDGs. Indeed, the provision of robust means of identification would support the achievement of at least 10 goals:
- sustainable development goal
- sustainable development goals
- official identity
- legal identity
- digital identification
- identification for development
- digital ID
- digital IDs
- information and communication for development (ICT4D)
- Information and Communication Technologies
- The World Region
In the last couple of months, we saw some amazing events making the news headlines. From World Bank President Jim Kim’s outstanding lecture at Georgetown University on “Lessons from Ebola”, to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) announcement that Ebola response is moving to the next stage, one may think that the pandemic is over. That no more lives will be lost to this terrifying disease.
But voices from the scientists, who have been the first to discover the Ebola virus last year, raised above the general enthusiasm and warned the international community to stay focused. Researchers from Institut Pasteur in France fear that the virus has mutated and could have become even more contagious. The new variation poses a higher risk of transmission. This means that dozens, if not thousands, of lives could be again at risk.
And while WHO shifts the focus from slowing transmission of Ebola to ending the epidemic, the world may actually be at the verge of a new pandemic emergency. With the recent surge in new cases in Sierra Leone, the world must stay focused until we reach and maintain zero cases in each affected country.
The UN Secretary General convened an International Ebola Recovery Conference last week to advocate that recovery efforts go beyond redressing direct development losses to build back better and ensure greater resilience.
CGCS Post-Doctoral Research Fellow Emad Khazraee discusses his research project with Alison Novak on socio-political activism and women’s rights in Iran, featuring My Stealthy Freedom as a case study. Emad and Alison presented their project at the ICA on May 25, 2015.
It is likely most Facebook users have come across a Facebook page supporting a socio-political cause. The popularity of these pages reinforces the need to better understand their affordances for socio-political activism. In an effort to address this issue, a recent research project I undertook with Alison Novak studied campaign pages on Facebook advocating for women’s rights in relation to the dress code in Iran. One of the pages we analyzed, My Stealthy Freedom, acts as a strong case study. My Stealthy Freedom’s (MSF) page was created in April 2014 by Masih Alinejad, an expat Iranian journalist based in the United Kingdom. In an effort to digitally protest hijab laws that restrict women’s right to choose their own cover, Alinejad first shared a photograph of herself online, riding in a convertible without hijab, and then encouraged women inside Iran to share pictures of their own “stealthy freedom.” Soon women from inside Iran shared their own photos taken in a public space without hijab. These photos were often accompanied by a message providing the background stories, grievances, or opinions of the user. In the weeks that followed, MSF became an internationally recognized page and was followed by 500,000 users on Facebook, resulting in reactions both outside and inside Iran.
At this workshop, a variety of social scientists, historians, policy researchers and development practitioners examined the various forms of civil registration and identification currently used and introduced around the world. Participants considered the opportunities and implications of the choices that poor states, in particular, currently face.
An interesting outcome of these eclectic discussions was the need to disentangle the terms “legal identity,” “citizenship,” “identification,” “registration” and “ID documentation.” This will not only allow the international community to properly understand the development problems we are seeking to address, but also help to better identify the ways to achieve them.
Indeed, in some limited respects, people possess a legal identity whether or not they are registered — for example, a criminal suspect’s right to get a lawyer or to remain silent. Registration, in turn, may not be an entitlement to citizenship. Many countries still see citizenship as based on local or clan-based knowledge and personal attestation.
The number of people with indeterminate citizenship in Africa is probably far larger than the number of stateless people now identified. Sophisticated ID programs cannot resolve such questions and may exacerbate the difficulties of those excluded. They need to be preceded by political dialogue and, where necessary, legal reforms to reduce the risk of exclusion. An understanding that legal identity exists in many forms encourages us to first ask which legal identity/identities we are seeking to advance and for what developmental ends .
I was honored to be invited to speak on the role of identification in the post-2015 development agenda and the World Bank Group's Identification for Development (ID4D) initiative. There was great deal of excitement in the audience hearing about this global agenda.
The questions raised by the attendants touched upon ways of helping the least-developed, conflict-affected countries in the world, where the rates of birth registration and identification are amongst the lowest in the world (e.g. Liberia), to leapfrog to digital ID systems. Would the World Bank Group support such countries build their identification systems basically from scratch?
In this regard, it was interesting to hear the perspectives brought by a fellow panelist at the conference – Tariq Malik, the former chairman and the architect behind the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) of Pakistan. Starting almost from scratch, NADRA has massively enrolled the traditionally underregistered communities, including tribal groups, transgender populations and women, becoming a central player in a number of program areas. Under Tariq Malik’s leadership, NADRA has pioneered applications of biometric technology, successfully administering smart card programs for disaster relief programs and financial inclusion schemes for the underserved.