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The Power of Identity, Part 3: Emerging Markets

There are 7.8 billion people in the world. Of those, 1 billion lack a legally recognized form of identification. And 3.4 billion have some form of legally recognized ID but limited ability to use it on digital channels. In other words, 13 percent of the world has no form of verifiable ID. Combine these with the 3.4 billion people without digital ID and you find that 66 percent – two-thirds – of the world population is unable to participate in digital life.

Think about how important the digital world has been during the coronavirus pandemic. It allowed us to shop and bank online, to buy groceries and order curbside dinners. It allowed us get tested if we felt ill. It kept our children educated through online classes and entertained with streaming videos. It allowed us to keep in touch with our families as many of us sheltered at home.

For the two-thirds of the world’s population without a verifiable digital ID, these actions – actions that we largely take for granted – are impossible because they lack verifiable Know Your Customer (KYC) data. At Global Data Consortium, our mission is to change that.

Identifiable Information Exists
Just because one lacks a digital ID doesn’t mean there’s no KYC information that can verify who they are. Those with a legally recognized ID are known to their governments; that information simply isn’t digital. And those without an ID likely have received healthcare at a medical clinic. They might have been counted in a census, but those records were never digitized. Maybe they joined a church, or a local civic organization. If they did any of these things, they likely had to fill out a form that provides basic KYC information; their name, where they live, their date of birth, how to contact them.

People without digital ID share common traits. They tend to be from developing countries and have a lower income. Many live outside of large urban areas, making it more difficult for them to obtain a digital identity and interact with a national government.

They share something else in common – many of these individuals are trapped. Because they can’t do something as simple as open a bank account, they can’t build a credit history that would allow them to purchase a car or
home. Without ownership, it’s difficult to build wealth. Without lower income people building wealth, it’s difficult for their countries to grow from an emerging and developing economy into a fully developed one. Lack of economic development leads to corruption, crime, poor healthcare, lack of food, and a failure to meet basic needs. It’s a vicious cycle.

Breaking The Cycle
GDC wants help people without a digital ID get on the electronic grid so that they have the ability to participate in the digital economy. It’s a hard task, but one GDC is equipped to tackle because of its extensive local market knowledge. We recognize KYC data on people without a digital ID does exist, it just needs to be digitized.

Prior to joining GDC as an adviser, I had firsthand experience with this over the course of my career. Recently, I traveled to Uganda, where my team conducted primary-source interviews and surveys with nearly 300 people across the country. We then digitized the data for a client here in the United States.

I also worked as a journalist around the world, and encountered many situations where KYC data was readily available. This typically took the form of voting records stored at local government buildings, or health records at a medical clinic, in countries across the world, from Afghanistan to Kenya to Brazil.

Looking Ahead
Looking ahead, GDC will unveil ambitious plans to digitize KYC data for people without digital IDs. It will give our customers access to new clients around the world. And it will benefit those who we get online; it can help lift them out of poverty, improve governance, get them better access to healthcare, and help their countries to continue to develop.

Here’s a real world example of the kind of work we plan to do. While in Port Harcourt, a coastal town in southern Nigeria, I traveled to a small island, Okrika, just outside of the city. While there, I got to witness a rare event – the election and swearing in of local government officials. At the time, my fixer told me it was the first election in 30 years.

As I stood behind the ballot box and watched Okrikans vote in a local election for first time in three decades, I knew the data in that box was incredibly valuable. It was KYC data that could help lift people out of poverty. It could improve economic development in a place that relied heavily on fishing and subsistence agriculture. It could improve healthcare for people who lived all of their lives inhaling black smoke coming from a nearby oil refinery. It could help Okrika and its people join the digital economy. It could help them gain access to money sent from a relative abroad. That data was, and still is, transformation, just not politically, but in all other aspects of Okrikan life.

Getting people like the Okrikans onto the grid is our mission. Stay tuned to see how we’re going to make our vision
a reality.