Opportunities for Integrating Functional Digital ID into Humanitarian Action

Opportunities for Integrating Functional Digital ID into Humanitarian Action

Today’s rapid technological development, changing humanitarian needs, and new forms of emergency present new challenges to humanitarian organizations responding to disasters. At the same time 1 billion people globally, some of whom need humanitarian assistance, do not have any form of an identity document (ID). Such vulnerable people around the world without a recognized form of ID are sometimes unable to access certain humanitarian services, such as cash and voucher assistance because they cannot meet know-your-customer (KYC) requirements.

People in need of assistance often have no choice but to use proxy services to access humanitarian services, exposing them and the organizations assisting them to additional data protection and privacy risks, in addition to fraud, further increasing their vulnerability. With the adoption of digital tools, such as internet connectivity and mobile phones, being relatively high around the world compared to a decade ago, new opportunities have arisen to innovate on existing approaches for planning, designing, and implementing humanitarian interventions with dignity and efficiency. However, key questions remain about how we might achieve efficiency in our operations and ensure the dignity of the people we serve. What are the opportunities and limitations learnt from the pilot implementation of digital ID in Kenya as part of the COVID-19 cash assistance response?

The Dignified Identities in Cash Assistance (DIGID) project was initiated by a consortium of humanitarian organizations. In 2021, a pilot project was carried out in Kenya implemented by the Kenya Red Cross Society to enable people without any form of ID to receive cash assistance in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic by means of a digital ID. The operations, from registration to cash collection, were notably more efficient for organizations and people being assisted alike. Also, the digital ID solution was well-received by users, who obtained control over their data and were able to carry them in a digital wallet, which cannot be lost or destroyed like a physical document.  This made for a more dignified process in terms of the number, frequency, and length of interviews needed to enroll in various humanitarian programs. Another benefit was the level of authority gained by participants to decide what data to share with which organization or individual, and for how long.

Zero-knowledge Proof” is being further tested in the second phase of DIGID, which aims to address the lack of official or recognized identity among displaced persons and host community members to access humanitarian assistance, such as continued health care, in the context of migration.

Consultations with stakeholders – members of affected communities, humanitarian actors, and government officials – were key to achieving a user-centric approach to designing and implementing a digital ID solution for humanitarian response. Stakeholders displayed a range of reactions, including overall acceptance but also concerns over data protection and privacy.  The latter were addressed through engagement and communication with end-users – operators, subscribers, and regulators. The comments collected during the consultations improved the reliability and efficiency of the pilot project for reliability and efficiency.

Upon registration, users retained ownership and control of their data. Some participants did not appear to care much about this feature as long as they could receive their assistance without going through a proxy or waiting for long queues to be identified by both the Kenya Red Cross Society and the financial service providers. KYC requirements were efficiently fulfilled and regulatory compliance was ensured using the functional digital ID. The digital ID was functional in nature to enable the delivery of humanitarian cash assistance while remaining acceptable to be used for humanitarian purposes in Kenya. 

However, since the project targeted people without any form of ID, some tended to confuse the functional digital ID to receive humanitarian assistance with a foundational, government-issued ID. On the other hand, some partners in the project expressed the hope that the integration of digital identification in their programming would enable them to achieve the complete digitization of their systems. Such aspirations underline the importance of precisely communicating the value proposition of digital ID to stakeholders. Each stakeholder had different expectations for what a digital ID would bring them, indicating that there are many opportunities such an ID could offer the humanitarian sector.

The DIGID technology was developed by a private company and ensured adaptability to contexts, scalability, interoperability, and decentralization. The technology functioned in lower-resource settings, where most humanitarian interventions take place, and met the needs of people with limited abilities in reading or using digital tools. The digital ID worked in environments with low connectivity and poor penetration of mobile phone devices, whether smartphones or feature phones. The flexibility and interoperability feature that the digital identity provided made it possible to replicate and adapt the solution to several other user cases, such as in the migration context. From January 2022, a second pilot project (DIGID 2) is testing digital credentials in the migration context for cash and voucher assistance with internally displaced people in Uganda and for continued health care with displaced persons and host community members in Kenya; the findings are expected for July 2022.

The DIGID 1 pilot in Kenya revealed that integrating digital identities in the humanitarian sector offers several opportunities to enhance operational, data protection and privacy, and user dignity. The benefits of digital ID may accrue further as more aid organizations adopt such solutions into their beneficiary management systems by taking advantage of interoperability between aid organizations and technology operators. Meaningful participation of stakeholders and continued advocacy efforts with regulatory bodies and humanitarian organizations are essential to ensuring adaptability to changing humanitarian needs.

The latest report on lessons learnt from Kenya is accessible here.

For more information visit https://hiplatform.org/digid.

A related webinar, Mobile for Identity Management & Inclusive ID4D – Part 3 of 4, is accessible here (from 1:44:00 to 2:12:00)