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2017 ID2020 Summit: Highlights and Key Takeaways

On June 19th, 2017, approximately 300 people gathered at the United Nations for the second annual ID2020 Summit. This year’s gathering, entitled “Platform for Change,” launched the ID2020 Alliance, a consortium of public and private organizations committed to improving lives through digital identity. Accenture, a founding member, announced a $1 million investment in the ID2020 Alliance, marking a key turning point in the effort to make secure digital identity for all a reality by 2030.

Summit Highlights and Key Takeaways

Identity is critical, personal and easily lost.

Ms. Atefeh Riazi, Assistant Secretary-General and Chief Information Technology Officer for the United Nations opened the summit with a moving story about her grandmother’s three gold bracelets, which Ms. Riazi wears today. Born in Iran without a birth certificate, these bracelets were a form of identity for Ms. Riazi’s grandmother, showing how personal and individual identity is. Maja Vujinovic, who was born in the former Yugoslavia and was smuggled out of the country in the midst of a civil war, shared a poignant, first-hand narrative that highlighted how easily identity is lost. Both speakers emphasized the fundamental importance of identity and the necessity of providing an officially recognized form of identity to the over 1 billion individuals currently without it.

Broadly, participants voiced a widespread agreement that individuals should be the owners of their own identity and associated data. As a central tenet of the ID2020 mission, individual ownership simultaneously increases privacy protection and limits exposure to potential harm.

A platform approach is essential.

For digital identity to meet the needs of governments, international organizations, businesses and individuals alike, interoperability is absolutely crucial. Dr. Pramod Varma, the chief architect of Aadhaar, demonstrated how taking a platform approach based on open standards and an open API facilitates vendor neutrality, encourages continued innovation and allows an ecosystem to develop around the technical platform.

Truly meeting this global challenge requires both an examination of the technical architecture that supports interoperability across geographic and institutional borders, and a mechanism for coordination on non-technical topics. In particular, UN panelists acknowledged that “business as usual” will not be sufficient to bring about transformative impact because current funding models encourage each organization to pursue siloed, non-interoperable approaches.

This is not the first time that such a market failure has been identified. Indeed, much can be learned from successful initiatives that have coordinated public and private sector efforts to address a global challenge. Joe Leenhouts-Martin, Head of Strategic Innovation at Gavi, provided one such example. He described the history of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and how an alliance approach has allowed Gavi to accelerate adoption of new vaccines in developing countries, ultimately saving the lives of 14M children. Gavi was officially launched at the World Economic Forum in 2000 at a time when multiple organizations were pursuing siloed approaches to immunization, leading to inefficiencies and ineffectiveness in the market for vaccines. The organization’s founding partners, including UNICEF, the World Bank, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, developing and donor governments, and others, recognized that uncoordinated programs and unpredictable financing were hindering vaccination efforts and hypothesized that streamlining funding was a critical driver of a coordinated approach. As such, the alliance not only coordinates action on the ground, but achieves scale and impact by operating as a multi-stakeholder partnership around a single funding entity. The alliance raises a single fund to support global immunization efforts, then channels that funding into vaccination programs meeting criteria determined by alliance partners. The result has been coordinated programs, efficient use of funding and a large pooled market for vaccines that has driven down the cost of vaccinations for more than 880 million children worldwide.

We are taking the Gavi model as a blueprint for the ID2020 Alliance. By driving coordinated technical efforts and providing sustainable financing for interoperable identity systems, this model aligns the diverse incentives of various stakeholders in the identity ecosystem. And by bringing stakeholders together through a formal governance mechanism, the Alliance approach ensures the collaborative, iterative effort required to ensure that the best technological innovations are implemented in ways that are scalable, secure, and sustainable. Furthermore, this approach opens up opportunities to piggyback on the systems and processes that public and private organizations already have in place to reach people, better positioning those organizations to fulfill their individual mandates.

This is a virtuous circle where the organizations, public and private, are able to connect to the people they want to reach: their customers, their beneficiaries, their employees. And through forging that connection, individuals will have a means of identifying themselves that better serves them.

Technology offers opportunities, but there is no “silver bullet,” and technology is just a piece of the puzzle.

A host of emerging technologies, including those demonstrated at the Summit, give users control of their identity and associated data, uniquely linking a person to his or her digital identity and increasing privacy and security.

These innovations are fundamental to a model of digital identity that serves end users well, but we expect — and hope — that technology will continue to evolve. As such, it’s critical that we don’t take a static look at the technology available today but instead build a technical body that can continually and flexibly pressure-test new mechanisms and systems to ensure a laser-like focus on technology that is appropriate and scalable.

But we acknowledge that technology is not the hard part. As such, the focus of the ID2020 Alliance is on ensuring that the resources (financial, technical, etc) invested in identity are coordinated and that progress proceeds simultaneously on both on the technical and non-technical fronts. To that end, the afternoon working group sessions explored six key areas where we believe coordination will be necessary to collectively meet the 2030 SDG target. Each group began to outline a high-level roadmap within their subject area and surfaced both individual and group commitments on next steps. We are busily documenting these discussions and will share further outputs from each shortly.

Going forward, these working groups will be formally embedded in the decision-making processes of the ID2020 Alliance and will be open to all interested participants. Please reach out to for more information on joining a working group.

The incentives of diverse actors are remarkably well-aligned to encourage the adoption of user-owned and controlled identities, but those incentives need to be better documented and quantified.

As participants shared their personal or organizational interest in digital identity, we noticed a convergence of needs across sectors, industries, and geographies around user-owned identity.

  • The benefits of user-owned, interoperable digital identity for individuals are well documented: it will enable access to basic rights and services, increase privacy and security of personal data, and unlock social and economic opportunity.
  • For international organizations and governments, digital identity will streamline processes and reduce costs, while allowing these organizations to better serve their beneficiaries.
  • Private sector participants also identified key drivers for their interest, including the opportunity to drastically cut KYC/AML costs, the ability to reduce the quantity of personally identifiable data stored by the company (and therefore reduce cybersecurity risks), and the promise of a better customer experience. Many companies also noted a long-term perspective: the addition of over 1 billion people to the modern economy will be a general boon to business. Notably, many private sector participants stressed that the ability to identify oneself should be a human right — free and accessible to all — and that their companies should not be in the business of directly monetizing identity.

Participants acknowledged, however, that these incentives are not broadly understood and that there is a huge opportunity to bring additional partners into the initiative by better documenting and quantifying the potential benefits of digital identity for each stakeholder group.

Sustainable Development Goal 16.9 crystallizes our focus on 2030, but Summit participants noted that we need progress much sooner and we need proper governance to ensure that critical elements — including privacy and individual data ownership — are respected and upheld. Both require more than occasional meetings and bilateral conversations.

As such, it is our aim with the ID2020 Alliance to ensure that we — the broad community of individuals and organizations committed to improving lives through digital identity — are engaged in a continuous conversation imbued with humility, openness to new ideas and an appetite for continuous improvement. The Alliance will be open to all participants, and we urge you to join.

We will shortly be launching our refreshed website with additional information on how to join as an Alliance partner. In the interim, please reach out directly to learn more.


Please contact: Dakota Gruener Executive Director of ID2020 +1–510–289–3261




An alliance committed to improving lives through digital identity.

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The ID2020 Alliance is committed to the adoption and ethical implementation of user-managed, privacy-protecting, and portable digital ID solutions.

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