1.1 billion people don’t have one. How Yoti is tackling the global identity crisis
An interview with Ken Banks, Head of Social Impact at Yoti
Yoti have been part of the B Corp community since it launched in September 2015. As one of the founding 62 B Corps, we know that having a positive impact on people and planet is key to your mission. Tell us more about Yoti and your social impact strategy.
Yoti is a London-based technology company on a mission to become the world’s trusted identity platform. Founded in 2014, we’re a team of over 250 people with headquarters in central London, an office in India and a growing presence in the USA.
Our primary offering is a free digital identity app that gives you a simple and secure way to prove your identity, online and in person. You can use Yoti to prove your age, verify the identity of people you meet online, prove who you are to businesses and log in to websites without passwords.
Along with our work with businesses, we’re also deeply committed to helping digital identities become a force for social good. In pursuit of this we’re working with the humanitarian and non-profit communities to help them deploy appropriately-designed digital identity solutions in their work. We’re also looking to better understand 21st century identity concerns and opportunities among communities in developing countries, and supporting local innovators in their pursuit to deploy solutions to local problems that matter most to them.
Managing your digital identity is increasingly in the news in the UK. What are the challenges people face around the world?
Generally there are three key ingredients. Firstly, you need a smartphone to download and run an app. Secondly, you’d need some form of trusted (government issued) documentation to form the basis of your digital identity, and thirdly you’d need Internet access to make use of it.
One of the biggest problems for people in developing countries is that many lack some, or all, of these things. The challenge, therefore, for the digital identity community is to tackle each of these issues and to come up with solutions that work for the 1.1 billion people who currently have no way of proving who they are.
And for those 1.1 billion people around the world, what are some of the consequences of having no proof of identity?
Not having something as straightforward as a birth certificate can be profound. Thirty-two countries in sub-Saharan Africa require a birth certificate to access education, sixteen require one to access social support, and six to access healthcare. In Indonesia a birth certificate is the only form of legal identity, yet 58% of the poorest children don’t have their births registered. As they get older, how do they claim rights to things like land, inheritance and nationality?
On top of that, in many countries you can’t purchase a SIM card for a mobile phone without some form of identity document, meaning those people are further excluded from access to financial services and the many other benefits mobile phone ownership might bring. In short, not being able to prove who you are can be a major socio-economic hindrance.
This is most likely to affect people living in poverty, those living without access to telecommunication services or government services, refugees or migrants forced to flee in times of crisis, and women and children in particular.
Part of your social impact strategy is to research the motivations behind people wanting a digital identity. How are you approaching this research?
The primary focus of much of the digital identity sector tends to be on the design, adoption and use of large-scale digital identity systems, and how users interact with them. This includes national efforts, such as the Aadhaar ID system in India. Most of this research begins with the technology and works its way down to the people who use it, an approach which has given us something of a knowledge deficit.
What we’re missing is an understanding of why people might want a digital identity, how they interpret or understand digital identity, their concerns and what tools and approaches might be missing in their local context. Our Fellowship Programme in particular aims to support local efforts to answer these questions.
We hear you’re launching the Yoti Key later this year… What is it and where do you think it could change lives?
Our offline Yoti Key solution is a perfect example of simple, frugal innovation in action. The Key provides people with a way of identifying themselves even if they don’t have a smartphone or official identity documents. Yoti Keys help people to access medicine, education, money, food and shelter.
Conversations started at a technology-for-development event in Zambia last spring where local, national and international non-profits highlighted a desperate need for identity solutions in resource constrained environments — rural hospitals, or within refugee camps, for example. The offline solution we’re developing requires no training, allows organisations to use and adapt it to their own individual needs, and works without the Internet. We have close to a dozen organisations already interested in piloting when we launch this summer, and we’re excited to see what they can do when they’re given the right kinds of tools.
You mentioned the Yoti Fellowship Programme, can you tell us more about it?
The Yoti Fellowship Programme is one of the signature activities from our new Social Impact Strategy. Between mid-April and mid-June we are inviting applications from individuals interested in helping unlock the potential of digital identities with a particular focus on local, grassroots issues. In return, Fellows are offered generous financial and logistical support, expenses and a chance to have their findings shared with the wider world. Preference is given to applicants from the developing world.
Fellowships can be awarded for research, media or policy development, or solutions development and outputs from the Fellow’s activities can be anything from a technical platform, a report, a website, a book, a policy paper, a film or any other medium relevant to the proposal. Applicants can read more, and download an application pack, from our launch post here.
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