Let’s talk about digital identity with Erdoo Yongo, Policy and Advocacy Manager at GSMA.

In episode 43, Oscar and Erdoo explore the importance of mobile technology to digital identity, and what that means for inclusion in schemes that rely on identification of individuals. From her background in policy and advocacy at GSMA, Erdoo gives specific examples of mobile playing a role in the development of identity – identity enrolment in Nigeria, birth registration in Pakistan, health records in Kenya, and cash value assistance in Zambia. She also explores the challenges preventing mobile from playing a role in the development of digital identity ecosystems.

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“There are a range of opportunities for mobile technology and mobile operators to play a pivotal role in the development of digital identity ecosystems.”

Erdoo YongoErdoo joined GSMA in 2017. She is a Policy and Advocacy Manager across the Digital Identity (DI) and Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation (M4H) teams. As part of the advocacy and policy team, she is working to create an enabling policy environment for mobile operators to ensure that mobile can be used to support identification of underserved populations and as a platform to deliver humanitarian assistance. Erdoo is thus working with mobile operators, development partners and humanitarian organisations to uncover and resolve policy and regulatory barriers they face in providing mobile services to users.

She also leads GSMA’s research on mandatory SIM registration, exploring its relation to other key indicators in order to establish key trends that inform the work of the DI and M4H advocacy and policy streams.

Erdoo delivers the ‘Digital identity for the underserved and the role of mobile’ Capacity Building course to regulators and policymakers and represents GSMA at a broad range of events.

Find Erdoo on LinkedIn and Twitter @YErdoo.

Find out more about GSMA’s Mobile for Development team at www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment.

Find the reports that Erdoo refers to at the end of the episode at www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/resources/access-to-mobile-services-and-proof-of-identity-2021/, www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/resources/digital-identity-accelerating-financial-inclusion-during-a-crisis/ and www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/resources/commercially-sustainable-roles-for-mobile-operators-in-digital-id-ecosystems/.

We’ll be continuing this conversation on Twitter using #LTADI – join us @ubisecure!


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Podcast transcript

Let’s Talk About Digital Identity, the podcast connecting identity and business. I am your host, Oscar Santolalla.

Oscar Santolalla: Hello and thank you for joining. Today, we are going to talk about the world of mobile. And for that we have for the second time a guest from the GSMA. So let me introduce you today to Erdoo Yongo. She is a Policy and Advocate Manager across the Digital Identity and Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation teams. As part of the advocacy and policy team, she’s working to create an enabling policy environment for mobile operators to ensure that mobile can be used to support identification of underserved populations and as a platform to deliver humanitarian assistance.

Erdoo is thus working with mobile operators, development partners and humanitarian organisations to uncover and resolve policy and regulatory barriers that they face in providing mobile services to users. Erdoo delivers the digital identity for the underserved and the role of mobile capacity building course to regulators and policymakers, and represents GSMA at a broad range of events.

Hello, Erdoo.

Erdoo Yongo: Hi, Oscar. How are you doing?

Oscar: Very good. It’s a pleasure talking with you Erdoo and I’m very intrigued to hear what GSMA is doing, in particular your work.

Erdoo: It’s a pleasure to be a guest on this show. Thank you for having me, Oscar, as well as Francesca.

Oscar: Thank you. So please, I would like to hear first from your own words, what was your– tell a bit about yourself also your journey, how you came to this world of digital identity?

Erdoo: Yes, sure. So, as Oscar stated, I am a Policy and Advocacy Manager in GSMA’s digital identity and mobile for humanitarian innovation programmes. However, before starting at GSMA, I actually worked with a Member of Parliament for a brief amount of time, which is a politician in the UK. From a young age, as I had always had an interest in politics, especially whilst completing my degree in politics, philosophy of economics. This experience gave me a really good insight into the day-to-day of Parliament. But I was still very intrigued by policy.

I always tell people that I actually ended up at GSMA by accident, because I didn’t know it existed until I saw a job being advertised by The Brokerage, a social mobility charity who do fantastic work in helping young people start their career. So, I was fortunately offered a job with the GSMA’s digital identity team. So that is when I was first made aware of digital identity and its potential. And I’d like to say the rest is really history. This was about four years ago.

Oscar: OK. Fantastic. As many other guests actually, by chance, they discovered the world of digital identity. And they found that it’s a really, really passionate world to– many things we can do for many people across the world.

Erdoo: Definitely.

Oscar: So please remind us, what is GSMA and also the team that you work there in GSMA?

Erdoo: So the GSMA is a mobile trade association, meaning that we represent the interests of our members who are predominantly mobile operators. So annually, we tend to convene thousands of stakeholders from across the world at industry events. I sit within the mobile for development team who are funded by the UK Government. And we work with mobile operators and the development community to accelerate economic growth and reduce inequalities using mobile technology, mainly in low and medium income countries.

Alongside nine other programmes, the digital identity sits within mobile for development. And again, we work with mobile operators, governments and the development community to demonstrate the opportunities, address the barriers, and also highlight the value of mobile in accelerating digital identification.

Oscar: Yes, and why is mobile important in the context of digital identity?

Erdoo: That’s a great question. We feel that mobile is very important because of its reach. So in 2020, there was more than 5.2 billion people who had access to a mobile. There’s no other platform that actually has the same reach as mobile. And we can see in the day-to-day that technology is providing people with access to life enhancing services such as healthcare, education, social protection. And at GSMA, we feel that there’s a range of opportunities for mobile technology. Not only that, but also for mobile operators to play a pivotal role in the development of digital identity ecosystems.

For example, we believe that on the supply side that mobile operators have a number of core business assets that make them ideal government partners to support the enrolment of the millions of people who across the world lack access to formal identification. We know, for example, that in Nigeria, mobile operators have recently been approved to be government partners to enrol the millions of Nigerians who don’t actually have any identification.

We also know that on the demand side that mobile operators can play a role in driving demand for digital identities amongst those who don’t have an identification. Mobile operators can use unique customer data such as SIM registration and mobile money, KYC data, to create identity linked products and services, which is specific to people. And in turn, this will again drive demand for a digital identity. So there’s a number of roles that mobile can play.

Oscar: How many have access to a phone?

Erdoo: More than 5.2 billion people.

Oscar: And that also includes all types of mobile phones, right, even the most basic ones?

Erdoo: Even a feature phone.

Oscar: Yeah, these are huge penetration for that technology, per se.

Erdoo: Definitely. And again, it’s – no other technology has that same reach so there’s so much potential because I mean I imagine, in my day-to-day I go out, even if I have maybe forgotten my wallet, in this day-to-day 2021, I can still actually purchase something using my phone, because I have my phone there. So it’s really amazing the opportunities that it really brings for citizens.

Oscar: Yes, I think it’s more common to leave the wallet at home, more common than leaving the phone at home.

Erdoo: Exactly. But I mean this is just one example. I think there’s an array of examples that I’ve come across in my work that really highlight this role.

Oscar: Yeah, and definitely that’s what I would like to hear the most today. You mentioned, for instance, one case in Nigeria. Very briefly, could you mention a bit deeper, a few of these examples?

Erdoo: Yeah, sure. So for example, in 2012, UNICEF Pakistan conducted a study which revealed that barriers to birth registration could actually be addressed through an application, a mobile application. So in order to establish a solution, UNICEF partnered with Telenor, who is one of the mobile operators within the country, as well as local government departments of the provincial governments of Punjab and Sindh.

Under the partnership, they introduced community-based gatekeepers who acted as mobile and even stationary birth reporting facilitators. Telenor, the mobile operator, also led the development of a mobile app which digitised birth registration reporting, and provided SIM cards with data connectivity and Wi-Fi access. The gatekeepers that I mentioned earlier were equipped with mobile devices and official government secretaries were given tablets to help them perform the registration.

So traditionally, what we were seeing is the birth registration process required an estimated three trips to an official government office. And it took also two days to process. But as a result of this partnership between UNICEF, Telenor and the local government, it reduced registration significantly to just 10 minutes and it enabled parents to register the births of their children without leaving the community.

So this is just one example of mobile playing our role in making it more convenient for people to have access to an identification – because we all know that birth registration is really important because that is the first step as to which people are put onto a system. So through that birth registration, a person will then be able later in their life to actually register for a national identity card to access a digital identity.

Oscar: So it’s a combined effort from, as you said, the operators – one operator there, and UNICEF and the local governments, correct?

Erdoo: So yeah, this is one example, and we have seen the numbers significantly increase as we’ve seen people kind of take up this form of registration, digital birth registration. I also have another example, which is a bit more recent. So, in Kenya and across many countries around the world, there is no interoperable platform to share health records across users and medical providers at the point of care. This makes it very difficult to ensure that patients are receiving quality care and a continuum of healthcare.

So in order to solve this problem, mobile operators and tech partners are currently working to create a mobile portable health record. We know that mobile technology is a good platform because of its reach. As I stated previously, more than 5.2 billion people across the world have a mobile phone in their hand. So MNOs are also well-placed to leverage their SIM registration data to uniquely identify individuals through a SIM card at scale.

And this can be used to share records, to enable secure health data portability with mobile and medical providers. Despite significant smartphone penetration in Kenya, this health service is designed to be available on USSD platform to ensure maximum reach to all populations. And again, this is another example as to how this service can encourage people to register for a SIM card in their own name, and consequently access a digital identity because that is consequently required to access a SIM card in their own name.

Oscar: OK. And in those cases who pays for the SIM card, someone is subsidising that? Or…

Erdoo: No. So typically, I would say a SIM card is free to access for people. So it would just be the individuals access a SIM card. But the only thing is that we have recently found in research that 157 countries implement mandatory SIM registration. So this is where a person needs to take a form of identification in order to register for a SIM card. What we are finding is this is quite a big barrier for people who want to access a SIM card rather than, you know, the money.

Oscar: OK, do you need to bring some identity to get a SIM card instead of this new initiative that some people start. They’re having identity with the SIM card.

Erdoo: Yes, exactly. You need to bring your ID to register for a SIM card. And it’s only once you have that SIM card that you can really access this platform such as the one I was just speaking to – the Mobile Portable Health Record.

Oscar: Yeah, two very interesting examples. One is into the public service. The second was in healthcare. In which other sector, in more commercial, or which other sector you have an example to share with us?

Erdoo: Another example that I do have is from Zambia but this is more so- again, probably from the NGO perspective. But I can share it with you. So over recent years, we have seen that there has been a growing acceptance to provide vulnerable populations with more dignity to choose what assistance they receive. This has led to an increasing acceptance of cash value assistance, get NGOs and a lot of organisations are looking for ways to efficiently distribute such benefits, as well as to ensure that the distribution is delivered effectively.

So in Zambia, the Integrated Social Protection Information System, hosted by Smart Zambia, supported the Food Agricultural Organisation in supporting the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services. The proposed solution includes leveraging Know Your Customer records which is – are provided to asset proof of identity when registering for a mobile money account. Through these records, it creates a dependable way of identifying beneficiaries as well as transitioning cash distribution towards mobile money with improved tracking and accountability.

So in Zambia at the moment, mobile operators are maintaining the KYC records of users. And they are using them to verify recipients at the point of beneficiary identification. And so far 6,000 people have received cash transfers from the government through mobile money, but a total of 16,000 have been verified through this process. So what we are seeing in this example is that digital identity is an assurance mechanism. It is ensuring that cash is going to the right person, and is also helping the users improve user experience.

Oscar: Yeah, Excellent. Excellent. What would you say are the biggest challenges preventing mobile from playing a role in this development of digital identity ecosystems?

Erdoo: Yeah, there are a number. I would say there are probably four main issues. And I’ve already touched upon one of them, which is SIM registration. So as I was saying, in order to benefit from the services that I was previously mentioned, people need to have a SIM card registered in their own name. But as I have said, 157 countries currently implement mandatory SIM registration policies. So if people are without an identity, then it means that they are excluded generally from accessing mobile services. And I’m talking about the services that I have previously discussed.

Another issue is around low digital skills in online or digital authentication. This tends to negatively impact a person’s ability to maybe apply for an ID or even to use mobile services. So that, again, is one of the main issues, which prevent mobile being used more widely.

Again, the third issue is that there is still a significant amount of individuals, especially in low and medium income countries who currently don’t have access to mobile technology. I know previously, I was saying that more than 5.2 billion people have access to a mobile, but there’s still quite a significant proportion of the population who don’t have technology in their hands. And this could be for a number of reasons, such as affordability, etc. So that is, again, another main issue.

And then I finally want to come back to a major one that I have seen in my work, which is really around governments. So many governments have a limited mindset, and they are very unwilling to use mobile. I think sometimes it may be because they’re not too sure, of the potential of mobile, and they’re quite sceptic. But we believe that this is the future and that policymakers should really move away from the control, to embrace partnerships with private sector and look to the future because considering the reach of mobile is only going to play a bigger role in the future and in digital identity ecosystems.

Oscar: So I guess the task of your group is to somehow influence also the governments who are less open for these initiatives.

Erdoo: Definitely. So, a lot of our work includes actually speaking to users, doing research on the ground in the countries that we work in, to see what are their perceptions, what are their thoughts about mobile technology and digital and as well as the opportunities that they open. And we use this unique body of evidence to inform and influence governments and policy makers on the areas, on the perceptions of people who would actually be the recipients of such technology and such services.

Oscar: And also, to understand more the role of your group in the GSMA and the group in – for instance, in these three examples that you went deeper. And so, in each of these examples, there were some actors such as government, mobile operator and UNICEF in one case. So what is the role of GSMA overall in these cases?

Erdoo: In these cases, we have provided maybe technical assistance as well as advisory assistance. We have brought them together a lot of the time because we have found previously that a lot of these conversations tend to occur in isolation from each other, so we tend to see that governments are working to address these issues alone. But we again feel that there’s a lot of benefit in bringing these stakeholders together to actually collaborate on these issues, because a lot of the time they want to achieve the same thing. So we bring them together, we facilitate these partnerships between these different stakeholders, as well as with additional things such as research etc., to really showcase what can be done.

Oscar: And I guess a group is also looking for, I don’t know if in these three cases any of them was initially proposed by GSMA or who started, let’s say, each of these projects, but I guess your group is also looking for what is the next project in this, similar to these two that can happen next?

Erdoo: So I would say we, of course, work within the digital identity space, and we do quite a lot of research. And that informs us of, you know, the potential of digital identity. We merely bring stakeholders together who are interested in working on maybe such projects. And I wouldn’t say probably that there is pre-existing intention that we’re bringing X, Y, and Z together to work on a digital health ID. It’s more so we’d look at a market, we see what stakeholders are there and what is their interest.

It’s usually that they’re brought together under the idea of you know, they want to do something in the digital identity space. And then we really bring them together to have those conversations. We are not kind of pushing any projects, any ideas onto people, it’s more so merely hoping to help stakeholders who want to achieve similar things or address similar issues together so that they can work together using digital identity to do so.

Oscar: Yeah, so I guess some of the projects has come and will come from those conversations, right, from those conversation between these.

Erdoo: Exactly. I would say that the key ingredient is a willingness from all sides of the spectrum, because at the end of the day, they are going to be the ones who are implementing these projects.

Oscar: So and I also understand some countries have a huge population and there are so many of these parties are exist in the same country, but they are disconnected. And sometimes I feel that there is distrust between the government and the private sectors, in both directions there is some – somehow some distrust. So it’s excellent the job that GSMA is doing to put them together in the same table talking together and also bringing the technical advice in digital identity but also your experience in policymaking. So it sounds super valuable, what you are doing.

Erdoo: Thank you.

Oscar: A final question I’d like to ask you is for all people who are listening to this conversation, especially the ones who have decision power. So what is the one actionable idea that they should write on their agendas today?

Erdoo: I think considering that a lot of what I have spoken about is in relation to mobile technology, I would really encourage people to think about their processes, specifically those within government more so and who are working on the digital identity area to provide those who do not have any identification, I would encourage those to think about the possibilities of mobile technology in the work that they’re doing. Maybe that it could provide them with a better process or help them actually in providing kind of services to those who they are targeting in a more efficient way.

But mainly, I would say, yeah, one of the things that I’ve learned from the work that I do is that just really to have that willingness, to have that attitude, that open attitude, to explore things because there is such a huge potential in mobile. And I think what we are really seeing currently is that partnerships are a great way to really explore the potential of mobile. So please don’t underestimate partnerships, specifically, when I think of public and private sector partnerships. That’s my main takeaway.

Oscar: Yeah, thank you for that. And I’m sure this conversation has inspired to think of how we can contribute to this task that GSMA is doing in mobile for development. So please let us know, for people who want to learn more, or they want to share ideas with you, what are the best ways to learn more about what GSMA mobile for development is doing and ways to also get in touch with you or your team?

Erdoo: Yes, sure. So, you can find out a bit more about the work of mobile for development at gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment. And then in terms of the work that my team and I, that we’re doing, you can first reach out to me personally via LinkedIn. Just search Erdoo Yongo, as well as Twitter, I’m on there – my handle is @YErdoo. I’ll be sharing these all with Oscar so hopefully you should have access to them.

Oscar: Yes, absolutely. We put all these on the show notes of this interview. OK, excellent. Thanks for that and it was a great conversation with you, Erdoo and I wish all the best on yourself and also in this fabulous project, the mobile for development by GSMA. Thank you for joining us.

Erdoo: Thank you so much for having me, Oscar. And can I quickly do a final plug. So, over the next few weeks we are releasing some reports in relation to Know Your Customer requirements that have been relaxed during the COVID period to enable access to digital financial services. So I encourage your listeners as well as readers to check that out as well as our access to mobile report that is soon going to be published.

Thanks for listening to this episode of Let’s Talk About Digital Identity produced by Ubisecure. Stay up to date with episodes at ubisecure.com/podcast or join us on Twitter @ubisecure and use the #LTADI. Until next time.

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