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Giving People Control Over their Data Can Transform Development

– World Bank

Indian entrepreneur Nandan Nilekani, former chair of the government committee charged with rolling out India’s national identity programme and leading formative Aadhaar advocate, shares his views on the program and its impact on Indian citizens

Nilekani is the Founding Chairman of Unique Identification Authority of India and a prominent advocate for its flagship ID program, known as Aadhaar. He highlights the story of Shanti Devi, a rural woman whose livelihood depends on wages from government assistance.

Prior to the introduction of Aadhaar, Devi was without ID and unbanked, so her wages were hand delivered, making them vulnerable to theft.

With the introduction of Aadhaar, Devi’s biometric data was taken, and she was provided with a unique ID number, enabling her to open a bank account. Now, her wages go directly into the account, allowing her to manage her own finances directly.

Nilekani uses Devi’s story to demonstrate the impact that Aadhaar has had on financial inclusion, and on India’s broader economy:

“With her ID, she is now fully empowered to exercise her rights, access services and economic opportunities. Most of all, she is afforded the dignity to assert her identity…

The Indian government now saves billions of dollars every year, through reduced fraud and leakages…”

The piece goes on to explore related digital platforms that have emerged to support Aadhaar, including systems for identification, payment, document storage, and utility bill payments. Collectively referred to as the “India Stack,” these platforms and APIs work alongside the government system to provide a broader digital infrastructure for online financial and administrative processes.

Nilekani concludes by calling for the African continent to follow the example set by India and other countries that have digitized their national identity systems. Highlighting the importance of coordination between the private and public sectors, Nilekani proposes that a robust identification system provides a pathway toward “an inclusive and prosperous society for all.”

Developing countries – and in particular countries in Asia and Africa – are in a position to move quickly to a new digital paradigm in which users are in control of personal data and are empowered to use this data to improve their lives

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