Bohicon, Benin – Peeter Viisimaa / iStock

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Identity and the Urban Poor


With over two-thirds of the world’s population set to be living in cities by 2050, GSMA surveys the identity needs and challenges of the poorest urban residents

In this synthesis, Matthew Wilson consolidates insights on the unique identity challenges faced by the poorest communities living in cities.

He notes that those with the least – especially migrants and unregistered youths – can quickly become digitally, socially and financially excluded in cities where they do not have formal identification. And that conversely, effective proof of identity is key to ensuring equitable access to housing, healthcare, education and much more.

Drawing on examples from Indonesia, Kenya and Jordan, the paper focuses on three specific types of urban dwellers (children born in urban areas, rural-urban migrants and those who have been forcibly displaced to cities) and draws out some shared themes for these communities.

As stated in the piece:

“The unique identity needs of a person living in urban poverty can be influenced by a wide range of factors, such as their family and housing situation, social capital, place of origin (if they migrated), level of education, access to employment and overall financial stability. Many urban dwellers are entrepreneurial, effective at managing and coping with uncertainty, and increasingly turning to mobile platforms to access information and maintain (or establish) social connections. Others, however, will be financially desperate, distrustful, less digitally-savvy, and have little bargaining power when it comes to enforcing their rights or accessing entitlements.”

The paper ends with five key opportunities for mobile network operators and digital identity providers to help address these challenges.

There is a clear need for governments, the development community, and the mobile industry to work together to address the barriers that prevent millions of urban residents from accessing official proof of identity and benefitting from life-enhancing mobile services that are registered in their own name

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