"Seeing" India's Invisible Poor
I believe the success of any organization–and nation–depends on the quality of its communications and that vision was validated for me once again in April 2013 morning when I spotted an article on The Washington Post newspaper’s “Wonkblog” section. Those of us who have dedicated our careers to improving the quality of life and natural environment for all with a focus on the disadvantaged populations of developing nations, know very well the difficulty of delivering basic services and encouraging democracy in countries where huge portions of the population are officially invisible. I’m talking about the millions of people born, often in rural areas, whose births have never been formally documented and therefore do not exist in the eyes of their governments.
In India, half of all births are not registered, leaving tens of million of people without any birth certificate or other formal documentation of their existence and citizenship. Since so many Indians (especially the rural poor) do not officially exist, government representatives are not motivated to listen to and meet their needs via public policy decisions and government services. The impact this has on the nation’s democratic process, economy and quality of life cannot be overstated.
Now for the new technology communications solution: according to The Washington Post, Indian businessman and visionary technologist, Nandan Manohar Nilekani, aims to end this injustice by collecting the fingerprints and iris scans of all 1.6 billion Indian residents within the next few years! Yes—you read that correctly, within the next few years.
The idea is to give each individual’s combined fingerprints and iris scans a unique identification number (akin to say a U.S. social security number) and subsequently house all of the data in the Internet “cloud” for easy access and confirmation by Indian civil servants dispensing such things as food and fuel subsidies. Previously invisible Indian residents can have their identities verified at any government office enabling them to receive services, own a cell phone, open a bank account or even register a business. According to the report, the new system should also drastically reduce corruption in India by removing many of the opportunities for civil servants to demand bribes for delivering a service to an undocumented resident.
In case you think the task of registering 1.6 billion people onto the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is too monumental to complete, you should know that Nilekani has already established 30,000 registration sites around India, is registering about 1 million people each day, has already registered more than 300 million and is on track to meet the goal of getting half of India’s population on the “cloud” within the next 12 months. The UIDAI is expected to connect the hundreds of millions of previously unregistered people to government programs thereby saving public money, reducing fraud and fostering new business opportunities.
All I can say is WOW!
Links To Resources About Nilekani and His Biometric Data Project:
The New Yorker, October 3, 2011: Profiles – The I.D. Man. Can a software mogul’s epic project help India’s Poor?
Forbes: The World’s Billionaires
TED Talks, Speaker, May 2009: Nandan Nilekani’s Ideas for India’s Future