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World Bank Contest Aims To Help People Who Lack Proof Of Identification


What can you do without your ID? Think about that because around the world, a billion people do not have any form of official identification. That can prevent them from getting access to public services like health care or opening a bank account.

Darian Woods from NPR's Planet Money podcast tells us about a contest to help change that.

DARIAN WOODS, BYLINE: Half of the 1 billion people without ID come from five countries - India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Ethiopia and Bangladesh. And there are a few main reasons why people tend to not have ID. First, there's cost. Rolling out national ID is expensive. Next - legal barriers, like women barred from applying for ID themselves in countries like Pakistan. And then trust - some people don't want the government tracking them, often for good reason. But Vyjayanti Desai of the World Bank says getting an ID can really improve someone's life if done right.

VYJAYANTI DESAI: We need to build trust in the system. We don't want forms of ID that can be harmful.

WOODS: Desai has set up this sort of "Shark Tank"-style pitch contest called Mission Billion.

DESAI: How do you really leverage technology to solve some of these great problems, like lack of identification, but while also mitigating against some of the potential risks, like on privacy and data protection?

WOODS: Contestants from all around the globe came to the World Bank headquarters in Washington, D.C., last week to pitch their ideas.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Digital IDs - it's an issue that has arrived. We're joined right now by Her Majesty Queen Maxima of the Netherlands.

WOODS: In a packed room, over a hundred people - some of them wear headsets to listen in different languages.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Can we have a look at your ID first?


WOODS: Among the entries was a way of securely sharing your address online. There was a web-based platform that lets you take control over how your data is used. There's even a game called IDLand. One contestant, Toby Norman, he sits off to the side. He's getting ready to pitch his idea to solve the trust problem.

Do you have a pre-pitch ritual?

TOBY NORMAN: (Laughter) I usually try and take four really, really deep breaths - big as I can go.

WOODS: Norman runs a nonprofit called Simprints. Simprints makes fingerprint scanners to register people for health services. But in Bangladesh, he hit a snag.

NORMAN: How do you actually get genuinely informed consent from someone who's had maybe three to five years of education in their entire lives?

WOODS: He's made it into the final six for this World Bank contest.


WOODS: On the stage, he explains how he and his team came up with a tool to use audio recordings of trusted local leaders to ask for consent.

NORMAN: We've worked with human rights lawyers from the University of Oxford to design a layered consent approach.

WOODS: The pitch is received well. Then the other finalists - one idea was even developed by the inventor of the World Wide Web. And after all six pitches...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: The winner is Simprints.


WOODS: Norman and his team win. The prize is $50,000. But more importantly, it means attention. The governments of Rwanda and Uganda have reached out to Norman. That's on top of the 12 countries he and his team are already working with.

Darian Woods, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Darian Woods is a reporter and producer for The Indicator from Planet Money. He blends economics, journalism, and an ear for audio to tell stories that explain the global economy. He's reported on the time the world got together and solved a climate crisis, vaccine intellectual property explained through cake baking, and how Kit Kat bars reveal hidden economic forces.