Consulting communities for digital identities for humanitarian cash assistance

Written By: Super User Category: News

Significant global attention has centered on the role of cash transfers in bringing efficiency to the humanitarian system and improving outcomes for crisis-affected populations. A challenge in providing humanitarian aid is the risk of leaving behind people with no official forms of identification, which are typically required to ensure assistance goes to the right people. The provision of humanitarian cash assistance through financial service providers such as banks or mobile money may have stricter requirements to show proof of legal identity (e.g., national ID card) as its required by law. This may further exacerbate the conditions of individuals who may have lost their important documents during disasters, or those who have never owned a national ID due to costs and cumbersome procedures or even lack of feeder documents such as birth certificates.

Lack of recognized proof of identity has had about 1.5 billion individuals (World Bank, 2016) facing challenges in accessing basic rights and services such as voting, setting up a bank account, registering a business, land ownership, receiving social protection payments, school enrolment, and even humanitarian assistance. Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) estimates 25% of their beneficiary caseload, do not have a government issued ID’s (World Disasters Report, 2018).

The efficient implementation of cash and voucher assistance requires new digital tools that enable the efficient selection and registration of beneficiaries while allowing transparent and accountable delivery of funds to recipients. Effective methods of verifying beneficiary identities are essential to these processes, and lack of a proper identification tool has stood out to be a major challenge. In Kenya, access to formal identification remains rather low particularly among the elderly and people living in remote areas. 

“We did not have proper information on the processes and channels of getting an ID. With the help of our local leaders we strive to ensure the youth are able to register for these ID’s to enable them access essential services It is important for the younger generation to sign up for the National ID’s as it is a requirement by law the. We are elderly and do not particularly see the essence of acquiring the ID’s at this point in life.” Ndomoni Siet, a Maasai elder in Emarti village Kajiado County reiterated.

“Digitizing beneficiary data in a centralized kind of system will go a long way in helping the society benefit from assistance from either Government or Humanitarian Organization. For those without any proof of identification, it would be convenient to have systems in place for them to have a substitute document for identification purpose. This will in turn help them secure the essential services.” Timothy Tonkei, KRCS County Coordinator Kajiado County.

The Dignified Identities (DIGID) in cash programming project aims to address the challenges of people with no recognized ID’s to receive cash. The project is currently being implemented by the Kenya Red Cross Society, through the International Center for Humanitarian Affairs (ICHA). The project is funded by Innovation Norway and supported by the Norwegian Red Cross and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies(IFRC) . The technology implementer on the project is Gravity, based in Kenya. The solution will be developed following a user centric design approach incorporating the feedback from potential beneficiaries. The trusted, secure and verifiable digital wallet that will be developed will enable beneficiaries to receive, share and store their identity credentials giving them autonomy to manage and use their own data. This is a change from the current way of aid organizations collecting a lot of personal data and beneficiaries themselves not having access or control to their own data

In October 2020, the DIGID project team conducted user consultations in Mukuru, an urban informal settlement in Nairobi county, and in Emarti and Meto in Kajiado county, both rural areas prone to frequent flooding and drought. The user consultation sessions followed the user centric design approach and conducted through focus group discussions (FGD) and key informant interviews (KII) with community members and leaders. A separate session to get feedback on the current prototype was also done. The aim of the sessions was to understand the aid recipient’s journey in terms of accessing aid and any interactions with their identities, and learn firsthand about their challenges, preferences and motivations when it comes to identification. Additionally, the team discussed the general perception and appeal of a digital identity to receive assistance. This brought about their concerns about data privacy and protection, their perception on data ownership, and willingness to share data with humanitarian organizations that they trust. A conversation about the solution prototype using a text-based messaging on feature phones was also carried out to validate usability, functionality, preferences, and perceived value of the solution.

Connectivity to mobile networks was satisfactory across all locations although all the participants in the focus group held in Emarti neither had ID’s nor phones, while the key informants interviewed did have ID’s and smartphones. Majority of the participants in Meto had ID’s and smartphones with only a few having feature phones. In Mukuru, most of the participants had basic phones with a majority lacking ID’s.

Findings

Accessing mobile money service

The user consultations revealed that most of the participants with phones regularly used their devices to perform basic functions such as calling and texting (SMS). Most of these individuals also used their phones to receive mobile money using M-Pesa. Those who had smartphones were also comfortable with calling, texting and M-Pesa use on their devices. They also accessed social media, digital news, photos and videos, the bible, dictionary, and other online resources.

A subset of these individuals did not have M-Pesa accounts at all as they lacked ID’s. However, some participants had a SIM registered in another person’s name that acted as their proxy, and signed up for M-Pesa accounts through that proxy. Given that cash deposits and withdrawals require M-Pesa agents to request ID’s, these individuals were unable to “cash in and out” of these

M-Pesa accounts on their own. One participant who didn’t have a phone but instead possessed an ID card was able to register for an M-Pesa account. He regularly withdraws cash from his M-Pesa account by telling the M-Pesa agent his ID number which he has memorized. This practice was also followed by those who had lost their ID cards

Deterrents for getting an ID

Other than it being a directive from the government, most participants understood the value proposition of getting an ID. One cannot access services and opportunities such as jobs, government services and mobile money services without an ID. Those who did not have ID’s stated various reasons as to why they did not have one. They lacked information on the processes and channels for getting an ID. Some of the participants had been requested to pay to get their documents processed and the absence of feeder documents, such as birth certificates, along with the investment in terms of time, money and effort required to get these documents, also prevented individuals from getting an ID

Privacy, trust & guardianship of data

Participants saw their own data as a means to accessing different services such as aid. “I will give you my information because you will give me aid,” said one participant. A substantial portion of participants were aware of how their personal information such as ID and phone number could be misused for fraudulent schemes. As a result, they were willing to share their data if given a clear purpose for data sharing and with entities they trusted including the Kenya Red Cross Society.

Digital Identity

The concept of Digital Identities was difficult to grasp. For most of the participants, the preference seemed to be for a physical ID, stating it would make them feel safer about potential misuse and loss due to its tangibility

Prototype feedback

Testing of the text-based messaging interface was done in all locations. This gave the participants an understanding on what the envisioned solution might be able to do. They were able to use the basic functions easily and understood the concept of giving consent to share their data to access assistance. “Many can speak their local languages but cannot read it,” mentioned one of the participants recommending Swahili or English for the language interface.

The user consultation had some limitations, including underrepresented groups. In Emarti, the participants were primarily elderly and thus missing perspectives of the younger age group, who are typically more inclined to use or access digital technology. Covid-19 risks and restrictions also posed challenges during the consultations, which excluded locations that were not conveniently accessible by road from Nairobi. Nonetheless, the information gathered and feedback from communities helped provide insights on the opportunities and risks of such digital identity technology. It also helped identify considerations on what the solution should do and how to better communicate about the value of such a solution.

With the many benefits of digital identities, along comes risks such as data misuse, data breach which could be detrimental when the information gathered is used in a way it wasn’t intended such as exploitation of the most vulnerable data. Hence the solution that is set to be implemented by the DIGID project team aims at putting people at the center and in control of their data.