Togo eyes more robust digital ID system to enhance inclusion, tackle future challenges
The West African nation of Togo is considering building a stronger digital ID ecosystem for identification and social protection data exchanges that would enable more timely and appropriate responses to unforeseen problems, following the success of its digital cash-transfer response to COVID, indicates a report by the Rockefeller Foundation.
‘Co-Develop: Digital Public Infrastructure for an Equitable Recovery,’ uses Togo as an inspiring example of how building solid Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) can help governments in deepening inclusion and ensuring reliant and robust responses to challenges of the future.
The report says that the country, which took advantage of its existing DPI to execute a government-to-person cash transfer program in the heat of the COVID pandemic, is now looking to build more resilience into its digital ID scheme to tackle any future emergencies.
Efforts by Togo to build on its digital ID ecosystem have been underway since 2020. In 2021, it concluded a deal for the implementation of a foundational digital ID platform using MOSIP.
Digital public infrastructure as a digital public good
The Rockefeller report, commissioned in August 2021, principally dwells on the importance of building strong Digital Public Infrastructure around the world. It demonstrates how countries which had some such infrastructure in place before the outbreak of COVID were able to more easily find their way through in the depths of the emergency.
It also underscores the need for multi-sector collaboration, investment and research in the development of DPI.
For the case of Togo, the report recalls how government authorities, through the Ministry of Digital Economy, within a period of just ten days, launched a mobile cash transfer program dubbed ‘Novissi’ which saw the distribution of about $10 million to 140,000 citizens of the informal sector who had seen their income sources dry up due to government-imposed COVID restrictions.
The Novissi website’s latest figures show that 1.6 million people registered, of whom half have been beneficiaries receiving a share of $21.7 million of cash disbursements.
For the initiative to succeed, the report notes that the government of Togo banked on four key strong points. These included taking advantage of the high use of mobile phones and mobile payments networks used by 82 percent and 62 percent of adult Togolese respectively; an updated biometric voter registration database which contained addresses and occupations of about 93 percent of citizens; a dedicated and experience digital government team which had experience on cash transfer issues and which was also deeply involved in the country’s DPI development efforts, and lastly the strong collaboration shown by academic and non-profit experts and also between providers of mobile network services and the Togolese government.
These and more, the report contends, are the steps that set Togo on the path to a strong response against COVID, helping vulnerable persons put their lives together again.
Apart from Togo, the Rockefeller report also mentions the experience of other countries such as Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Mozambique, and Vietnam which took advantage of their existing DPI to vehicle digitally-enabled COVID response efforts in different sectors.
Emphasizing the importance of such infrastructure which include digital identification, payments and data exchanges, the report notes that none of them were created with the pandemic in mind but they became critical enablers of the public health, social protection, and economic responses by governments, businesses, organizations and even individuals.
The report is co-authored by Kevin O’Neil and Nicole Rasul of The Rockefeller Foundation with substantial inputs from the Digital Public Goods Alliance and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation.