Imagine the panic and frustration you’d feel if you lost your passport or driver’s license. They are basic proofs of identity that we – in the developed world – readily use to access a huge range of services from getting on a plane, to opening a bank account, to proving our eligibility for education, to exercising our right to vote.
Yet around 2 billion people – mainly in the developing world – have no legal form of identity. That includes some 650m children who have never been registered at birth.
They do not legally exist. So what chance will they have in life?
This huge obstacle to development is acknowledged in the Sustainable Development Goals by Target 16.9:
But identity is not just a right and a Goal in itself. It can help achieve many more additional SDGs.
"We identified at least 10 of the SDGs and targets where without people having ID it is very difficult to see how these goals and targets can be achieved," CGD Senior Fellow Alan Gelb tells me in a new podcast. The findings are discussed in this paper that Gelb co-authored with Mariana Dahan from the World Bank.
Dahan is a core part of a wider World Bank effort called ID4D to address the global identity gap and its impact on development. Click below to hear Gelb and Dahan on what other Goals identity can help achieve.
"Identification is a thread through the entire 2030 Agenda"
In the same podcast Dahan says that identification is important in far more than 10 of the Targets.
"Almost every target needs a form of identification for someone to be able to access that right, that service… So I really see identification as a red thread through the entire 2030 agenda."
Below are a few examples of Targets and Goals that Gelb and Dahan argue require robust forms of legal identification.
Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Target 1.4: Ensure that the poor and vulnerable have control over land and other forms of property.
Target 12.c: Rationalize inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies.
Target 16.5: Reduce corruption.
India’s JAMming with ID
These last two have been road-tested in India via the JAM system, where JAM stands for Jan Dhan (referring to an individual bank account), Aadhar (a unique biometric identifier for each person) and Mobile (referring to India’s almost-ubiquitous mobile phones). Taking advantage of a drop in fuel prices, India’s government has transformed fuel subsidies into cash transfers, administered through biometrically-identified individual bank accounts. In a recent visit to CGD, India’s Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan claimed the JAM system had brought 130m more people into the financial system, and allowed the government to transfer $2bn to in six months. Watch the Minister talking about the JAM system below.
So if identification is important to attaining a multiplicity of the SDGs, what are the implications for policymakers? CGD’s Alan Gelb is clear:
"You want to manage the public payroll," he says, "you want to make sure teachers are paid, you want to make sure transfers are received by the people who are supposed to receive them….so how do you use the resources you have, your own resources, resources from the international community, to achieve these goals?"
"One has to think about this strategically, as a foundation for all aspects of economic activity and for many areas of policy."
Click here to watch the whole video podcast.
CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.