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Biometrics, foreign aid, Africa, economics of resource-rich countries, growth and development, transition economies
Alan Gelb is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development. His recent research includes aid and development outcomes, the transition from planned to market economies, the development applications of biometric ID technology, and the special development challenges of resource-rich countries.
He was previously director of development policy at the World Bank and chief economist for the bank’s Africa region and staff director for the 1996 World Development Report “From Plan to Market.”
This paper discusses the evolution of India's Universal ID program, the innovative organization and pathbreaking technology behind it, how it is being rolled out, and how robust ID is beginning to be used.
This show was originally posted on January 11, 2011
In developed countries, official identification systems are a fact of life, providing the foundation for a myriad of transactions including elections, pension payments, and the legal system. Without functional ID systems, citizens of many developing countries miss out on the benefits of official identification. On this week’s Wonkcast, I am joined by CGD senior fellow Alan Gelb who has been researching the potential for new biometric technology, such as computerized finger printing and iris scans, to help poor countries leapfrog the long and complicated process of setting up ID systems.
This is a joint post with Julia Clark and Christian Meyer.
Industrial policy—as many have already commented—is back. (See here, here and here).
The recent wave of post-financial-crisis interventionism has reignited the classic (and often heated) debate about whether governments can in fact nurture economic growth. Previous analysis of the East Asian miracle, and frustration at the perceived failure of certain liberalization policies, has led many to (again) embrace a more activist role for governments in economic development.
Bangalore in September. Beautiful weather, luscious gardens, and the din of metro construction. But most importantly (for our purposes, at least), Bangalore is headquarters to the world’s largest biometric identification project. Every 24 hours, the Unique Identification Authority of India’s data center performs 100 trillion matches to ensure that each of the day’s 1 million new enrollees is distinct from the 200 million people already identified. This number crunching will only increase as the program scales to cover India’s 1.2 billion people.
The application of biometrics to promote development and democratization is proceeding rapidly in the developing world—and largely below the radar of the media and development experts in high-income countries. Monitoring press releases on biometrics with the help of a news Google alert, I’ve been struck by the astonishing spread of this technology for use in voter registration in developing countries... Nepal, Zambia, Ghana, to name just three and ongoing cases.
Related Working Paper
Cash at Your Fingertips: Biometric Technology for Transfers in Developing and Resource-Rich Countries
Most recently, Gabon announced plans to introduce a biometric voter roll in advance of the next election: the opposition parties have been urging this for years. The election is due in December 2011, but the President is to seek a court ruling on its deferral to 2012 to allow for the orderly introduction of biometrics. The proposal has been supported by a group of NGOs and associations, as well as the Secretary General of one of the main opposition parties. Bolivia provides an example of what can be done to increase political inclusion. Over 5 million people were enrolled in 2009 within a period of 76 days by some 3,000 enrolment stations, increasing the voter roll by an astonishing 2 million people. The main drivers were the opposition parties, which were reluctant to contest an election with the old, discredited, roll. The exercise was very successful, in the assessment by the Carter Center.