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Cash at Your Fingertips: Biometric Technology for Transfer Systems

This is a joint post with Caroline Decker

Last week CGD published our working paper on the use of fingerprint and iris scans for cash transfers. As we continue to look into this topic, we are even more convinced of the potential this technology has for transfer systems, particularly those in resource-rich countries.

Cash transfers are increasingly being used by developing countries and development agencies to address a range of economic and social problems, including human investment and greater equality. But the option to directly distribute natural rent to citizens of resource-rich developing countries may also be especially relevant. Such an approach could encourage better resource management and head off the governance problems associated with the concentration of large rents in the hands of the state. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to establish efficient transfer programs in developing countries, many with a record of corruption and leakage. Evidence suggests that even well designed transfer programs experience 10-20 percent leakage, if not higher.

Democracy and Development: The Spread of Biometric Voter Rolls

This post is joint with Caroline Decker

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.

Fingerprint Haiti Now: Biometrics in Haiti, One Year Later

This is a joint post with Caroline Decker.

Less than a month until the anniversary of the earthquake that devastated the Haitian capital, 1.3 million still live in tents, clean water remains an issue with cholera rapidly spreading, and millions of cubic meters of debris litter the streets, hampering rebuilding efforts. But Haiti was hardly in great shape before the earthquake. Despite years of assistance, 80% of its population was living under the poverty line, 2 out of 3 Haitians did not have a formal job, and infrastructure was minimal.

Why Have Mobile Phones Succeeded Where Other Technologies Have Not?

A few weeks ago, I was sitting on a panel for a conference on Information and Communications Technology and Development.  The debate on my panel was a lively one, and came down to one issue:  Can information technology (by itself) lead to development?  Obviously there has been a lot of buzz about this topic -- Jeffrey Sachs has called the mobile phone the “single most transformative technology” for de

Biometrics, Identity, and Development

I recently presented an overview of this work at one of CGD’s biweekly Research-in-Progress (RIP) staff meetings; colleagues urged me to share my thinking about this and the slides via this blog post.

C U L8ter? Using Mobile Phones as a Literacy Tool in Niger

This is a joint posting with Kristy Bohling.

I recently received a text message from my friend Karim in Niger, asking “Keski ce passe?” (What’s happening?). Those of you who know French might notice his text is an abbreviation of the much longer expression for “Qu’est-ce qui se passe”, which is formal and proper but a bit long when you only have 140 characters. Such abbreviations in French, English and other languages have caused teachers and parents alike to blame texting for corrupting our language and “degrading [the] spelling of [our] youth.” Existing studies in the UK and elsewhere have debunked these claims, and, the National Adult Literacy Database called on people to celebrate International Literacy Day by “reading or writing, tweeting or texting.” In fact, mobile phones and texting might be a new tool in the arsenal against illiteracy: our new research in Niger suggests that mobile phones could promote literacy and numeracy skills in sub-Saharan Africa.

New and Improved: Much Ado (and To Do) about Innovation in Development

“Innovation” is popping up everywhere you turn these days. In her recent speech at the Center for Global Development, Secretary Clinton cited “innovation” as one of the priorities of U.S. development policy. Both the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Department of Treasury are exploring ways to more systematically include “innovation” in the development agenda. The G8 is rumored to be launching an “innovation and development” initiative for Africa at its next meeting.

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