Boosting digital citizen services with powerful partnerships

Aid & Trade: Private sector and Governments working in harmony
Aid & Trade: Private sector and Governments working in harmony

Aid & Trade: Private sector and Governments working in harmony

Developed countries are coming under increasing pressure to respond to a range of welfare issues as a result of the global cost of living crisis.

Social protection schemes - including welfare payments, healthcare, food aid and social housing - are essential lifelines for people who are struggling in poverty. However, with aid and benefit distribution comes issues with proof of identity and fraud.

In this article we will look at the need for robust digital identity verification systems. We will then look at the benefits of public-private partnerships when developing successful and inclusive distribution solutions.

The need for foundational identity

‘Foundational ID’ refers to the legal and official recognition of an individual’s existence. In the developed world, this recognition usually begins with the issue of a birth certificate before being consolidated by national ID cards or passports from recognised authorities.

Possession of foundational identity unlocks a person’s rights and access to services, including:

  • Healthcare, education and social welfare
  • Opening a bank account
  • Employment, in order to verify eligibility to work
  • Financial services, such as credit and loans, pensions or insurance
  • Community participation, such as voting
  • Obtaining a driver's licence
  • International travel and obtaining a passport

However, according to the World Bank, an estimated 1 billion people worldwide do not have such basic ID credentials and many more have ID that cannot be reliably verified. In addition, the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that although 3.4 billion people possess a form of ID, they have limited ability to use it in the digital world.

Biometric technology has modernised the way foundational ID is issued - particularly for these underserved populations - without requiring or mandating traditional paper documentation. This makes it more secure, accurate and accessible for individuals needing social support and organisations assisting them.

Issues with aid in the developed world

Benefit fraud - from false identity to ‘double-dipping’ - costs governments tens of billions every year.

According to Public Accounts Committee (PAC) reports, in the UK alone ‘levels of fraud and error in benefit expenditure are unacceptably high’. During the pandemic ‘fraud and error rose to historic levels across the benefit system’ with the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) overpaying £8.6 billion in 2021-22, with £6.5 billion of that figure due to fraud.

In the UK, USA and Canada, social welfare beneficiaries include homeless people, old age pensioners and people displaced from other countries that are in crisis. As well as fraud, there are significant problems with the conventional delivery of public services, welfare and aid, including:

  • Wastage
  • Logistics Inequality and discrimination - aid payments may not reach those who need it most, leaving vulnerable populations underserved
  • Complicated processes leading to delays and inefficiency
  • Lack of coordination, overlapping services or gaps in coverage
  • Lack of accountability and transparency, leading to mistrust and scepticism
  • Short-term focus on relief rather than long-term development of a system
  • Fragmentation with multiple NGOs, charities and government agencies working independently resulting in duplication or inefficiency
  • Stigmatisation and ethics, raising questions of genuine need, equity and fairness

This is where iris recognition technology can help:

“Our iris recognition system secures digital ID for homeless and vulnerable populations who do not have sufficient documentation or financial history to be financially included in the economy, ensuring that they have access to healthcare and other available services whilst eliminating double-dipping and ghosting.”

How can we overcome fraud?

In order to provide accessible and effective services, governments, NGOs and other agencies need a trusted, inclusive and accurate way to verify beneficiary’s identities. It has never been more pressing than today, in an age where most transactions are digital and/or remote.

As a global leader in biometric solutions, we are well aware of the success of iris recognition to authenticate identity while also addressing fraud and related concerns.

The power of a public-private partnership

A public-private partnership can be a highly successful synergy when developing an identity verification solution. It can be incredibly beneficial when governmental agencies or NGOs collaborate with private fintech companies to share their relative strengths.

We have seen how strategic collaborations between governmental agencies and private fintech companies can revolutionise processes and have tangible positive impacts on the outcome and solution.

A public-private union offers the best of both worlds - each party bringing their strengths to the table:

  • Private fintech companies deliver rapid innovation and flexibility, with the expertise to provide secure, tailored solutions that are at the cutting edge. Our systems can be scaled and structured to adapt to integrate additional services at points in the future, all under one foundational ID.
  • Governmental agencies are able to temper fintech innovation with their experience of beneficiaries and what is needed on the ground, as well as their deep knowledge of policy.

Our groundbreaking digitised solutions offer:

  • Efficiency - with streamlined service delivery
  • Interoperability - for seamless integration
  • Financial inclusivity for vulnerable populations
  • Accuracy - enhanced identity verification to prevent fraud and error
  • Security of sensitive and private data
  • Scalability and flexibility - to accommodate future changes
  • Resilience to global crises, such as the pandemic
  • Cost savings through automation
  • Accountability and transparency for stakeholders with audit trails
  • Efficacy analysis through reporting capability

Biometric systems streamline the verification process while also reducing administrative input and ensuring that eligible beneficiaries receive the cash, aid, goods and other essential services they are entitled to.

While initially setting up an ID database can seem to be fairly quick and simple, it is important to build something that is futureproof, for expansion across government and non-government services. This usually takes much longer and is a more complex project.

Data collection and the importance of trust

When it comes to systems that gather data, trust and security are key. It is crucial that there is credibility and trust around who is seen to collect, hold and process sensitive data.

IrisGuard does not register beneficiaries and does not collect, access, store or process any personal data or biometric records. Collection of biometric data in a non-refugee context will sit with the trusted authority, such as a financial institution, independent agency or a government body.

Our systems - along with other providers who develop under best practices - do not need to share data for identities to be verified. These systems provide a platform for third parties to securely and cryptographically ‘ping’ the database which is held by the trusted authority. This action then returns a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ back to the point of verification.

This means that services can be enabled with no need to share data with any other party. The back-end system utilises a number returning a simple confirmation of authorisation - so no personal details pass through the system.

Creating a successful partnership

A successful collaboration can be challenging and complex.

Beyond delivering a solution in the here and now, a public-private partnership requires a long-term commitment to build new systems, databases and payment portals, as well as adapting front-end interfaces and reports, over time. If priorities, agendas or ethics are too disparate, this can have a lasting impact on the success of the partnership and project.

As an example, Jordan is committed to modernising its public services for all citizens. By harnessing progressive digital solutions and nurturing beneficial collaborations, the country is dedicated to achieving its national objectives and driving the economy. We are delighted to have collaborated strategically with the Ministry of Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship (MoDEE) in Jordan for well over a decade now.

The deployment of our iris-enabled systems extends from electronic gates for travellers to the administration of healthcare and distribution of government services including targeted delivery of cash, goods and social benefits. In fact, our CEO Imad Malhas recently spoke at 'A Year of Modernization' forum, which was organised by MoDEE. Marking the first anniversary of launching the economic vision and the roadmap for modernising the public sector in Jordan, Imad's session focused on the digitisation of government-to-citizen services.

Building a long-lasting partnership

While a public-private alliance isn't essential, it is arguably the optimal way to deliver a balanced and fully considered solution.

If a governmental agency or NGO operates alone, there is trust and credibility but also the potential for a lack of innovation and technological futureproofing. Whereas a private fintech company offers preparedness and technical expertise - especially around the need for interoperable integrations - but perhaps has less understanding of the end user.

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