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DPI and the Digital Divide

Question: Will DPI deepen the digital divide?
Short Answer: Nope. DPI is not the same as digitisation. Well designed DPI caters equally to people with and without connectivity, and with and without smartphones.
Long Answer: Often the word ‘digital’ of the term ‘digital public infrastructure’ is misconstrued to mean that it always requires internet connectivity and access to smartphones and thus, leaves behind the people who don’t have access to such technology, connectivity, or devices.
DPI is often, mistakenly, used interchangeably with digitisation (the process of taking paper-based processes online). The DPI approach is sometimes met with scepticism from countries who may have many barriers to cross before a fully-online world becomes a reality for them. This fear - that DPI will not be able to bridge the digital divide - remains one of the most unfortunate misunderstandings of our time!
The core mission of solutions built through the DPI approach is to reach the last mile population where they are and integrate them into the formal society in a variety of ways. It is fully cognisant of the fact that countries are inherently diverse - there will be people who are fully privileged, and those who lack access to basic resources, education and abilities in every society. For services to truly scale inclusively, one has to reach people on both ends of the spectrum and cater to a diverse population via multi-modal access points and solution-agnostic protocols that are not hardwired to any specific format in which to access services..The availability of multiple options is what ultimately drives inclusion across diverse populations, and ultimately, DPI aims to elevate underserved communities to a level economic playing field through equal access, despite their current resources.
For example, when we speak about a Digital ID, they are not necessarily dependent on smart cards, or online authentication modes only.
Has an email account and connectivity
Can generate email-based one-time password (OTP)
Mobile Device (Feature phone or smartphone) with connectivity
Mobile-based OTP
Mobile Device without connectivity
Offline XML authentication
No mobile devices or connectivity
If verifier has a card reader: Smart Card authentication of a fingerprint stored on a chip (requires verifier to have a card reader)
No mobile devices or connectivity
If verifier has a biometric reader: Fingerprint authentication with fingerprint reader
A mobile device, but no connectivity and challenge with fingers/fingerprints
If verifier has phone: Face authentication
If verifier has biometric reader: Iris authentication with iris scanner
No devices, no connectivity, challenge with fingerprints/iris
Demographic field authentication via a digitally signed QR code on a paper or plastic-based ID card
Similarly, when we speak about interoperable digital payments as DPI, they are not limited to those with access to digital devices:
Payers in urban areas with access to smartphones and connectivity
Make payments (P2P, P2M) by scanning a QR code via their smartphone or entering a financial address through any mobile application
Street vendors in urban areas without smartphones
Instead of purchasing an expensive credit or debit card reader to accept payments, they can simply print a QR code on a piece of paper to accept digital payments
Payers in rural or Semi-urban areas with feature phones but no internet connectivity
They can use USSD to send an SMS text message (e.g. using a specific number like *99#) as a payment instruction to transfer funds to anyone using mobile networks
They can also initiate payments as above to interoperable offline wallets or mobile money accounts to transact without messaging core banking systems
Rural areas with no phones or connectivity
They can use their biometrics (such as a fingerprint) to authorise payment transactions through any local vendor
Local languages / illiterate / cannot see clearly
They can call a number and speak in their local language. An AI-enabled service can translate their instructions into a payment instruction and carry out the transaction using the standard DPI rails on their behalf after receiving authorisation.
Well designed DPI are suit diverse audiences with unique needs. It is important to note that the same DPI rails - using standard protocols - can cater to all sets of people and newer innovations can simply be added on top without needing to extensively change the underlying codes or protocols or building separate solutions for rural contexts or vulnerable populations (which tend to be under-maintained).
Solutions built through the DPI approach are required to be:
  1. 1.
    Minimalist
  2. 2.
    Modular
  3. 3.
    Reusable
  4. 4.
    Federated
  5. 5.
    Secure
This allows for inclusive innovation with diverse access methods to be easily built on top of the foundational rails.