July 27, 2011 — These were the words of renowned and inspiring Indian business leader Nandan Nilekani, who was invited to the New Delhi office to launch IFC’s South Asia Knowledge Series.
Nilekani is the author of “Imagining India” and serves as chairperson of India’s Unique ID Project, an ambitious initiative to provide a unique number for each of the country’s 1.2 billion people.
Talking to a packed hall in Delhi and via videoconference to offices in Chennai, Colombo, Kathmandu, Kolkata, and Mumbai, he said unique identifiers “will mean every registered person will have the ability to open a bank account, get a mobile phone, get a gas connection, and more.”
The Transformative Power of Biometrics
The project will use biometrics to create a digital signature for every person and is certain to transform the country’s public distribution system, making it more efficient and reliable.
To keep the project viable and manageable, the government agreed to create an ecosystem of public and private stakeholders willing to collaborate and find solutions. In Nilekani’s words, “Once commissioned, more and more applications for development could be added, using the architecture to push new services to all – especially underserved – communities.”
Tom Davenport, IFC Director for South Asia, said the project relates to work IFC is already doing in the region.
"There could be strong linkages between this project and our efforts in the payments space led by Advisory Services," he said.
IFC's unique health payments project in Bihar with Gates Foundation is one example of streamlining government health payments and link health beneficiaries and health workers to bank accounts, making the process efficient and transparent and resulting in tangible financial inclusion impacts on the ground.
Kicking Off the Knowledge Series
South Asia kicked off the Knowledge Series after weeks of brainstorming by a core team of staff picked across streams, functions, and clusters in the region to create platforms for discussion and exchange on development issues. A calendar has been set up to capture external speakers drawn from industry, government, media, civil society, academia, and other areas.
To promote learning from each other, the Knowledge Series also aims to capture experiences of investment and advisory peers working on innovative projects or achieving breakthroughs in difficult markets.
Catch the highlights of the exciting session with Nandan Nilekani.