Digital Public Goods for a more equitable world
19 October 2022
“If you want to go fast go alone, if want to go far go together” the words of Honorable Minister Paula Ingabire reverberated across Carnegie Mellon University Africa Auditorium, as the Minister offically opened CyLab-Africa Summit on Digital Public Goods in Kigali, Rwanda.
The event was facilitated by Carnegie Mellon University Africa and brought together high-level representatives from Ministry of Technology and Innovation Rwanda, Sierra Leone Honorable Minister of Health Demby Austin, Sierra Leone Deputy Governor Honorable Dr Ibrahim Stevens, Mr John Karamuka Director National Payments National Bank of Rwanda, Mr Kuassi Ayikué Satchivi from Banque Centrale des États de l'Afrique de l'Ouest (BCEAO) and representatives from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Southern African Development Community (SADC), Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), Unicef, University of Nairobi, Cape Town University and members of private sector, to brainstorm on opportunities for the development of Digital Public Goods.
The summit coincided with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation contribution and commitment of US$200 million towards expanding digital public infrastructure, targeted at accelerating development of interoperable payment systems and digital identification systems with the singular aim of promoting shared principles for an open, free and secure digital infrastructure for all.
Building Infrastructure on Digital Public Goods (DPGs)
“If you want to go fast go alone, if want to go far go together” Honorable Paula Ingabire, Minister of ICT & Innovation Rwanda
Digital public goods movement has emerged from the need to facilitate equitable access to digital infrastructure. It is argued that DPGs are a subset of open technologies that are publicly accessible, and that people can modify and apply to diverse use cases, such as digital ID’s and payment systems to help countries deliver essential services to their citizens in order to bring down cost of digital transactions. Architecturally DPGs pivot on a nine-point baseline for open-source data standards that adhere to privacy and “do-no-harm-design” principles and once a solution is recognized as digital public good it is hosted on DPG registry and is further categorized under Sustainable Development Goals-SDG markers for impact classification.
A closer analysis of DPG registry under Sustainable Development Goal-SDG pillar 9 “Industry Innovation and infrastructure” provides interesting usecases for DPG’ such as:
- DIGIT (Digital Infrastructure for Governance, Impact and Transformation) open-source digital solution that enables local governments to deliver municipal services to citizens.
- MERON (Methods for Extremely Rapid Observation of Nutritional Status) a smartphone app that uses deep learning technology to map facial features from children to quickly detect malnutrition.
- MOSIP (Modular Open-Source Identity Platform) that helps Governments implement digital identity cost effectively.
Way forward on Digital Public Goods (DPGs)
Summit participants noted that the potential of Digital Public Goods to generate economic value depends on end user adoption which inturn is directly dependent on how well open-source technologies are trusted.
The summit gave participants opportunity to have healthy discussions on the safety and security of open technologies, particularly in cases where services involve sensitive information such as National Identity Systems coupled with the complexity of sovereign national data localization policies. It was noted that these hurdles in terms of usage of DPGs require global partnership from Academia, Government, and donor communities towards mobilizing resources and co-ordination to unlock their potential.
AfricaNenda ethos is based on building better and is a strong advocate for DPGs towards developing suitable interoperable payment infrastructure that support regional and national implementations to address persistent financial inclusion gaps. As the summit ended, it was truly inspiring to witness the resolve and commitment towards advocating and building digital public goods infrastructure to help our communities. Also noted CMU-Africa has expanded exponentially since our last visit… They must be doing something right!
For more information : Michael Mbuthia, Regional Director East & South Africa at AfricaNenda : Mmbuthia@africanenda.org