February 25, 2019

The Promise and Peril of Digital Identification for Aid Distribution

A collaboration between IFRC and emerge85, University of Michigan, and 510.global

Across the world, an increasing number of governments are embracing digital and biometric technology to transform how services are distributed and needs are assessed. Governments require the basic ability to track citizens, residents, and visitors, and digital identification systems have transformed how modern borders function. In emerging markets, the adoption rate has been particularly rapid. In India, a massive digital and biometric identification program called Aadhar is streamlining how services are disseminated, taxes collected, and votes cast in the world’s largest democracy. The promise of these digital systems is a combination of increased efficiency and reduced corruption through tighter control of resources.

The promises of digital and biometric identification systems also provide opportunity to transform the work of aid agencies working with refugee and migrant communities. With the right systems in place, aid distribution can be streamlined, and made more transparent and effective. But such a profound transformation requires the co-operation of many actors, the right digital architecture, and investment in vast databases. There are several hurdles standing in the way of this utopian future, but that shouldn’t stop its development.


Rick Twelves – emerge85 (Twitter: @e85lab)


Edward Happ – University of Michigan (Twitter: @ehapp)

Amy Newman – University of Michigan

(LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/amy-newman-05108b4/)

Lars Stevens – 510 Global Netherlands Red Cross

(Email: lstevens@rodekruis.nl)


Nadine Haddad – IFRC MENA

Amanda Robinson – Australian Red Cross 

(Email: amrobinson@redcross.org.au)