Omidyar Network: Doing good is the bottom line

Delhi’s citizens continue to face a problem, something technology should have solved. Those who avail subsidised food items through the public distribution system (PDS) in India’s capital continue to face hurdles in availing their monthly rations and must stand in queue for hours, wasting time that could have been used productively.

This happens despite linking Aadhaar—India’s biometric-based identification programme for its citizens—with the PDS system. This raises the uncomfortable question that Aadhaar, which was supposed to help citizens enjoy services like opening a bank account, filing tax returns, and availing rations swiftly by digitally authenticating their identity, is failing to serve its purpose.

Turns out that Aadhaar wasn’t at fault. A team of researchers from the Indian School of Business (ISB)—as a part of the Digital Identity Research Initiative (DIRI)—investigated the issue. They found that while the back-end servers of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI)—the nodal agency for implementing Aadhaar—were working seamlessly and returning requests for data within a couple of seconds, the outdated data servers of the Delhi government were inefficient in relaying this information back to the PDS system, leading to the holdups. A valuable insight from DIRI, no doubt. DIRI is a targeted, multidisciplinary research initiative that explores key questions and tries to address gaps in knowledge around digital identity systems, with a focus on Aadhaar. Launched in 2017, it is funded by Omidyar Network India, the local arm of the multinational impact investment firm founded in 2004 by American tech billionaire Pierre Morad Omidyar, founder of ecommerce firm eBay, and his wife Pamela Kerr.

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