Numbered Humans: the new podcast from our Digital Identity Fellows

We’re very excited to announce the launch of Numbered Humans, the new podcast from our 2019 Yoti Digital Identity Fellows. In each episode, you’ll hear from Paz Bernaldo in Argentina, Tshepo Magoma in South Africa and Subhashish Panigrahi in India, as they  reveal some of the key issues that have emerged during the first six months of their research.


Digital identity in marginalised communities

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people around the world and, as expected, the worst-hit are those already living in poverty, and the excluded and marginalised. We know that new technologies have the habit of further exacerbating divides present in the ‘real’ world, but they can also provide new windows of opportunity. Because of this, it feels more timely than ever that our three Fellows are investigating the positive and negative effects of digital identity on local – and often impoverished – marginalised communities.

As expected, social distancing policies have severely impacted on the ability of our Fellows to carry out fieldwork, but this hasn’t affected their willingness to explore new ways of collaborating remotely. Numbered Humans is a great example of this. In the first episode Paz, Subashish and Tshepo share stories of how digital identity is playing out among the marginalised communities in the countries where they live and work.  

Many digital identity solutions include the ‘tagging’ of citizens with unique numbers, and the storing of this information (along with much more, in most cases) in centralised databases. Our Fellows are interested in better understanding the implications of these systems, and what it means for marginalised communities. The first episode of Numbered Humans explores some of these issues.

You can find it on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify, or you can listen online here.


Meet our Digital Identity Fellows

Paz is a development practitioner, researcher and activist investigating the meaning of digital identity among unemployed and underemployed vulnerable people living in the Argentinian cities of Buenos Aires and Mar del Plata.

Subhashish is  a former community manager, documentary filmmaker and researcher, looking at the perspectives of some of the most marginalised communities across India impacted by India’s national digital identity program, Aadhaar.

Tshepo is a researcher, strategist and innovator with experience working with Africa’s small business and social enterprise sectors. He is focusing on the role of South Africa’s digital identity program in fighting fraud, looking at the country’s Smart ID program from a human rights perspective.

You can read more about the Fellows and their work at 

Postponing the launch of our 2020 Digital Identity Fellowship Programme

This time last year, we had launched the Digital Identity Fellowship and we were in the middle of accepting applications for our first cohort of Fellows. By the time the application window closed we had received over 120 applications from over 30 countries – the majority in the Global South – providing us with some fascinating insight into the kinds of challenges, issues and opportunities that mattered most to the people closest to them.

After a tough selection process Paz, Subhashish and Tshepo started their Fellowships last October and are now half-way through their work researching issues of human rights, exclusion and digital identity in Argentina, India and South Africa respectively. You can read more about their work and the progress they’re making here. Their latest Field Diary updates will be posted in the next couple of weeks.

Until COVID-19 hit we were planning to announce the 2020 Programme and begin the process of inviting applicants for the second cohort of Fellows. As a result of the uncertainty of the many lockdowns around the world, and uncertainty around how long it will take before we can return to some kind of ‘normal’, we have made the difficult decision to delay the launch of the 2020 Programme until later in the year. In the meantime, we will work closely with the current Fellows and support them as they pivot their research away from fieldwork and in-person interviews towards more remote work. 

For those of you who were eagerly awaiting the opportunity to submit applications to the 2020 Programme, we’re sorry about the delay but hope you understand the thinking behind it. Please watch this space and look for further announcements in the autumn – and stay safe in the meantime. 

Thank you.

Welcoming three more Partners to our Humanitarian Tech Support Programme

Last month, we proudly announced the launch of our Humanitarian Tech Support Programme, a new initiative designed to support tech-focused startups focusing on global humanitarian problems. Using our unique blend of global development and digital identity experience, we have already started helping Lanterne in their mission to deliver a trusted, secure alert system to humanitarian fieldworkers in Afghanistan (over the last decade, more than 3,000 humanitarian workers were killed, injured or kidnapped in conflict zones around the world.)

Today we are pleased to announce details of a further three Programme Partners. 

People in Need

People in Need helps people in emergencies – both in wartime and in areas affected by natural disasters – whilst focusing on places where it is difficult for people to break out of the vicious circle of poverty. Providing humanitarian assistance to victims of armed conflict abroad was the initial undertaking when People in Need was first set up in the 1990s. Over time, they began to deal with longer-term problems, such as shortage of safe drinking water, restricted access to good education, healthcare services, and environmental degradation. Today they have missions around the world supporting communities in places such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Namibia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Haiti.

Yoti’s support will be focused on the ongoing development of Humansis, an open source web-based platform that humanitarian organisations use to ensure they reach their beneficiaries wherever they are, quickly and securely. According to James Happell, Humansis Product Owner, “People in Need are incredibly excited to be involved in Yoti’s Humanitarian Tech Support Programme. We are looking forward to finding solutions to the identification challenges that face the most vulnerable populations who we serve every day.”


Bitprop creates assets and income streams for underdeveloped markets by enabling investment into backyard rental property at a macro scale. Using innovative thinking and technology, Bitprop secures title deeds and manages rental income for those that need it most. They then attract investment from multiple sources and use it to help each homeowner secure their title (asset) and develop their property to secure income (rent) in a sustainable and replicable manner. Bitprop also manages the tenant sourcing and rental income for the homeowner and shares the rent so that the homeowner receives a new income stream from the first month, and the investors receive a return. With rates of African urbanisation exceeding 23 million people per year, there is a desperate need for good quality living space. There is already a shortage of over 65 million housing units across the continent. 

Yoti’s expertise will be used by Bitprop to help establish and secure the identity of the homeowner, and to streamline the registration process. Products such as Yoti Sign, our biometric document signing solution, are also particularly relevant to Bitprop’s work. According to Glen Jordan, one of the co-founders, “Bitprop is busy creating a new reality in developing world property ownership and development. We have neither the desire nor capacity to re-invent specialised technology and processes already developed by people and companies with far more experience than us, so we are very pleased to be working with Yoti in the area of personal identification – a key building block for everything that we do.”

Humanity Data Systems

Humanity Data Systems is a startup dedicated to leveraging data analytics, machine learning and AI to improve the efficiency of aid delivery. Their objective is to help humanitarian actors – from local organisations operating on the ground to global agencies – respond better and quicker to the needs of vulnerable populations in conflict zones.

Given the challenges present in the region, and the lack of tools available to organisations working there, Humanity Data Systems are currently focused on the Middle East, with their first products designed to help organisations understand what resources to deploy, where, how, when and by whom, with a realistic understanding of risk, and to track aid delivery and report easily to stakeholders.

According to Bonnie Chiu, Co-Founder and CEO of Humanity Data Systems, “We are really excited to benefit from the wisdom and expertise of Yoti and Ken. Yoti, as a certified B Corp, has shown genuine commitment to using technology to create social good and we are excited to learn from them as we embark on a similar mission. We are also confident that we can accelerate our progress, benefiting from the wisdom and expertise of Ken, with his decades of global development experience in this field.”

More on the Humanitarian Tech Support Programme

Our Humanitarian Tech Support Programme is one activity from our wider Social Purpose Strategy. While the Programme has now reached capacity, if you’d like to talk more about how we might be able to support your humanitarian efforts in other ways please do get in touch. We’d love to hear from you. 

Announcing our new Humanitarian Tech Support Programme

As we see in a new decade the world seems to be staring down the barrel of ever-more humanitarian challenges. At the start of 2020 The New Humanitarian lists urban displacement, conflict, antibiotic resistance to infectious disease, gang violence, extremism and climate change as just some of crises facing not just the developing world, but the planet as a whole. While some things have improved for some people, life is still a major struggle for the vast majority of people on the planet. In purely economic terms, for example, one in every two people globally lives on less than $5.50 a day. 

Given the scale of these problems, not to mention the number of people affected, it’s not surprising that many humanitarian organisations (and humanitarian-focused startups) are turning to a wide variety of technologies to give them the kind of impact they’re going to need if they’re to put any kind of dent in any of them. 


Why we need this Programme

Despite the promise, though, many technology-focused humanitarian startups fail for all sorts of reasons. It doesn’t help that many of the biggest problems are found in the most challenging of places, and that many of the newest, shiny tech innovations might also struggle to work there. On top of that, few humanitarian organisations or socially-focused tech startups  – particularly the smaller ones – have the kind of all-round expertise required to make their projects a success. Humanitarian problems are often as complex, if not more so, than the technologies organisations deploy to solve them.



At Yoti, we want to help

This month we’re proud to announce our latest initiative. Yoti’s Humanitarian Tech Support Programme makes use of our extensive experience of innovation in the global development sector, our expansive list of networks and contacts, and our digital identity and broader technology expertise. Yoti commits to working closely with Programme partners to fill in any skills gaps by helping them better understand the human, technical and environmental context of the work they’re undertaking, and to help them better design, test and deploy their solutions. Every organisation is different, and their individual needs will very much depend on the team driving the project forward. 


Announcing our first Programme Partner

We’re excited to announce that our first Programme Partner is Lanterne, a for-profit social impact business with a mission to use data to save lives and improve economic development. 

Lanterne are exploring multiple avenues to achieve this mission, including: 

  • Applying machine learning techniques to satellite imagery to discover patterns in conflict events. 

  • Applying machine learning techniques to extract information from online news and social media in near real-time, with a view to developing and maintaining a database of conflict events. 
  • Crowd-sourcing data from users on the ground, so that a community of users could help keep each other safe by reporting incidents they observe.

“We’re absolutely thrilled to be a Programme Partner with Yoti. Humanitarian and development problems are extremely complex, and we believe it’s always best to tackle them through thoughtful collaboration. We’re immensely excited to have the opportunity to work with Ken and Yoti, and we have no doubt Yoti’s expertise, networks, and experience in innovation will be invaluable to us as we pursue our mission” said Alex Barnes, one of the Co-Founders at Lanterne.


What we’re looking for and how to apply

We’re looking for up to three more humanitarian organisations (or tech-focused humanitarian startups) who might benefit from our global development and identity expertise. If you are doing any of the following you are welcome to apply: 

  • Building or managing online communities where trust is a key component.
  • Developing a service – or building a community – which might require (or benefit from) verified identities of its users.
  • Building a humanitarian tool or service which generates, or makes use of, highly sensitive information. 
  • You have other trust, identity, digital identity or related project challenges which we may not have thought about yet. 

Selected Programme Partners will receive the kind of advice and support you’d normally pay for, along with access to our suite of technologies (and the technical support that goes with it). You can be based anywhere in the world, and be for-profit or non-profit, as long as your work is primarily humanitarian in focus. We are working on a rolling application process, so there is no closing date. 

Your main contact person will be Ken Banks, our Head of Social Purpose, who has over two decades of experience in the technology, innovation and global development sectors – experience that you will be free to draw on as and when needed. Ken will in turn be able to draw on other resources within Yoti, as and when appropriate. 

Here at Yoti we’re as committed to social change as you are. Let’s work together to make the world a little better for everyone. If you’re interested in being a Programme Partner, or have any questions, please reach out to to kick off the conversation.  


This Humanitarian Tech Support Programme is just one of the activities from our wider 2020 Social Purpose Strategy. Download a copy to find out what we’re up to here.


Adventures in social purpose

It’s been exactly 18 months since I joined Yoti, initially as Head of Social Impact but more recently under a revised title of Head of Social Purpose. We felt the word ‘impact’ was too focused on the end result, and not enough on the process, the DNA and the ethos of what we were trying to do. While we do, of course, want our efforts to have a positive impact, we believe that how you go about creating that impact is equally as important – perhaps more important – as the impact itself. 

Most of my career has been spent in the global conservation and development sectors, a place where commitment to doing good is more often than not obvious and plain for all to see. Things are a little different in the corporate world. With the exception of a few Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities, my exposure to companies genuinely trying to ‘do well by doing good’ has been rather limited – until I started work at Yoti.

Bringing all of our ‘doing good’ together into a coherent and comprehensive Social Purpose Programme has been a fascinating exercise for me, and for the company. And it would appear we’re on the right track with our recent nomination in the Best in Brand Purpose category in The Drum Social Purpose Awards. 

We thought it might be helpful to share a little of what we’ve learnt along the way.


Look for the badge of honour

We’ve all heard of greenwashing – the covering up of environmental harm caused by a company’s activities by producing a glossy brochure that pushes the few good things the company might do. Anyone can do good PR or spin a story, but not everyone can become a B Corp. B Corps are the badge of honour for companies doing good. Heavily audited, they are committed to ‘doing well by doing good’. I’ve heard this from many of my colleagues at Yoti, and it’s also true in my case – Yoti’s B Corp status was a big factor in my decision to join. 


Find a company whose products you believe in

It’s hard to build a social purpose programme around a company whose products don’t improve the human condition in some way or another, or worse, that have the potential to cause actual social or environmental harm. First and foremost, join a company that has products with the potential to do the kind of good you believe in. For me, this was a no-brainer at Yoti. Keeping people safe online is a big deal. 


CSR doesn’t equate to purpose

Companies can do great work through their CSR programmes, and many do. The trouble is by sectioning off the ‘good things we do’ into a separate department, or corner of the office, this tends to silo all the positive from the day-to-day drudge of the business. People want to work for companies that are good through and through, where everyone contributes – not companies that are around about average with a few people running a small CSR programme. 


Senior management buy-in is key

I’ve been fortunate at Yoti to have the full buy-in of the CEO, CFO and entire senior management team. Not only do social purpose programmes cost money, from time to time they can divert resources away from other commercial activities that are crucial to the business. Building out a quality, meaningful social purpose programme without senior management buy-in is going to be close to impossible, not to mention the signal that gives to staff further down that purpose isn’t something the company wants, or takes seriously. Purpose has to matter to everyone, from the top to the bottom. 


Engage in a little silo busting

Yoti is a digital identity company and our product offerings are a little niche (we’re obviously working hard to change that). Rather than restricting our outreach to the digital identity sector, we’ve been increasingly talking to the humanitarian sector (where our expertise has value) and various anthropology-focused networks (our social purpose work is very human-focused). We’re now increasingly sharing our experiences with others who work in social purpose. Think about the work you’re doing, and think about how it might cross over into other sectors. Nobody wants to talk in an echo chamber. 


Be evidence-based

Try to develop a strategy that is evidence-based. Carry out research where appropriate, and be open to learning if you don’t have the answers. At Yoti a relatively small amount of money funded a piece of UK-based research last summer which seriously challenged our social impact ambitions. This lead us to pivot to a more international strategy which you see today.


Embrace your ‘known unknowns’

Hold an internal workshop to gain a better understanding of how your colleagues see social impact and purpose – how it might be defined, and how it might be achieved and measured. Yes, you’ll almost certainly be learning on your feet so be open and transparent about the process – consider pulling everything together into an Impact Report of some kind. Be open and honest the whole time – not just with the end results but with the process. People will respect you for it. 


Define the undefined

We recently sent out a short two-minute survey to Yoti staff, and one of the questions challenged them to define our social purpose in one sentence (Disney’s, for example, is “to use our imaginations to bring happiness to millions”). The responses were as fascinating as they were wide-ranging. This matters if you’re looking for a single, coherent message about why your company exists. Before you do too much, define what you mean by social purpose – and get everyone behind it.


Embrace the wider sector

At Yoti we don’t just have eyes on our own products and services. We believe that a healthy digital identity sector is in the interests of everyone. Because of this, a large part of our Social Purpose Strategy seeks to support the development of healthy debate around digital identity, and the democratisation of the technology behind it. We have invested time, money and resources into an exciting Fellowship Programme and the development of a Toolkit. Whatever the objectives of your social purpose efforts, don’t forget to look beyond your own four walls. 


Build networks. Buy books

One of the most exciting things about starting something new is that it presents the best possible opportunity to learn. Reach out to other Heads of Social Purpose in other industries, and other countries. Ask them for advice. Ask them about their favourite social purpose books. Search for impact reports online to figure out how other companies define, measure and communicate why they exist. A few books I’m already beginning to find useful include:


  • Roy Spence and Haley Rushing – It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For: Why Every Extraordinary Business is Driven by Purpose
  • David Hieatt – Do Purpose: Why Brands With a Purpose Do Better and Matter More
  • Markus Kramer – The Guiding Purpose Strategy: A Navigational Code for Brand Growth
  • Aaron Hurst – The Purpose Economy: How Your Desire for Impact, Personal Growth and Community Is Changing the World
  • John Mackey – Conscious Capitalism


Have I missed anything? If you head up social purpose within your own organisation I’d love to hear from you and swap notes. Or if you’re interested in social purpose more broadly, or know of a good book I should read, please do get in touch. It would be great to hear from you. After all, when it comes to doing good, we’re all in this together. 

The Digital Identity Toolkit: helping people make sense of digital identity

Today we are excited to announce the launch of our Digital Identity Toolkit. As part of our wider Social Purpose strategy, it is aimed at the general public, entrepreneurs, software developers, humanitarian organisations, academics and journalists, we seek to demystify digital identities and – where appropriate – help promote their adoption and use in pursuit of humanitarian solutions around the world. 


Digital Identity Toolkit

The easy-to-use Toolkit aims to provide everything you need to know about digital identity. To make it as accessible as possible, we’ve broken it down into eight separate sections so you can dive straight into any area that interests you the most. Each section will be launched individually over the next few months so please note that not all of them will be available at once. 


1. The Introduction

Provides a summary of the Toolkit’s content, and details of intended audience and learning objectives.


2. Identity Basics

Explores what identity is, what it is used for, the different types of traditional (non-digital) identification, why it matters and some of the consequences of living without identification. It also provides a brief history of identification and explores the shift from paper-based to online/digital identities.


3. Digital Identity Explained

looks at how to create a digital identity and what it can be used for. We dive into digital trends and developments, provide advice on how you can establish and manage your digital identity, and look at the different types of digital providers.


4. Case Studies

Gives examples of how governments, NGOs and the private sector around the world use digital identities. This section is categorised by sector to give you a sense of the vastly different uses of digital identity: from supporting refugees’ access to critical services and making it easier to travel and collaborate across borders through to enabling access to a wide range of government and financial services.


5. Digital Identity Providers

Gives examples of the different types of verified digital identity providers, describes their solutions, how they’re used, who they target, their unique selling points, their main uses and what they’re best used for.


6. Implementation

Looks at how you might integrate the solutions outlined in the previous section into your own products or services.


7. Data Privacy and Security

Examines key privacy and security points that you need to factor in as you plan, develop and build a digital identity system. It has a detailed checklist of questions to help you protect your users’ privacy and security at every stage.


8. Reports and Further Reading

Is a directory of reports on digital identity for those who wish to delve further into this exciting area of work.


Download, read and share

The toolkit is available here to download. We hope it is useful for as many people as possible and we encourage you to read, review and share with whoever may be interested. 

Given that digital identity is a rapidly evolving sector, this is something of a living resource. If you spot anything amiss, or you have suggestions that might help us improve things, we’d love to hear from you.


Photo credits: Hayley Capp/CARE UK

Meet the 2019 Yoti Digital Identity Fellows

Earlier this year, after an extended period of ­research and evaluation, we announced the launch of a new Social Purpose Strategy. With an unashamed grassroots focus, each activity is designed to help us better understand, support and empower individuals and organisations working on critical issues of identity, primarily in the Global South.

A flagship activity from the Strategy is a Fellowship Programme which we launched in April. Over a two-month application period we invited proposals for research, media, policy or development solutions based on four key themes related to identity or digital identity.

With a preference for applicants from the Global South, outputs from the Fellow’s activities could be anything from a technical platform, a report, a website, a book, a policy paper, a film or any other medium relevant to their proposal.

Four months and over 120 applications later, we are excited to unveil the 2019 cohort of Yoti Digital Identity Fellows. Our three fellows will be focusing on issues of exclusion and human rights in Argentina, South Africa and India.


Tshepo Magoma

Tshepo Magoma Yoti Digital Identity Fellow

Tshepo is an experienced researcher, strategist and innovator with a track record working in Africa’s small business and social enterprise sectors. He is particularly interested in the digitisation of the continent, and is a subject-matter expert in disruptive innovation. He is an advocate for youth entrepreneurship and has worked widely in the NGO sector. Tshepo is also a published academic and has been a speaker, facilitator and panelist at numerous events including the African Union, Africa Research Group, The Innovation Hub, ISPA iWeek 2019 and the World Youth Forum in Egypt.

Tshepo’s fellowship

Over the course of his fellowship, Tshepo will be studying the digital identity landscape in South Africa, in particular its effectiveness in fighting fraud. He will examine the national digital identity programme from a human rights perspective, and propose safeguards and policy recommendations for all those involved – including public officials, lawmakers, representatives from judicial and human rights institutions, technologists, officers of development institutions, and members of the private sector. Launched in 2013, Tshepo will be particularly focused on South Africa’s national smart ID card identity programme.

“For as long as I can remember it has been my ambition to become one of the leading digital researchers in Africa” says Tshepo. “I have spent the last few years focusing on the challenges and issues around digital identities, corporate innovation and disruptive innovation, as well as advocating technologies that work for marginalised communities. My Yoti Digital Identity Fellowship will give me a great opportunity to explore the issues and challenges of digital identity frameworks in the context of a developing country, which is very exciting to me.”


Paz Bernaldo

Paz Bernaldo Yoti Digital Identity Fellow

Paz is a Chilean development practitioner, researcher and activist focused on open science and technology, knowledge justice and locally-led development. Currently based in Argentina, she has worked for more than ten years in different countries and with a wide range of people – from low-income immigrants to powerful government officials. She has also worked with artists, designers, technologists and researchers on large-scale technical (and experimental) projects. Paz holds a Bachelors Degree in Philosophy and is a Master of Science in Development.

Paz’s fellowship

Over the course of her fellowship, Paz will focus on unravelling what digital identity, and identity in general, means to unemployed and under-employed individuals receiving support from public job centres and local labour NGOs in two major cities in Argentina – Gran Buenos Aires and Mar del Plata, the city with the highest unemployment rate in the country. Vulnerable groups are those most likely to seek help from job centres and NGOs, yet they are the ones usually most hit by the rapid digitalisation of the public space and the economy.  

Paz will explore these groups’ lived experiences, starting with the recognition that they are consciously manoeuvering, enhancing, modifying or hiding parts of their identities during their job searches. As agents, they interact with a wide range of organisations and increasingly in ways that are mediated by digital tools and platforms. This mediated making and changing of their identities matters and deserves attention. 

“I’m very excited to have been selected as a Yoti Digital Identity Fellow” says Paz. “When I first heard of the Programme it struck me as an incredible opportunity to spend a year focusing on a critical digital identity issue in Argentina. The Fellowship also felt like something of a personal adventure, and a wonderful opportunity to explore a topic close to my heart.”


Subhashish Panigrahi 

Subhashish Panigrahi Yoti Digital Identity Fellow

Subhashish is a digital storyteller, researcher, documentary filmmaker and activist working towards digital freedom for marginalised communities. With leading community catalyst roles spanning almost a decade for nonprofits like Wikimedia Foundation, Mozilla, Internet Society and the Centre for Internet Society, Subhashish has helped grow the reach of the open internet across the Asia-Pacific region. 

A National Geographic Explorer, he has documented languages and cultural heritages that are under great threat – including the Kusunda language of Nepal that is spoken by just two individuals. He co-founded O Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to working on marginalised issues with the objective of helping communities with open digital resources to document indigenous and endangered languages.

Subhashish’s fellowship

 In India, creating a digital identity system for a developing and an extremely ethno-socially diverse economy of 1.3 billion people is not an easy task. Only by following an open and inclusive process can it bring fairness to everyone. This process should be bottom-up and be based on open community consensus, giving utmost priority to individual privacy. India’s Aadhaar, a biometric-based digital identity system, has been at the centre of many privacy- and digital rights-related discussions for its ambitious goals, with particular concerns of state surveillance.

During the course of his fellowship, Subhashish will carry out focused multimedia research designed to amplify the challenges and opportunities within marginalised groups that are being (or will soon be) affected most by Aadhaar.

“We all know that organisations should put people and their privacy front and center while building digital identity solutions. Technology is continuously evolving and so are the risks, and what really makes a difference are the values that drive initiatives” says Subhashish. “My Digital Identify Fellowship will give me a unique opportunity to look at the largely unexplored impact of India’s digital identity efforts through the lenses of marginalised communities.”


Next steps

Tshepo, Paz and Subhashish will commence their fellowships on October 1 and will provide regular updates on their progress through the Yoti blog and our new digital identity-focused online community. If you’d like to join the community please let us know. If you’d like to contact the Fellows please send a message in the first instance to our Social Purpose Team, and they will be passed on. 

Reflecting on her role as a member of the Selection Panel, Chrissy Martin is excited for what lies ahead. “We still have a long way to go in fully understanding the implications of various digital ID initiatives, especially for the most vulnerable. The diversity of applications for the Yoti Fellowship and the issues covered highlighted just how important it is to amplify a wide range of voices, as they raise issues that are rarely researched or discussed. I’m thrilled to see how these three fellows will contribute to the conversation and hopefully influence future policy decisions not only in their country, but globally.” 

Applications for the 2020 Fellowship Programme will be open from next April.

Reflections on the launch of our digital identity Fellowship Programme

Earlier this year, after an extended period of ­research and evaluation, we announced the launch of a new Social Impact Strategy. With an unashamed grassroots focus, each activity was designed to help us better understand, support and empower individuals and organisations working on critical issues of identity, primarily in the Global South.

A flagship activity from the Strategy is a Fellowship Programme which we launched in April. Over a two-month application period, we invited proposals for research, media, policy or development solutions based on four key themes related to identity or digital identity.

With a preference for applicants from the Global South, outputs from the Fellow’s activities could be anything from a technical platform, a report, a website, a book, a policy paper, a film or any other medium relevant to the proposal.


What we were looking at

  • Unlocking the challenges of providing and managing identity solutions among refugee, migrant, marginalised or economically exploited communities or individuals.
  • Studying the difficulties experienced by indigenous communities in establishing and proving identity, as well as claiming any state benefits they may be eligible for.
  • Unpicking what ‘digital identity’ and identity more broadly means to communities in developing countries (including those living in or close to the last mile) and the NGOs and local organisations providing services to them.
  • Any other issues which warrant investigation which are not yet part of the wider digital identity debate.

Last weekend the two-month application window closed with a flurry of 76 applications in the final 48 hours. Overall, we received over 120 applications from over 30 countries providing us with some fascinating insight into the kinds of challenges, issues and opportunities that mattered most to the people closest to them.

Outputs ranged from websites, apps, research papers, books and documentary films, all reflecting the creativity of the applications and the diversity of the areas of study. If anyone ever doubted that citizens in the Global South lacked the imagination, motivation, drive and passion to be part of a digital identity debate which will – in many cases – deeply affect them, this is proof otherwise.

A number of applicants proposed researching national digital identity solutions at differing stages of rollout, such as those already in use (India), those in the process of being implemented (Kenya and Ghana) and those in the process of considering or planning and implementation (Namibia).

From the initial field of 120+ applications we compiled a shortlist of 54 who will now be reviewed by our expert selection panel. With only three Fellowships available, this will not be an easy task.

Shortlisted applications were those which included the required proposal, CV and reference documents, which met one of the thematic themes, and which gave a strong outline of the work they intended to do, how they proposed to do it, and what the output will be. Close connections to the theme of the proposal – both personally and geographically – was also considered an advantage.

Summary of shortlisted applications

Total number of shortlisted applications: 54
Percentage of applicants by gender: 34% female and 66% male
Number of countries from the Global South represented: 26


Countries represented: Philippines, Mexico, Egypt, Guatemala, Ecuador, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Honduras, Nigeria, El Salvador, Malawi, Namibia, Rwanda, Nepal, Tanzania, South Africa, Ghana, Myanmar, Argentina, Brazil, Slovakia, Cambodia

The range of proposals varied widely and included:

  • Helping migrants rebuild trust and reputation.
  • The pros and cons of digital identity among Afghan refugees.
  • Studying the challenges in the rollout of Kenya’s ‘Huduma Namba’ national digital identity system.
  • Public perceptions of digital identity in Malawi.
  • Difficulties in registering Nigerian citizens in identification programmes.
  • Advancing digital identity for financial services in South Africa.
  • Digital identity in support of street children in Ethiopia.
  • Digital identity opportunities in Brazilian favelas and among indigenous communities.

Outputs covered everything from books, documentary films, handbooks, research papers, websites to apps.

Lessons learnt

As with many first-time programmes such as this, there are things we could have done differently. Lessons learnt this year, which we can apply to the 2020 Programme rerun, include:

Put the words ‘digital identity’ in the Programme title
More than a dozen applications had no connection to digital identity (agricultural and environmental projects dominated here), which is a shame given the time and effort put into them.

Ask for expressions of interest
We worked hard to reach our intended audience, but despite our ongoing efforts we had little sense of the progress we were making in real-time. Asking people to contact us with their intention to submit an application would have helped us monitor progress and balance effort.

Ask where they heard about the Programme
It would have been helpful to know, particularly ahead of next year’s Programme, how applicants had heard about us. We can still do this, but next time we will ask as we go.

Word of mouth is the best promotion medium for ‘hard to reach’ audiences
We leveraged a number of channels in our efforts to promote the Programme, including promotions on Twitter and YouTube (63,000 impressions and 29,000 views respectively), although it wasn’t clear how effective this might be in directly leading to applications.

We also shared the news on DevNetJobs which took the message deeper into our intended audience and shared the news with the media. Primarily though, most of our efforts were put into leveraging personal contacts and networks, which we believe was most effective.

Next steps

From this week, the selection panel will vote for their top three candidates, along with a backup list of a further five, reporting back by the end of July. Official offers will then be made and the one-year Fellowships should begin by the end of August.

Given the large number of applicants who won’t be successful, and the high quality of many of these, we’ll also be looking at whether we can be creative with one or two of the positions. For example, if some proposals might work as six month positions, we can split the funding to cover two Fellows rather than one. We have budgeted £30,000 as the annual stipend per Fellow, plus £5,000 expenses on top.

If you’re interested in supporting a Fellow then please do let us know. You can download a summary of the shortlist here. While the selection panel carry out their assessments, we will attempt to secure external funding to expand the cohort. With the wide range of countries and focus areas, supporting a Fellow in a country where you have an interest, or are active, might present a great CSR or philanthropic opportunity.

Announcing the Yoti Fellowship Programme

Update: please note, applications for the Yoti Fellowship Programme are now closed for this year.

We are excited to announce the launch of the Yoti Fellowship Programme, one of the signature activities from our new Social Impact Strategy. From today we will be inviting applications from individuals interested in helping unlock the potential of digital identities with a particular focus on local, grassroots issues. In return, Fellows will be offered generous financial and logistical support, expenses and a chance to have their findings shared with the wider world.

See our Head of Social Impact Ken Banks chatting about the Fellowship Programme here.


Yoti Fellows: Filling the knowledge deficit

The majority of the digital identity sector tends to focus on the design, adoption and use of large-scale digital identity systems, and how users interact with them. This includes national efforts, such as the Aadhaar ID system in India. Most of this research begins with the technology and works its way down to the people who use it, an approach which has given us something of a knowledge deficit.

What we’re missing is an understanding of why people might want a digital identity, what they know about digital identity, their concerns and what tools and approaches might be missing in their local context. Without a fuller understanding of these bottom-up issues we have little chance of developing the most useful and appropriate identity solutions.

We need to dive deeper and find out more if we want to increase our chances of adopting the right kind of identity – a Good Identity – in our sector. That’s why the prime objective of our new Fellows Programme is to support the local researchers, innovators, change agents and individuals closest to these issues.

Tim Unwin, the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D and one of the judges on the selection panel for the Fellowship Programme, agreed with this approach.

“This is a great opportunity to work with an innovative team on issues that really matter. Rather than beginning with the technology, these Fellowships offer an opportunity to begin with people – identifying why they might want a digital identity, and how such identities can be designed most appropriately to serve their needs.”

The process

From today we’re announcing a call for three Fellowship positions. We invite proposals for research, media or policy development, or solutions development. These proposals need to be based on three or four key themes related to identity or digital identity which merit further exposure, discussion, development or research. Outputs from the Fellow’s activities can be anything from a technical platform, a report, a website, a book, a policy paper, a film or any other medium relevant to the proposal.

Applicants may be based anywhere, although preference will be given to those from the developing world. A short concept note will be required along with a current CV and the names of at least one referee. This is so we can be confident that the Fellow is qualified and able to deliver on their proposal.

A selection panel made up of digital identity, technology, social scientists, activists and other experts will decide on the successful applicants. Details of the panel are available in the application pack.

Erik Hersman, a technologist who specialises on the impact of technology in Africa, is just one of the experts to join the selection panel.

“The future of everything is about being digitally connected, and the way we handle identity matters. I’m excited to help with selection on the Yoti Fellows Program as they think through who makes up that future, and why a bottom-up approach to thinking about digital identities matters so much for people in frontier markets,” he said.

Fellows will be supported with a generous payment of £30,000 (approximately US$38,000) paid in equal installments over the course of the year, and receive logistical and technical support from Yoti. A small budget for project travel and other expenses up to a maximum of £5,000 will also be available. All work produced will be made publicly and freely available on completion of the Fellowship.

Thematic areas

We are primarily interested in issues, challenges and opportunities for digital identity in a local context. More specifically, we invite applications which focus on any of the following thematic areas.

  • Unlocking the challenges of providing and managing identity solutions among refugee, migrant, marginalised or economically exploited communities or individuals.
  • Studying the difficulties experienced by indigenous communities in establishing and proving identity, as well as claiming any state benefits they may be eligible for.
  • Unpicking what ‘digital identity’ and identity more broadly means to communities in developing countries (including those living in or close to the last mile) and the NGOs and local organisations providing services to them.
  • Any other issues which warrant investigation which are not yet part of the wider digital identity debate.

Applications can be submitted between now and 15 June, 2019. Applicants will be notified of the outcome on a rolling basis but no later than 15 July, 2019. The three successful applicants will be able to start their Fellowships shortly after the closing date. You can find the full terms and conditions and other Programme details in our application pack here. You can send any questions to the team at with the subject ‘Yoti Fellowship Programme’.

Best of luck!

Say hello to Yoti’s new Social Purpose Strategy

Over the past few months our Social Purpose team has been busy carrying out research across Africa, South East Asia and the United Kingdom to better understand digital identity needs and opportunities in these locations. We’ve been speaking to experts around the world and attending digital identity and humanitarian events to get a sense of who is doing what, where. Our findings have led to the development of an exciting user-focused, evidence-based Social Purpose Strategy which we are proud to be launching today, along with an updated section of the Yoti website.

The primary focus of much of the digital identity sector is on the design, adoption and use of large-scale digital identity systems and how users interact with them. This includes national efforts, such as the Aadhaar ID system in India. Most of this research begins with the technology and works its way down to the people who use it, an approach which has given us something of a knowledge deficit.

What we’re missing is an understanding of why people might want a digital identity, how they interpret or understand digital identity, their concerns and what tools and approaches might be missing in their local context.

While we know there are approximately 1.1 billion people around the world who would benefit from some form of (likely digital) identity, we know far less about their own personal motivations for wanting and using one. And without a fuller understanding of these kind of bottom-up issues, we have little chance of developing the most useful and appropriate solutions. We need to dive deeper and find out more if we want to increase our chances of adopting the right kind of identity – a Good Identity – in our sector.

While we remain committed to helping solve the problem of the 1.1 billion, our new Social Purpose Strategy is designed to help us better understand digital (and broader 21st century) identity perceptions, motivations, challenges, opportunities and concerns among grassroots communities and migrants around the world.

With a particular focus on emerging markets, the Strategy is made up of a number of key activities, including:

  • Helping local researchers and policy makers to better understand the opportunities and issues through our exciting new annual Fellowship Program, launching in the next few weeks.
  • Empowering local innovators and thought leaders by providing a support program for developing world innovation hubs, universities and business centres.
  • Running competitions and challenges in support of local innovation efforts.
  • Providing an open-source digital identity solution that is simple to use, free and completely offline. This has been designed specifically for grassroots, last-mile nonprofits and socially-focussed groups.

Our Strategy has one key purpose: to help further the positive social impact of digital identity solutions globally and to ensure digital identity becomes a force for good – for everyone, everywhere.

You can download a copy of our Social Purpose Strategy (PDF) here. The updated section of the Yoti website can be found here.