What should the IFRC’s vision for digital identity look like?

by Emrys Schoemaker and Paul Currion | Sep 28, 2021 | Insights and Inspirations

We recently organized a series of workshops with the IFRC on Digital ID to review recent learning and experiences. The workshops were organized around the following question: What should the IFRC’s vision for digital identity look like? 

Some of the pieces are already in place: The Agenda for Renewal and the IFRC Strategy 2030 include a focus on “Migration and Identity” as a strategic priority; while the IFRC’s Digital Transformation Strategy provides a broader context for work on digital identity. A core enabler for the Digital Transformation Strategy is improving interoperability within IFRC and, while the Strategy does not mention Digital ID specifically, it will need to play a part in this.

Projects are already underway within the Federation which rely on digital ID to succeed: the ‘Dignified Identities in cash assistance’ (DIGID) led by the IFRC, Kenya Red Cross, and a consortium of NGOs including Norwegian Red Cross, NRC, NCA, and Save the Children; the Humanitech initiative led by the Australian Red Cross; and the 121 Platform being piloted by the Netherlands and Kenya Red Cross. IFRC’s commitment to scale up Cash and Voucher Assistance (CVA) to 50% of humanitarian delivery by 2025 depends on identity, since regulatory requirements such as “Know Your Customer” (KYC) make it mandatory for financial institutions to verify the identity of clients through official ID. 

Unfortunately, this range of initiatives does not yet form a coherent vision for the Movement, and so we recently convened two workshops to explore this in the broader context of IFRC’s work. The workshops included staff of IFRC Secretariat and National Societies, with guest participants from organizations such as the ICRC and World Vision. Together we explored the importance of digital ID for the IFRC with the goal of starting the process of establishing a common vision, strategy and policies for digital identity.

The discussion at the workshop was wide-ranging, but several key themes emerged. A common policy framework is essential to a coherent approach to digital ID; one participant asserted that ‘technology is fast, humans are slow’, suggesting that any policy needs to accommodate rapid change while still maintaining core IFRC principles. IFRC’s seven Fundamental Principles were explored as a possible foundation for a vision of digital ID, which demonstrated how important it was for organisational commitments to drive thinking about digital identity, before any consideration of specific systems or technologies.

Some of the projects mentioned above are developing their own technology, and the discussion turned to potential tensions between IFRC as a ‘humanitarian organization’ or a ‘data company’. Participants noted that the objectives of humanitarian and technology organisations are not necessarily aligned; data-driven technology providers must exploit data with little regard to their impact, while humanitarian organisations prioritise serving and protecting the most vulnerable. Participants also discussed whether and how IFRC’s position creates the potential for it to be a ‘neutral’ identity provider within the humanitarian sector, while others suggested that it should be an identity enabler, providing the means for individuals to be their own provider.

This discussion brought the workshop back to ongoing discussions about data protection. Participants noted that IFRC, in pursuit of its digital ID vision, needs to be sensitive to the implications for politics and power, and emphasised that IFRC should maintain its commitment to ‘keep beneficiaries at the centre’ of how their data is collected, processed and managed securely. One participant highlighted the two data protection pillars of necessity and proportionality as critical lenses through which digital identity and data privacy can be assessed.

Despite a diversity of perspectives at the workshop, the potential for IFRC fundamental principles to act as a shared framework for an organisation-wide approach to digital ID was clear. An approach based on shared principles, and organisational norms derived from those principles, is more likely to succeed than attempting to implement a single digital ID system or technology. Given its unique decentralised institutional structure, its scale and its role, IFRC has a unique opportunity to set an example for the humanitarian sector’s approach to digital ID.

As a next step, the IFRC plans to launch a series of consultations to develop its vision and future roadmap for digital ID. If you are interested in contributing or have any questions please reach out for further information. 

Contact details:

[email protected] Cash Innovation; 
[email protected] Innovation and Disaster Preparedness 

Other resources:


Leave a Reply