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Digital public infrastructure has emerged as a fundamental driver of social transformation and progress, says UNGA President

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UN General Assembly President Dennis Francis has said India’s trajectory exemplifies that Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) is a fundamental driver of social transformation and progress and facilitates equal opportunities if accessed in an inclusive way.

“Just as physical infrastructure is essential for economic growth, digital public infrastructure has emerged as a fundamental driver of social transformation and progress. If accessed in an inclusive way, it facilitates equal opportunities in every aspect of our lives. The trajectory of India exemplifies this,” Mr. Francis, President of the 78th session of the UN General Assembly, said.

Mr. Francis was addressing the first conference at the United Nations on ‘Citizen Stack: Digital Public Infrastructure, Transformative Technology for Citizens’ organised in New York on April 25 by the Permanent Mission of India to the UN together with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.

Assimilating India’s first principle of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, India Stack shared its DPI journey through the inaugural conference.

Closing the digital divide

Mr. Francis told the conference, attended by top UN leaders, diplomats, think tanks and civil society organisations, that during his visit to India in January this year, he had “the privilege to observe how the rapid expansion of DPI in India has broadened access – thereby enabling millions, who previously operated either on the fringes of the economic system or outside of it, to achieve financial independence and prosperity.”

He noted that in just seven years, India’s DPI model has achieved over 80% financial inclusion for its citizens, and now accounts for more than 60% of all digital transactions worldwide.

“This model has effectively dismantled numerous barriers – enhancing accessibility and affordability in the financial sector. Models like the Citizen Stack should be embraced and replicated across countries in the Global South – supporting and empowering people, particularly the most vulnerable in our communities; in the true spirit of leaving no one behind,” he said.

He said that while the advancements in digital connectivity must be celebrated, there is a need to acknowledge that approximately three billion people — or 37% of the world’s population — have never used the internet.

In this regard, with the ambitious Inter-Governmental process of developing a Global Digital Compact underway as part of Summit of the Future in September, he said, “We have an opportunity to close the digital divide and expand digital infrastructure for a third of the global population.”

India a ‘global leader’

UN Development Programme Administrator Achim Steiner noted that India has become a “global leader” in harnessing technology.

He said. “We need to think of DPI, a term that during (India’s) G20 Presidency…Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) and many across India have really socialised in an international context because much of what explains India’s remarkable journey is an appreciation that you need a digital public infrastructure.”

“Today, not just the fibre optic cable, you need more than that, you need a DPI. And here, we in the United Nations Development Programme, as part of our overall attempt to learn from across the globe are very much aligned with first of all embracing this concept of digital public infrastructure,” he said.

“I think your choice of Citizen Stack also signals something else – for quite a while in the digital universe, the frontier of many of the services, we were called users. But in today’s world, we realise that digital is transforming every aspect of our lives. Therefore, we are not just users. We are digital citizens,” Mr. Steiner said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s Envoy on Technology Amandeep Singh Gill, in his virtual address, thanked India for bringing the world to a new consensus on DPIs through the adoption of the G20 DPI framework. “We have now an opportunity at the Summit of the Future, through the Global Digital Compact, to take that consensus to the next level,” Mr. Gill said.

He underlined the importance of gatherings like the Citizen Stack conference in bringing together experience from leaders of DPI from India, Bangladesh, Rwanda, Estonian, Brazil, Jamaica and many other countries around the world who are successfully leveraging DPI to transform the society and turbocharge their economies.

A concept note on the event said that the India Stack (India’s Citizen Stack) is a ‘sum-of-parts’ technology platform that despite being privately provisioned is publicly owned infrastructure and delivers a gamut of citizen services encompassing digital identity, payments and open networks that enable other innovations using this as a national digital spine.

Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) is set up in India as a Public-Private Policy partnership that has become a benchmark for multiple nations, corporations & start-ups across the world, the concept note said.

India Stack has created a nation of 1.4 billion digitally and financially included citizens, an increase of bank penetration from 7 per cent to 80 per cent in just 7 years (which typically takes 47 years to achieve) leading to over 60% of all digital transactions globally.

The event is a continuum to India’s G20 Presidency in 2023 and will showcase notable instances from the Philippines & Ethiopia who, while having traversed a different path, have essentially arrived at the same national outcome, the note said.

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