This post was originally authored by Ken Banks of Yoti Ltd. and was published on the Yoti blog. Blog copyrighted by the original author.

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 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 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 

Photo: Sebastiaan Ter-Burg CC-BY 2.0

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.