Microsoft gives $1 million to solve problem most people don’t know exists

Feb 7, 2018 by

My three children are all grown now – the youngest is away at college – but I still remember each of their first days.

They were filled with moments of ritual: the little footprint, the first photo, introducing them to their names, and having them meet their family members.

On each of those first days, another, less memorable ritual happened. Both mundane and miraculous, it was vital to their futures. It was the moment they were issued birth certificates that legally established their identities.

Throughout their lives, one document provides our children with the foundation for every right and opportunity we could hope to offer them: to be inoculated against disease, pursue an education, obtain a passport, open a bank account, seek employment, rent or buy a home, get married, and vote.

In countries like the United States, where my children were born, this process is so universal that it seems automatic, like certified mail delivered by the Stork. But even in today’s age of ubiquitous data, almost one in three babies are born without any official documentation.

On paper, they don’t exist. They join more than 1.1 billion people around the world – disproportionately women, children and refugees – who lack any legal form of identity.

People trapped in the “identity gap” face uncertain futures. They may be denied a spot in school, turned away from the polls, or unable to travel freely, even within their home countries. They are more likely to be trafficked as children. People displaced by conflict and instability are often unable to seek aid and rebuild their lives.

The identity gap problem is enormous, and its human impacts are unconscionable. But for the first time in our history, it may also be solvable.

Driven by the convergence of rising global connectivity, breakthrough technologies, and growing political willpower, the United Nations has set a simple but audacious target to achieve universal legal identity by 2030.

I was proud to announce on Monday at the World Economic Forum that Microsoft is donating $1 million to support the ID2020 Alliance, a global public-private partnership dedicated to tackling this challenge.

The Alliance aims to develop a secure, portable form of digital identity and implement it across governments and agencies by 2020.

As a founding member, Microsoft joins Accenture, the Rockefeller Foundation, and a growing list of organizations committed to this worthy mission. And progress is already happening. Last year, Microsoft engineers in Europe collaborated with Accenture and Avanade as they led the development of a digital identity prototype created using blockchain, the technology best known as the backbone of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.

This prototype harnesses the secure, immutable and distributed nature of blockchain to empower individuals with direct ownership of their personal information. It allows people to consent to when their information is released and shared.

Blockchain has generated a frenzy in tech circles this past year. In fact, the story of blockchain and Bitcoin is a myth almost tailor-made for Silicon Valley worship – fantastic wealth seemingly conjured from nothing but a bit of code and enthusiasm. But we believe that blockchain’s potential goes far beyond just bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. It represents a transformative opportunity to help solve our most vexing challenges – whether they’re business challenges or humanitarian ones.

At its core, blockchain is like every technology. It’s a tool. Its impact isn’t just derived from its capabilities but from how we choose to apply them.

The truth is that technology is usually the easy part. When lives and futures are at stake, you can’t simply hack your way to a better world. So in addition to our financial and technical assistance, my colleague Mary Snapp and her team in Microsoft Philanthropies will support ID2020 in the challenging work of partnering across sectors and establishing standards, which is so often the difference between building something, and building it right.

Last year, when this work was first presented to our senior leadership team, we were overwhelmed by the possibilities and also keenly aware of the challenges ahead. But when it came to the decision to participate, the answer was obvious. We had to do it— not because of the bottom line numbers or the market opportunity, but because it aligned with our sense of purpose as a company to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. We see that mission boldly brought to life in the aspirations of the ID2020 Alliance.

Peggy Johnson is executive vice president of business development at Microsoft.

Source: Microsoft gives $1 million to solve problem most people don’t know exists – Business Insider

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