How Yoti put global 'digital identity' issues at the heart of its social purpose
Digital identity brand Yoti was highly commended in the Best in Brand Purpose category at The Drum Social Purpose Awards 2019 for its ‘Digital Identity for All’ campaign. Here, the brand reveals the challenges faced and the strategies used to deliver this successful project.
The primary focus of much of the digital identity sector has been on the design, adoption and use of large-scale digital identity systems and how users interact with them once they’ve been launched. Most of this research begins with the technology and then works its way down to the people who use it, an approach which has delivered a knowledge deficit. It also denies local people a voice in the design of critical systems which will have significant impacts on their lives.
As a result, we’re missing an understanding of why people might want a digital identity, how they interpret or understand digital identity, their concerns about digital identity, and what tools and approaches might be missing in their local context.
The key objective of our Social Purpose Strategy is 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, and to support the development of solutions that solve their problems on their terms.
The objectives of our wider social purpose initiatives are to increase brand awareness in our core markets, to increase employee engagement, and to build an employer brand that young people aspire to join. We want to be known as a brand that cares about the environment, about people, about individuals and about change.
In April 2018, Yoti signalled its intent by hiring its first Head of Social Purpose, a new role with a remit of bringing together all socially-beneficial company activities into a coherent programme. Most of these had a UK focus, but the company was keen to expand these activities to make use of its technologies and resources to better understand, and support, humanitarian efforts around the rest of the world.
We began by carrying out research across Africa, South East Asia and the United Kingdom to better understand digital identity needs and opportunities in these locations. We spoke to experts and attended digital identity and humanitarian events to get a sense of who was doing what, where.
Our findings led to the development of an exciting user-focused, evidence-based Social Purpose Strategy, along with an updated section of the Yoti website, which we launched a few months later in January 2019.
The initiative itself involves and empowers staff across our entire business, in all of the countries that we operate in. Our Green team, B Corps team, ethics committee, yoga club, marketing team, external agencies and more all come together to make social purpose something that we live and breathe every day.
Approximately £250,000 from company operating budgets to cover the cost of running our social purpose activities each year, plus in-kind support for non-profits.
At Yoti we offer a range of our commercially available digital identity technologies and solutions for free to registered non-profits and socially-focused organisations around the world.
Our Social Purpose Strategy is delivered via a number of key activities, many of which support the UN Sustainable Development Goal 16:9: to provide a legal identity for all.
We launched our flagship Digital Identity Fellowship Programme. Each year we invite applications for three Fellowship positions, encouraging proposals for research, policy development or solutions development based on key themes related to identity or digital identity which merit further exposure, discussion, development or research.
Applicants can be based anywhere, although preference is given to those from the Global South. Fellows are supported with a £35,000 stipend and receive logistical and technical support from Yoti. All work is made publicly available on completion. Our 2019 selection process has just ended, with our three Fellows now beginning their research on issues of exclusion and human rights in Argentina, South Africa and India.
We’ve also created a programme of support for global innovation hubs. Increasingly, solutions to global humanitarian challenges are being developed ever closer to the problems themselves, by the communities themselves.
We work with innovation hubs around the world to help them make sense of, and develop, appropriate digital identity-based solutions and services based on local problems they want to solve. To kick off this work, in the next few weeks we will be launching a new Digital Identity Toolkit, designed to help journalists, techies, civil society and academia better understand what digital identity might mean to them in their work.
We’ve also developed an offline identity solution for the humanitarian sector. Following a period of research, we are now working on a simple, fully offline and open source identity solution. We have a handful of organisations, most working with vulnerable communities in the Global South, ready to begin beta trials of the solution.
Much of our new Strategy is evidence-based, driven by research across Africa, South East Asia and the United Kingdom. We will continue to carry out research as and when appropriate to help us, and our wider sector, make the best choices when it comes to designing solutions for vulnerable groups.
Beginning this autumn, we will run targeted challenges, with an offer of cash prizes and technical support, to help local innovators develop appropriate solutions to identity-based problems identified in their own communities.
Every member of staff at Yoti gets five days each year for personal development or to support charitable and socially focused causes. We have over 50 charities and organisations signed up to receive staff support in this way. We also make our central London meeting space available to UK charities for small gatherings and events, for free. We believe in charitable giving and encourage our staff to engage in fundraising activities by matching funds of up to £500 per annum per person, with an overall limit of £12,000.
We have received considerable interest, encouragement and support from the humanitarian sector to our local, grassroots approach to digital identity. Our multi-pronged approach to the opportunity - using UK-based human resources to support charities at home, and our international networks to support those further away - feels like the right thing to do.
Our 2019 Fellowship Programme attracted over 120 applicants from over 30 countries in the Global South, a tremendous response to a brand-new initiative. We plan to build on this next year when we announce our call for applicants for the 2020 Programme.
Yoti has donated £17,200 to charity in 2018/19 as part of our fundraising matching initiative for staff.
Our commitment to donate 1% of revenue and 2.5% of profit to the recently set up Yoti Charitable Foundation has come to life and has already started making a difference. The Foundation is a UK-registered charity and provides grants to charities working initially in two focus areas: people without registered IDs and online safety. A first grant has been made to The Engine Room in collaboration with Omidyar Network and Open Society Foundation to fund a significant piece of research over 12-18 months.
We continue to look at making the Yoti platform accessible to people without documents, without devices and with disabilities. We continuously review our progress for the Yoti webpage and Yoti app against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and review our onboarding process, being mindful of people with visual impairment.
We partner with charities and community organisations like Sparkle, the national transgender charity, to bring awareness to identity challenges faced in transgender, non-binary and gender-variant communities.
“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” - Erik Hersman, chief executive officer of BRCK
“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.” - Tim Unwin, UNESCO Chair in ICT4D
“India has become something of a living lab for digital identity, but despite the overwhelming success of biometrically capturing over a billion people, problems remain. The proposals from India are particularly exciting because they bring with them the potential to explore new lines of thinking, and an understanding of areas previously overlooked” - Jaideep Prabhu, Nehru Professor of Indian Business at Judge Business School in Cambridge, UK
“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.” - Chrissy Martin, consultant
This project was a winner at The Drum Social Purpose Awards. If you have a project you think is worthy of attention, you can register your interest in next year's awards here.