SSI Orbit Podcast

by | Nov 3, 2023

The Bhutan National Digital Identity (NDI): What it takes for a Nationwide Launch (with Kumar Gajmer & Pallavi Sharma)



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About Podcast Episode

I recently had the privilege to spend some time with Kumar and Pallavi to dive into the heart of the Bhutan National Digital Identity (NDI) Project, a pioneering initiative that stands as a testament to Bhutan’s leadership in digital trust.

The origins of Bhutan’s digital program were particularly fascinating for two primary reasons. Firstly, it stemmed from the necessity to empower citizens, especially those in rural areas, with access to essential financial and governmental services. A question of citizen empowerment.. Secondly, the Bhutanese leadership consciously prioritized privacy as a fundamental right for its people. What stands out in this narrative is the clear identification of needs that were not dictated by a technology-first approach. Instead, it was the requirements of empowerment and privacy that naturally led to the adoption of a digital solution, encompassing digital wallets and credentials within privacy-centric frameworks.

This project is not just a technological leap forward but a holistic approach that intertwines the legal, business, and technological threads to weave a robust digital identity framework. I chose to approach our discussion through the lenses of business, legal, and technology, with a deliberate focus on legal aspects first. Why? Because the legal framework is the bedrock upon which the entire edifice of digital identity is built. It’s the underpinning that ensures the rights, privacy, and trust of citizens are not just considered but enshrined.

From there, we transitioned to the business perspective—how this digital identity initiative could catalyze growth, inclusion, and opportunity for all stakeholders. And finally, we touched on technology, the enabler, yet intentionally saved for last. In the grand scheme of things, technology is the tool, not the master; it’s the least important aspect when it comes to the values and impact on the citizens’ lives.

The full list of topics discussed between Kumar, Pallavi and myself in this podcast include:


Background on the Bhutan National Digital Identity (NDI) Project 

Project Goals and Context – What were the overall goals of the Bhutan NDI project, and how do they relate to the specific context and needs of Bhutan? Seeking to understand the project’s objectives and their alignment with the country’s unique circumstances, particularly in terms of accessibility for rural populations.

Financial Inclusion and Digital Identity – How does focusing on financial inclusion as a starting point influence the approach to digital identity in Bhutan? Exploring the decision to prioritize financial inclusion and how this focus shaped the development of the digital identity solution.

Decentralized Architecture Decision – What research and considerations led to the choice of a decentralized architecture for Bhutan’s digital identity program? Delving into the rationale behind opting for a decentralized system over centralized models like Singapore’s SingPass.

The Legal Lens

Legal Framework and Privacy – How is privacy integrated into Bhutan’s legislation, and what legal adjustments were made to accommodate digital identity? Discussing the legal groundwork that enables digital identity in Bhutan and the importance of privacy in this context.

Legislative Process Duration and Challenges – What was the timeline and were there any significant challenges in developing the National Digital Identity Act? Understanding the duration and obstacles encountered while establishing the legal framework for the digital identity system.

Governance and Public-Private Partnership – What does the governance body for the NDI look like, and how does the public-private partnership model function? Examining the structure and evolution of the governance body overseeing the NDI and the role of public-private collaboration.

The Business  Lens

Business Strategy and Ecosystem Growth – How were use cases developed, and what strategies were employed to grow the ecosystem and foster public-private partnerships? Investigating the process of identifying use cases and the methods used to expand the digital identity ecosystem through stakeholder engagement.

Voluntary Participation – Is participation in the digital ID system optional for Bhutanese citizens? Clarifying whether the digital ID system complements existing identity methods and if it’s mandatory or optional for citizens.

Use Case Categorization – How are use cases categorized and prioritized within the digital identity framework? Seeking insight into the criteria and methodology used to classify and sequence the implementation of various use cases.

Foundational Identity Credential – What does the foundational identity credential look like, and what government records form its basis? Inquiring about the nature of the foundational identity credential and its relationship to existing government-issued IDs.

Private Sector Collaboration – What challenges were faced in educating and gaining buy-in from the private sector for the new digital identity infrastructure? Discussing the efforts to engage the private sector, the educational process involved, and any resistance or obstacles encountered.

Private Sector as Credential Issuers – Are there concerns from the private sector about the risks associated with becoming credential issuers? Addressing the potential hesitations or perceived risks that private sector entities might have regarding issuing digital credentials.

The Technology  Lens

Technology and Wallet Infrastructure – Why was a decision made to develop a specific wallet for Bhutan’s NDI instead of using existing wallet infrastructures like Apple or Google Wallet? Exploring the reasons behind creating a dedicated wallet for the Bhutan NDI and the considerations involved in this choice.

International Standards and Compatibility – How were international standards considered in the development of Bhutan’s digital identity infrastructure to accommodate foreigners? Understanding the role of international standards in ensuring the digital identity system is compatible with the needs of visitors and expatriates.


 

About Guests

Kumar Gajmer is the Product Manager and the Technical Lead for the Bhutan National Digital Identity (NDI) Project. He started his career in IT in 2008 as a Software Engineer. After completion of his high school in Bhutan, he did his bachelor’s in Information Technology from Anna University, India. 

Kumar is an Australian National University (Canberra) graduate in Master of Computing with specialization in Software Engineering and Professional Computing.

Where to find Kumar?

➡️ LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kumar-gajmer-b8195024/ 

 

 

Pallavi Sharma leads Marketing and Communications for the Bhutan National Digital Identity (NDI) Project. As part of the role, she drives media, public relations, and education campaigns to accelerate adoption of the Bhutan NDI digital wallet. She also works in close liaison with national and international stakeholders for enhanced product positioning and visibility.

Prior to joining the Bhutan NDI Project, Pallavi worked with Deloitte Consulting LLP in India. She has a Master’s Degree in International Relations from South Asian University. Pallavi is deeply committed to designing and developing a seamless digital ecosystem in Bhutan.

Where to find Pallavi?

➡️ LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/pallavi-sharma-4302a737/

 

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