Governance Innovations in Emerging Economies set Global Standards

In an article on Governance Innovations based in the adoption of digital technologies, McKinsey Quarterly chose to focus on innovations in India and Estonia. In India, they focused on the UIDAI scheme, proposed by Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani, and asked him more about his aspirations for the scheme, and his thoughts on the challenges and advantages of the platform. Speaking on the kind of impact that the program will have on governance processes in India, Nilekani says,

It will have a huge impact on public-service delivery and, in turn, on residents’ satisfaction with the way government works. The platform we created is an open API, so other entities—say, banks and telecom companies—can embed our APIs to verify someone’s identity before that person withdraws money or buys a SIM card for a mobile phone. … Residents will be empowered because they’ll be able to access public services from anywhere. We can authenticate a person online, so services can be delivered online, via mobile phones, or at physical service-delivery locations.

While Nilekani’s platform was conceptualized in response to the massive population and lack of a standard identification system in India, Estonia had a different set of challenges. After gaining independence from the Soviet Union, in 1991, Estonia, one of the smallest nations in Europe, was left with little public infrastructure and virtually no commercial activity, and hence needed to build high-functioning government services for its residents and the fledgling private sector. In response to this,

Estonia’s government doubled down on technology, investing aggressively in efforts to bring services and citizens online. In 2003, it launched the first version of its e-government portal (, which offered secure online access to a handful of government services. Today, Estonia’s 1.3 million residents can use electronic ID cards to vote, pay taxes, and access more than 160 services online, from unemployment benefits to property registration. Private-sector entities, such as banks and telecommunications companies, also offer services through the state portal—and thus have an incentive to invest in maintaining the infrastructure backbone. More than 90 percent of the country’s people now have electronic ID cards, and every day approximately 10,000 users visit the portal.

Interestingly, several national governments, including Belgium, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands, have launched or hope to launch e-ID card programs. None of them are as far along the path as Estonia. Other countries expanding their programs can take inspiration from how it overcame some foundational challenges. This, more than some claims of Jugaad or frugovation, seems to be an actual means through which innovation solutions from emerging economies are being adopted by developed nations.

About Ayesha Vemuri

Ayesha Vemuri is responsible for thought leadership and outreach efforts at CKS. She has undergraduate degree in Visual Art from Reed College in Portland, Oregon, where she also studied such varied subjects as biology, literature and the humanities. At CKS, she is responsible for curating the Design Public blog, managing our various social media platforms, organizing Pecha Kucha Nights and contributing to the intellectual content of the Design Public Conclave and other CKS initiatives. Find her on twitter at @ayeshavemuri.
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