India Stack: why I am an unashamed fan girl
When Money2020’s Pat Patel asked me to do a fireside chat with Nikhil Kumar in Amsterdam next week, I was over the moon. It had me actually even more excited than I was to be doing my very own keynote (although obviously: don’t miss my keynote. It will be epic. It has zombies and assassins, jilted love and money. I am not even joking).
But the fireside with Nikhil had me buzzing. Not just because he is a singularly wonderful human: smart, warm, engaging and spirited, but because I want everyone to hear how a bunch of geeks with a dream are changing the world. It is here. It is real. It is the most meaningfully transformative thing I have seen in my life so far.
I first came into contact with India Stack through UPI. I was impressed with the idea of a unified payments infrastructure, designed to scale, aimed at facilitating and accelerating, uniting and resolving. UPI is not for profit and yet profit it does. A profit that bypasses a single balance sheet and permeates society to transform India before our very eyes.
And that is only the beginning. You see, I thought I was impressed with UPI, but my mind was literally blown by India Stack: a public good infrastructure creating a presence-less, paper-less, transparent, swift and robust digital highway towards tackling India’s problems at scale.
And it will work. Because India Stack does not offer policy solutions. It offers infrastructure tools.
It doesn’t represent a policy tackling a problem with a targeted set of actions towards a single vision of the future. This is not a programme making assumptions about the roots of poverty or corruption and offering government-backed public policy interventions to fix those towards a different status quo.
India Stack represents sustained effort to solve the issues that stand in the way of any truly transformative policy working by simply removing them. It offers access for people and businesses to services, government approvals, functional and functioning infrastructure. What the people and the businesses will do with that access is left open to their creativity and enterprise. India Stack does not determine what the end state will be. But it removes the biggest obstacles to getting there by democratising and facilitating access to the most vital parts of any public infrastructure.
India Stack comes with foundational identity that gives access to the country’s most marginalised and excluded groups. It offers authentication, payment, transfer and validation layers that allow small businesses a chance of financial survival, allows your grandpa access to his pension without hours of travelling and waiting each month, it helps challenge corruption and offers a shared, connected and integrated platform (systemic and systematic) on which to build new businesses, new services (from micro loans to education platforms), on which to dream what is possible if poverty, distance, access and corruption didn’t get in the way, what is possible if you can actually cut through and rise above by foundational and deeply transformative technological interventions.
This has made India the single largest playground for internet companies like Facebook, WhatsApp, Google, Amazon and Microsoft, battling to dominate the emerging landscape. India Stack has given India the most advanced digital infrastructure in the world and by extension the largest market for internet users after China, and unlike China this market offers easy, democratic and standardised access. This is not just good news for the tech giants. It is good news for everyone as the system fosters innovation at scale for new entrants working across all verticals, business and policy alike. This infrastructure helps financial inclusion, health and social care service distribution, skills training and education. Oh and it is the home of some pretty successful businesses too.
It’s heady stuff.
The Big Leagues
I am not going to give the game away.
You want to hear the details of what and how and what comes next, come listen to Nikhil next week.
But I will say this: India is a big place.
There are pockets of staggering poverty and any country-wide initiative is plagued with challenges, from literacy to physical access for remote rural areas; from corruption and entrenched interests to garden variety cynicism, free riders and crooks. Every challenge to transformation and big dreams you will find anywhere else in the world, you will find in abundance here. The place is huge. Problems abound.
They took it on. And it works.
1.2 billion digital identities have been issued.
1.5 billion monthly Aadhaar authentications are being made by 500 million unique users.
200 million monthly transactions were being made in the first 18 months of UPI’s life.
33 million digital signatures using e-Sign.
2.4 billion digital documents issued on digital locker.
This is real. And it is big.
If you can do this in India, I don’t want to hear how hard transforming you large corporate organisation is. I am no longer listening.
The path to true love never did run smooth
It has not been easy. It has not been perfect.
Politics has gotten in the way. Humans faltered. Not everything worked first time. There have been some data breaches. Nothing unexpected or unusual given the size of the endeavour, the size of the dream.
We will talk about the challenges next week, have no fear.
I am a fan girl and for that I have a singular agenda: it is not to idealise. It is to convert. Only then will change happen.
India is not economically rich. We all know that.
It is becoming data rich before our very eyes, however, and this creates a unique opportunity to imagine a new data empowerment and protection architecture for the benefit of users.
Nikhil will be talking about this next week, in Amsterdam, in front of an audience fully in the grip of PSD2, offering a very different vision for a data economy.
I want you to love India Stack as much as I do. But failing that, I want you to realise that the fact that mistakes will be made and things will go wrong, is really no reason to dream small. And the size of your organisation is no longer a viable reason why your transformation plans remain bite-sized and heavily caveated, protecting what you are and what you have more than they challenge, cladding your existing shop in digital interfaces rather than saying: hey the way life used to be is not how life needs to be. Or how life should be. We have technology that allows us to protect, empower and celebrate the human. All humans. No matter how poor their dad or remote their village of birth.
Come meet Nikhil. Hear all about how India Stack approaches changing the world in terms of foundational infrastructure components, reusability and data architecture.
Come hear what can go wrong when you take on such a task. And why it’s worth it anyway.
Or just come to see for yourself why no banking exec is allowed to say how the size of their organisation makes dreaming big hard.
By Leda Glyptis
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption.
Leda is a lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem, inhabiting both start-ups and banks over the years. She is a roaming banker and all-weather geek.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!