Brazilian DPI

Given the similarities between the digital infrastructure that both Brazil and India have built it makes sense that as the new President of the G20, Brazil can build on all the work that India did during its Presidency to raise global attention to the concept of digital public infrastructure.

This article was first published in The Mint. You can read the original at this link.

Last week, I was in Brasilia, speaking at Brazil Innovation Week, 2023. I’d been invited to talk about how India’s digital public infrastructure (DPI) offers a new approach to data governance and I was glad for the opportunity to test for myself whether the ideas I had set out in my new book held good in the Brazilian context. But while I was expecting to talk about all the cool DPI solutions that India had built, it was not until I got there that I realized that not only was Brazil adept at using technology for public administration, in certain respects, its ministry of management and innovation could teach India a thing or two about digital governance.

Tech Capabilities

When I last visited Brazil, absolutely everyone I met was in awe of India’s tech capabilities. I was constantly being asked to explain to them what exactly it was that had enabled India to become the foremost outsourced provider of software services in the world, and why, despite being in a favourable time zone, Brazil had not been able to replicate India’s success. I remember thinking at the time that it was not as if Brazil’s information technology (IT) ecosystem was under-developed in any way. Its just that while India had focused its tech capabilities on building export-oriented software service businesses, Brazil’s IT industry chose to focus its energies inwards, providing services to its domestic market instead of working on outsourced solutions.

Last week, when I returned to the country after well over a decade-and-a-half, it seemed that all anyone wanted to talk to me about was DPI. Thanks to the way in which India had raised global awareness around the concept of DPI during the course of its G20 presidency, Brazil had taken a long hard look at its own digital systems and was keen to understand just how these aligned with the concept of DPI. They were keen to learn from me what, if anything, they needed to do to maximize the potential of all that the DPI approach had to offer. As a result, almost everyone I met over the course of the week—from the federal government to local municipalities and academic institutions—wanted to know exactly how India’s population-scale digital infrastructure had been built and whether any of it could be replicated in the Brazilian context.

Once again, it took me no more than a few meetings to realize that not only did Brazil not need lessons from India, there was a thing or two India could learn from what Brazil had built. Since my last visit, it looked like the South American country had oriented its tech capabilities towards building robust systems for public administration that, in many ways, exceeded what India has developed.

Remarkable Similarities

Some of the comparisons were obvious. Brazil’s UPI equivalent is Pix, a population-scale fast payment system so ubiquitous that even beggars on the streets of Brasilia display their Pix numbers, so that anyone so inclined can transfer money directly into their Pix accounts. India’s account aggregator framework for consent-based sharing of data within the financial ecosystem has its equivalent in Brazil’s open finance system that offers a powerful consent-based system for sharing data that has gained considerable traction in the short time since it was launched. As much as everyone I met in Brazil was keen to learn from me about India’s achievements, it was evident to me that their existing systems were impressive in their own right.

The reason this is significant is that in less than a month, Brazil will assume the mantle of President of the G20. Given how similar their approach to digital systems is to ours, it would be great if the Brazilian government could, while shaping its priorities for the next year, build on what India managed to achieve during its G20 presidency.

Notwithstanding all we managed to achieve in making the idea of DPI a part of the global development narrative, much remains to be done. During the course of its presidency, all India could do was build consensus around the term ‘DPI’ and the principles by which it needed to be built. As a result, there wasn’t enough time to discuss the steps that countries needed to take to implement DPI in their local contexts. What’s more, with the exception of the report of the Digital Economy Working Group that set out a definition for ‘DPI’ and the key principles according to which it should be governed, all we were able to achieve in terms of substantive outcomes was the Report of the Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion, which set out policy recommendations for the use of DPI for financial inclusion.

Passing the Baton

I believe there is much that Brazil can do to build on all that India achieved during the course of its G20 presidency. Where India focused on bringing the concept of DPI into the public discourse, Brazil can take the discussion much further by highlighting the many different ways in which the DPI approach can help countries transform their public administration through the use of digital systems. By sharing examples from its own set of experiences, Brazil can demonstrate the many ways in which this approach can be used to address complex societal problems all countries face by using the foundational building blocks of digital identity, payments and data sharing.

It is particularly fortuitous that Brazil follows India as President of the G20. We have a short window in which to ensure that the idea of DPI takes root across the world, and if we cannot pull it off in these next 12 months, it is unlikely we ever will.