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India’s G20 presidency rallied consensus on DPI. Brazil has the opportunity to go even further.

5 mins read

Digital public infrastructure was a niche term just a year or two ago. Today, it’s a globally recognized driver of economic development. This is in large part thanks to the efforts of the G20 this year, led by the Government of India.

In September, G20 leaders officially recognized the benefits of digital public infrastructure (DPI)  that is “safe, secure, trusted, accountable, and inclusive” – the first-ever multilateral consensus on DPI and its outcomes.  This historic recognition was closely followed by the announcement at the G20 Virtual Leader’s Summit by Prime Minister of India, Narenda Modi, of the creation of a global repository for digital public infrastructure (GDPIR) and the creation of a Social Impact Fund to advance DPI in the Global South. This consensus and the resultant initiatives are the culmination of extensive efforts, including:

  • The leadership of the Government of India in demonstrating the power of digital technology designed and governed for the public interest to drive economic development.
  • Decades of work by international actors to understand best practices for digital development that truly empowers people and communities.
  • Months of fruitful – even astonishing – negotiations among G20 delegates and their knowledge partners to advance a people-first digital transformation agenda.

The Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL) is proud to have been involved through our support to the G20 Secretariat, the Digital Economy Working Group and to the Development Working Group. From helping to shape the definition of DPI with a group of experts from over ten countries to sharing research with the G20 delegates on financing the non-technical aspects of DPI, we contributed to the discussions by providing our most recent insights into defining good DPI that serves the interests of people and communities.

In celebrating this moment, we also recognize the work ahead of us to achieve this ambitious vision of scaling digital public infrastructure that is “respectful of human rights, personal data, privacy and property” and which can “foster resilience, enable service delivery and innovation” (New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration). To this end, we offer three key opportunities that we see for the current G20 under the presidency of the Government of Brazil.

  1. Ensure continuity of discussion on DPI across sectoral working groups. The Digital Economy Working Group drove the discussion and the multilateral consensus on DPI, and it is posed to remain the central hub for discussion on DPI during Brazil’s 2024 presidency. At the same time, during India’s presidency, there was extensive progress made on engaging key working groups on how DPI can drive positive outcomes for their sector of focus, including health, education, and financial inclusionWe hope that Brazil’s presidency will continue to emphasize the value of DPI across sectors, and its ability to advance each of the Sustainable Development Goals. For example, the Development Working Group has only just begun to consider the role that DPI can play in unlocking data for development. There is also a tremendous opportunity to bring conversation on DPI to the new Working Group on the Empowerment of Women, to advance consensus on the role that digital infrastructure can play in advancing gender inclusion when designed, deployed, and governed by and for women.
  2. Leverage the African Union’s new status as a member of the G20. African leaders are on the frontlines of adapting digital public infrastructure to contexts that are far from India or other early adopters, such as Estonia. We saw firsthand during the DPI Summit in Pune, held on the sidelines of the 3rd Digital Economy Working Group meeting, how powerful it was to have leaders from countries including Sierra Leone, Malawi, Bangladesh, and Trinidad and Tobago participate in the conversation and to elaborate on the priorities of their communities. The inclusion of the African Union will ensure that this diversity is no longer relegated to the sidelines. While this will benefit the G20 in its entirety, we see specific benefits in conversations related to digital public infrastructure. As we’ve seen in our work in Sierra Leone, countries in Africa have strong incentives to develop digital public infrastructure: however, a copy/paste of existing models is doomed to fail. The G20 will continue to be one critical forum (although certainly not the only) for discussing which lessons from early adopters can be replicated, and which must be adapted to each new context.
  3. Push forward multilateral consensus on the key features of good DPI. In 2023, G20 countries and their partners made significant strides on advancing DPI by adopting a common definition of this relatively new term. In 2024, under the Brazil presidency, there is an opportunity to move forward by establishing consensus on the key features of good DPI – that is, DPI that is safe, secure, trusted, accountable and inclusive. These include technical, regulatory, and market-driven safeguards, effective citizen and civil society engagement, and governance frameworks. These safeguards are becoming ever-more critical as artificial intelligence is rapidly adopted by governments, even as the algorithms driving most AI products today have been shown to demonstrate systemic bias, causing unintentional harm to women and other groups. This work is already being advanced, for example, through the initiative from UNDP and the UN Tech Envoy’s Office to develop a Universal Safeguards Framework for Digital Public Infrastructure. The G20 in 2024 can provide the platform for advancing this work at the policy and multinational level, just as it provided the platform for definitional consensus in 2023. This consensus on good DPI will be critical to minimizing risks as DPI implementation advances rapidly across the globe.

DPI’s potential for positive impact is vast — even game-changing. The historic events this year demonstrate the recognition of DPI’s promise, in particular to expand economic participation, fuel public and private sector innovation, and democratize opportunities.

The government of India gained critical consensus on DPI this year despite increasingly tense geopolitics, and in large part due to its choice to amplify the voices of countries representing the global majority and to collaborate with a diverse range of knowledge partners.  We look forward to seeing how this same spirit of collaboration will further advance the promise of DPI under Brazil’s 2024 presidency.