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Decoding Impact

Decoding Digital Public Goods & Digital Public Infrastructure with Dr. Pramod Varma

Fri Jun 16 2023

The Decoding Impact podcast

  • Hosted by Rati Shbalakrishnan
  • Aims to understand how to solve systemic problems at scale

Digital Public Goods and Infrastructures (DPGs and DPIs) in India

  • India is experiencing a digital revolution with DPGs and DPIs at the forefront
  • DPGs and DPIs have emerged in various social sectors such as education, health, agriculture, skilling, and livelihoods
  • Dr. Promodwarma, an innovator and leader behind initiatives such as ADAR, E-Sign, Digital Locker, and UPI, emphasizes that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication in building DPGs
  • Definitions for DPGs and DPIs are still being defined but there has been consistent usage in the last year

Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI)

  • DPI has been around for a long time, with structures meant for public goods such as water supply and education
  • The creation of digital infrastructure should consider both leveling out access and equity, as well as allowing for innovation
  • The internet, email protocol, and GPS are examples of decentralized DPIs that allow for innovation and exponential change
  • Good infrastructure increases the chance of entrepreneurs succeeding, which unlocks value for society
  • Building DPIs creates ramps for more entrepreneurs to succeed, but disruption can be difficult for companies who struggle to reimagine what else they could do within their current context

Mental Models and Innovation

  • Mental models play a significant role in innovation
  • Disrupting the current context is not fun
  • Technology should be thought of as a lever, not something that can be outsourced to IT guys

Philanthropy and Infrastructure Funding

  • There are two kinds of funders: those who build specific solutions and those who build infrastructure to allow others to solve problems faster and more efficiently
  • Philanthropic space faces challenges because most funders want brand visibility and recognition
  • It is recommended to divide funds into infrastructure funds and actual solution funds

Adoption and Usage of Infrastructure

  • Success of infrastructure is measured by adoption and diverse adoption, not just impact success
  • Unbundling core elements into infrastructure elements requires a clear understanding of today's use cases
  • Demonstrating adoption is critical in philanthropy as people have to use the infrastructure
  • Infrastructure development requires analyzing multiple distinct large use cases and identifying what they have in common

Early Adopters and Economic Transactions

  • Early adopters are crucial for adoption to start on the day infrastructure is coming alive
  • Understanding economic transactions and industry readiness is important before building digital infrastructure
  • Plus one thinking involves analyzing the readiness of usage by people, industry support, distribution, and support ecosystem readiness

Mental Models of Parents and Stakeholder Analysis

  • It is important to understand who will unionize against you before making changes in society
  • The speaker gives an example of how to make farmers sustainable by creating a digital public infrastructure that provides information about land quality and agro climatic conditions
  • Three things need to be done: unbundling the problem, hypothesis betting on early committed customer selection, and full analysis of all stakeholders

Necessary Building Blocks for DPI Implementation

  • The concept of "Bustless" is important for efficient infrastructure thinking in India
  • The goal is to reduce costs and increase trust by building necessary building blocks and getting early adopters going
  • Basic necessary conditions for successful DPI implementation include people owning their data, having bank accounts and digital identities instead of paper ones, and making common open data public goods

DPI Implementation in India and Worldwide

  • Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) is not just a phenomenon in India, but also in other countries such as Singapore, Thailand, Estonia, Brazil, and Ethiopia
  • Many countries claim to have digitized their infrastructure but may not necessarily have implemented DPI
  • The number of API calls and diverse cases can be used to measure the effectiveness of DPI implementation
  • There is a need for more centers like the one announced in Bangalore to promote DPI thinking and create reusable building blocks for exponential solutions

Challenges and Success Factors in DPI Implementation

  • Silos are common in the industry and can be a struggle
  • Policy readiness, infrastructure readiness, and innovation are all necessary for success
  • Every country needs one success story to build belief and breed more success
  • The government can play a big role in orchestrating this success and inducing initial usage

Private Companies and Innovation

  • Private companies are not depositing enough in the digital offer
  • Building institutions and educating people is necessary for creating a culture of innovation
  • Infrastructure entrepreneurs are important for innovation, not just entrepreneurship
  • It takes time for societal level change and behavioral change to occur, even in private companies

Equitable Economic Growth and Designing Infrastructure

  • Access to education, identity, bank accounts, and business opportunities are necessary conditions for equitable economic growth
  • However, access alone does not guarantee success or solve all problems
  • Designing infrastructure is an iterative process that requires a scientific approach

Future Outlook

  • The speaker is optimistic about the future of innovation and progress