Aadhaar 2.0

In this podcast Nandan Nilekani and the key people behind Aadhaar talk about what it took to create such a massive programme, what comes next, and the insights it can offer on executing a large, complex project

N S Ramnath

By: NS Ramnath & Nilofer Mendonca

Aadhaar's milestone of one billion registrations is just the beginning of the story, as our article, Aadhaar: A quiet disruption, explored in detail.

Listen in to the people closely involved with the project explain how the combination of the financial inclusion project Jan Dhan Yojana, Aadhaar and mobile number—popularly called the JAM trinity—is almost like a birth right today. And how as the layers of the Aadhaar platform, collectively called the India Stack, evolve, it will unlock efficiencies in government services and disrupt the financial sector.

  • Nandan Nilekani, who led the project as the chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI)
  • Pramod Varma, Aadhaar’s chief architect
  • Sharad Sharma, technology investor and co-founder of iSPIRT Foundation
  • Sanjay Swamy, who was a volunteer with Aadhaar and now runs a venture capital firm
  • Sanjay Jain, who was Aadhaar’s chief product manager
  • Srikanth Nadhamuni, who was the head of technology for Aadhaar

Part 1: Building Aadhaar 2.0

Aadhaar is generally seen as a unique biometric identification number for Indian residents. It is that, and more. It is also the foundation for a public digital infrastructure called India Stack. Even as millions of people lined up every month to get themselves registered, the team behind Aadhaar, along with regulators and other government agencies, were busy building frameworks, interfaces that will help India go digital—with digital signatures, digital documents, digital lockers and digital cas. In this episode, listen to Nandan Nilekani, who led the project as the chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), Pramod Varma, its architect, and Sharad Sharma, technology investor and co-founder of iSPIRT Foundation.

Part 2: How India Stack will change government and businesses

Aadhaar and India Stack—a digital infrastructure build around it—promises to make India go presenceless (one need not be physically present to prove one’s identity); paperless (one need not carry physical documents); and cashless (one can pay and receive even small amounts of money digitally). These three will have a huge impact on government and businesses. Nilekani, Varma, and Sanjay Swamy, who was a volunteer with Aadhaar and now runs a venture capital firm, explain how.

Part 3: Disrupting finance

The government has already started using Aadhaar and India Stack in its welfare programmes—the rural employment guarantee programme and cooking gas subsidies. It’s in the process of piloting direct benefits transfer for other subsidies. Besides the government, the sector that will face a big disruption is finance. Earlier this year, the National Payments Corporation of India, working with India Stack volunteers, launched the Unified Payment Interface (UPI) that promises to make money transfer as simple as sending an SMS. UPI together with other elements in India stack such as eSign, digital documents, digital locker and a consent framework, promises to transform the finance sector. This section explores how.

Part 4: The risks of a digital economy

Aadhaar kicked up intense debates when it was first announced. There were questions from all over about the intentions behind it, and its capabilities, risks and dangers. For those who were building Aadhaar, what was it like to face these criticisms? Sanjay Jain, who was Aadhaar’s chief product manager and Varma share their experiences.

Part 5: Lessons from building Aadhaar

For those who are looking for a case study on executing large projects, there cannot possibly be anything better than Aadhaar, given the scale and diversity of the country, and the speed with which the team executed it. It offers several lessons and insights to leaders, entrepreneurs and managers: make sure you have a great team, keep it simple; partner with the best; design incentives well; know how to navigate the world of real people. Srikanth Nadhamuni, who was the head of technology for Aadhaar, Varma and Nilekani share their experiences in building the world’s largest biometric identification system.

[Also read the related article Aadhaar: A quiet disruption]

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About the author

N S Ramnath
N S Ramnath

Journalist

NS Ramnath is a senior writer and part of the core team at Founding Fuel. His main interests lie in technology, business, society, and how they interact and influence each other. He writes a regular column on disruptive technologies, and takes regular stock of key news and perspectives from across the world. 

Ram, as everybody calls him, experiments with newer story-telling formats, tailored for the smartphone and social media as well, the outcomes of which he shares with everybody on the team. It then becomes part of a knowledge repository at Founding Fuel and is continuously used to implement and experiment with content formats across all platforms. 

He is also involved with data analysis and visualisation at a startup, How India Lives.

Prior to Founding Fuel, Ramnath was with Forbes India and Economic Times as a business journalist. He has also written for The Hindu, Quartz and Scroll. He has degrees in economics and financial management from Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning.

He tweets at @rmnth and spends his spare time reading on philosophy.

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