Hope to inspire other nations: India shares its Citizen Stack story at the United Nations

As India shares its journey of empowering people through Digital Public Infrastructure, it hopes to inspire other nations, learn from everybody and define its own digital priorities, Union Minister for Electronics and IT Ashwini Vaishnaw has said.

Ashwini Vaishnaw, Indian's Union Minister for Electronics and IT. Photo courtesy: Screengrab from X.
Indian’s Union Minister for Electronics and IT Ashwini Vaishnaw. Photo courtesy: Screengrab from X.

Addressing the inaugural conference at the UN on ‘Citizen Stack’, he shared India’s journey in harnessing the power of Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) to foster inclusive growth and prosperity for all.

Vaishnaw, who is also the Minister for Railways and Communications, said that India has made it a policy objective to ensure that the benefits of the digital revolution reach every corner of the country’s diverse society.

The vision has led to the development of India Stack, a bouquet of digital tools accessible to everyone. Building this public infrastructure was a true team effort. The government, private sector, nonprofit organisations and volunteers, all played a crucial role, he said.

Vaishnaw made these remarks in his video address to the First Conference at the United Nations on ‘Citizen Stack: Digital Public Infrastructure, Transformative Technology for Citizens’ organised by the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations together with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.

He added that the G20 Summit in New Delhi last year, held under India’s Presidency of the grouping, recognised the transformative power of DPI.

“Following this, India took the initiative to establish a global repository for DPIs, currently housing over 55 DPIs from 16 countries,” he said.

“As India shares its journey, we hope to inspire other nations and learn from everybody and define our own digital priorities. We believe we all have a collective responsibility to create a more inclusive and prosperous planet. Our goal is and should be inclusive growth. India believes in the ethos of ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future’. Consistent with our ethos, we offer our Citizen Stack to the world. Let us join hands together to build a future of shared success and unwavering inclusivity,” Vaishnaw said.

Delivering the keynote address, India’s G20 Sherpa Amitabh Kant said that a post-COVID world is seeing countries facing debt crisis, challenges of climate action, climate finance and food, fuel and fertiliser challenges.

“We’re seeing conflict in Europe, as well as in the Middle East. But in the midst of all these challenges, there’s one silver lining and that one silver lining actually has demonstrated that it is possible for the world to grow and advance and develop with equity using the power of digital technology,” Kant said.

He underlined that DPI is important because it enables vulnerable groups, remote populations, women, and small and medium enterprises to access services and to technologically leapfrog.

“It will not be possible to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, however hard the UN Development Programme, the United Nations may try. It will not be possible to achieve our goals by 2030 without the DPI,” Kant said.

As India shares its Citizen Stack story, Kant underlined that the country is not saying that other nations “replicate” its digital infrastructure story.

“We are saying do not replicate the India Stack. We are only saying that there is an experience of India, which can enable you to transform the lives of your citizens and therefore, based on your principles, use the Citizen Stack. Do not replicate what India has done…If you want to transform the lives of citizens like India has done, use the model based on your own country’s ethos in a manner so that you can transform the lives of your citizens.”

Kant added that in the coming years, DPI is the only way forward to ensure inclusive governance, and universal access to essential services like finance, education and healthcare.

“DPI is the only way forward to strike a balance between innovation and regulation. And therefore, relying solely on big tech or exclusive regulation will not suffice to achieve these goals. The Citizen Stack will empower nations to build their own citizen benefits tailored to their own unique needs while adhering to security, transparency, openness, auditability and interoperability.

“This approach, to our mind, is crucial for solving global challenges and creating a more equitable and inclusive society. It will allow nations to fast-track their economic development. It will enable you to do good governance, it will enable you to remove all leakages, it will enable you to use cutting-edge technology, provide health and financial inclusion and human development and create jobs and services and empower your citizens.”

“Without DPI and without Citizen Stack, there cannot be effective and speedy implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals,” he said.

Kant noted that under India’s G20 Presidency, the grouping accepted the definition and concept of DPI.

“Every country, from Russia to China to the United States, all the emerging markets accepted the concept and the principle. All of them accepted the framework of DPI. All of them said that for the global south, DPI is not just a tech upgrade, it’s a leap towards inclusive and sustainable development based on the countries’ needs and circumstances. And that’s the only way to transform the life of its citizens.”

India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Ruchira Kamboj, described India Stack as a “pioneering force” in building digital public infrastructure that has turned a billion dreams into reality. Within six years, India has achieved an 80 percent financial inclusion rate, a feat that would have taken decades without such digital infrastructure, she said.

She cited the International Monetary Fund’s working paper ‘Stacking up the Benefits: Lessons from India’s Digital Journey’ that said that India’s journey offers powerful lessons for other nations embarking on digital transformations, emphasising a design approach focused on shared building blocks to spur innovation across ecosystems.

In a presentation on ‘Citizen Stack = Digital Public Infrastructure’, co-founder of think tank iSPIRT (Indian Software Products Industry Round Table), Sharad Sharma, highlighted the five DPI Sutras for a thriving ecosystem – citizen’s agency and privacy; interoperability; techno-legal regulation; bypassing corporatization and private monopoly and safeguarding against weaponisation.

“These are the Sutras that are important. We wish to lead by example. We want this fidelity to the Sutras to be an important conversation as we go forward. We want to make sure citizen centricity is maintained, we believe there is a place to invest in the (Citizen Stack) brand so that anybody’s DPI anywhere in the world can be included in the citizen stack,” Sharma said.

He emphasised the importance of building a community with early adopters. “There are many early adopters, and they have to all come together to take the responsibility to preserve the integrity of this revolution that is happening before us. So please embrace this as we go forward. Embrace this with a spirit of trust. Embrace this to accelerate your SDGs, embrace it to reignite growth in your own countries,” he said.