Digital Identification in Finance Initiative in Africa

COVID-19 Off-Cycle Funding

Overview

May 29
J-PAL Research initiative
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Announcement: DigiFI is accepting off-cycle proposals for COVID-19 related research (cap of $250,000 per project).

Off-cycle applications in response to the COVID-19 crisis are welcome on a rolling basis until 29th May 2020 and will be reviewed every week. Only proposals that are add-ons to an existing RCT will be considered. It does not have to be an RCT that was previously funded by a J-PAL initiative. This off-cycle call is open to J-PAL research affiliates and J-PAL invited researchers across all initiatives. Funding is capped at $250,000 per project. The research topics should fall within the scope of DigiFI as laid out in the DigiFI framing paper, and can be in partnership with a government, private sector or NGO with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa. We recommend exploring the benefits and/or costs of digitization in a time of crisis. The proposed methodology should, of course, not include any person-to-person physical interaction.

Proposals for an off-cycle add-on to a full study or pilot funding consists of two stages:

Stage 1: Please fill out the pre-proposal form. We will respond to that within 24 hours and let you know if you should submit a proposal.

Stage 2: On receiving a positive response to the pre-proposal form from the DigiFI team, please fill out the COVID-19 J-PAL Initiative Off-Cycle Application Form. We anticipate fast turnaround times and will aim to respond to your proposal within 48-72 hours.


Overview

A growing number of African governments have begun pursuing the digitization of payment systems, while others are switching to biometrically-authenticated national IDs which integrate access and delivery of key public services. Early research suggests there is opportunity across Africa for digital technologies to help reduce leakage in the delivery of public goods and services, to increase fiscal capacity, to reduce corruption, and, to boost the welfare of citizens, particularly marginalized groups. Yet, there remains a glaring lack of rigorous, peer-reviewed evidence on the overall impacts of these digital payments and ID systems.

DigiFI Africa aims to fill this evidence gap by funding cutting edge research projects focused on the study of innovative government payment systems and ID reforms. We expect the evidence produced by this initiative will inform governments on how best to design and implement reforms to maximize benefits to citizens and mitigate risks.

The scope of funding aims to include projects across a range of possible interventions, including but not limited to:

  • How can digital ID systems assist with targeting and efficiency in public programs? Do digital ID systems assist or hinder in reaching marginalized populations?
  • How do digital IDs affect voter participation, the fairness of elections and electoral outcomes? Does increased enfranchisement affect policy decisions?
  • How can digital ID systems and digital payments assist in building incentive systems to motivate public servants?
  • Can expanding the formal economy increase the tax base through incentives and simplified processes introduced by digital payments and digital IDs?
  • What is the impact of digital ID and digital payment systems on market-level general equilibrium effects? What are their impacts on wages and employment? Are there impacts on occupational choice or migration?
  • Can digital ID systems encourage businesses to enter the formal sector? Do these reforms reduce entry costs to entrepreneurship and enable productive investment?
  • How do different privacy measures impact take-up of digital IDs?

Recognizing the importance of prompt and reliable information on the performance and impact of reforms, the initiative will take a two-pronged approach, funding:

  • Formative research that includes pilot and high-frequency monitoring systems to assess the status and health of payments and ID programs at various stages of reforms, and
  • Rigorous randomized evaluations to assess the impact of roll-outs of promising payment and ID reforms.

Eligibility

J-PAL affiliates, J-PAL postdocs, and DigiFI Africa invited researchers are eligible to apply for any type of DigiFI Africa funding.

Resident African Scholars, who are based at an African academic institution based in Sub-Saharan Africa and who are outside of the eligible J-PAL network stated above, are eligible to initially apply for Proposal Development Grants and Pilot Grants.

In addition, for this funding round, we are expanding our proposal development and pilot funding opportunities to non-resident African Scholars. Non-resident African scholars are those who have completed high school in Africa, have completed their PhD, and are based in an academic institution outside of Africa. Targeted mentorship will be provided to resident and non-resident African Scholars who receive funds from the Initiative.

PhD students may be eligible to apply for proposal development grants or up to $75,000 in pilot or full-scale funding. To be eligible, PhD students must have a J-PAL affiliate or DigiFI Africa invited researcher on their thesis committee.

Please note that PhD students and African Scholars are not eligible to apply for off-cycle funding.

Geographic focus

The DigiFI Africa initiative spans Africa, with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa. DigiFI Africa network researchers are encouraged to submit proposals for research conducted in the focus region, in partnership with governments and local implementing organizations.