Let’s talk about Digital Identity with Odunayo Eweniyi

‘Digital Identity matters because it is the central theme where everything is interconnected and trackable’


Odunayo Eweniyi is the co-founder & COO of Piggy Vest. She has over five years of experience in Business analysis & operations and graduated with a first-class in computer engineering, Covenant University. Some of her stellar achievements thus far include being named one of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 technology category in 2019. Odunayo is very passionate about the inclusion of women in tech which birth her community hub, Wine and Whine NG, a safe space for women to complain, create change and drink wine.


Q: What do you do and how are you coping with the current pandemic?

Well, I work as the COO of PiggyVest and we’ve been working at home for about 3-4 weeks now and I’m lucky enough to be self-isolating with my sister. So, it’s not as boring as being alone and how am I coping; well, lots of Netflix, lots of movies and TV shows, lots of using Twitter. Generally, I am a person who likes to be indoors, so it’s just mildly uncomfortable.


Q: What really is digital identity and how does it accelerate business processes & growth? 

I think that…how does it accelerate business processes & growth. So, digital identity is a set of attributes that are connected to one person or one organization on a digital channel and the contribution of that to processes is access. For business, having access to the comprehensive identity of their prospective customers or their current customers is certainly a way to grow because it helps improve targeting, it helps improve service…and so I think that having a holistic view of the attributes of the person that you are trying to serve is a way to be able to improve your service to that person and attract people like that person. So what it gives to a business or an organization looking to serve people is the access to know the people that they are serving. 


Q: How would you say digital identity has helped promote financial inclusion in Nigeria? 

Well I mean…I think that from us seeing that most fin-techs are actually targeting people who already have their BVNs registered. That way, you recognize that people are only willing to onboard and work with people whose online activities they have ranged over, so, your BVN obviously stores your name, your address, phone number and some other important data.

So, that’s important for financial technology companies because we are dealing with money, the risk of fraud is usually always present in financial transactions. So, it’s very useful for them to have the BVN and so, in terms of financial inclusion, I suppose it will be that if you have a BVN, you are even now more eligible to use financial services because there are more options available to you since fin-tech companies are now on the rise & on the increase. But for people who are in the informal economy, I don’t know if digital identity has worked for them so far for financial inclusion.


Q: Would you say you have seen an increase in how the role of digital identity has helped promote financial inclusion especially during this COVID-19 pandemic?

I don’t think that it has improved financial inclusion in that way. I think that only existing people who already have that identity are the ones who are using it. So, I don’t think that during the pandemic people are rushing to create their own digital identities or create their own bank accounts. It’s the complete opposite. People who had it continued to use it, people who didn’t have it; actually people who don’t have it are people who are still transacting cash.

I think it’s a matter of information being power right? So obviously, once the pandemic broke out, everyone is like contactless. We are only accepting transfer & you know that works for the formal economy and people who already have activities online but people who don’t have, offline, I don’t think they particularly migrated into formal banking activities that way.


Q: What do you think makes up for a good ID?

I mean…as much as possible right? You can use the social security number in America as an example. It tracks everything, your driver’s license, from credit scoring to bank account to address to whether your driver’s license is valid to when you are moving from one house to the other. All of that information should be captured somewhere safely and privately, so that companies that are offering you credit, that are offering you loans…it serves as a reason why they have seemingly more comprehensive provisions for their lives than we do.

Take, for instance, this pandemic right? At the presidential address on Monday, the president said we have 2.6 million houses registered for the social register who are eligible for palliatives and we will get 1 more million households registered to 3.6 million households, but, there are 37 million households in Nigeria and 33.3 million of those households are actually on the poverty line. So, if we have a comprehensive digital identity system, it will be much easier to have…because we know that almost 100 million

Nigerians are living in extreme poverty. So there is no way a million households are eligible for help during this time; if we had a comprehensive identity system, it would be easier to distribute to at least 30 million households or know that at least 30 million households need help. In that way, I think that is how we need to look at it. How is it comprehensive? When a person is born in Nigeria, is their birth certificate just paper or is it also tied to a database, so we know that there is one more addition to the

Nigerian population. Where is that person? If a citizen’s birth certificate were tied to a comprehensive identity system. We would be able to track people from birth until wherever they are at this particular point to know are they eligible for help, are they not eligible for help. Are they eligible for credit, are they not eligible for the credit? And things like that. Identity systems will help in virtually everything. Is this person eligible to buy land? Is this land unencumbered? and stuff like that. So, that’s kind of a journey to an ideal digital identity system.


Q: What would you say should be the way forward with digital identity in Nigeria? What do you think technology companies should be doing? What do you think the government should be doing?

I would say that there are already private sector startups that are doing this in the private space. Like you, Verify and I think that creating an identity system is a collaborative effort. I would say a great starting point could be the government saying okay we want to work with you on creating a comprehensive identity system.

Nigeria is not as advanced as the rest of the world in terms of tech, but, I suppose it does make sense that we are not as advanced as the rest of the world in terms of identity. But, we could be because the tech does exist. I think that’s where the divide is right? There has to be some sort of willingness on the part of the government and the private sector to form a one-stop identity module or channel. Then, that tech could be made available. Social security started from somewhere. Their tax identity started in the UK and in the EU started somewhere. So, it’s not a matter of if the tech is available, what do we want to do and then we build for that. 


Q: Can you finish this sentence for me? Digital Identity matters because …

… It is the central theme of a society where everything is interconnected and trackable.


Q: Can you tell us how women in the tech-industry can become more visible? 

Honestly, I couldn’t tell you because I am just one single woman, I can only speak from my own experience and for me, it’s been a journey of almost seven years and I think that watching the evolution of the ecosystem of women has been very interesting and ummm…visibility I think is a combination of the men understanding that they need to make space for women because we do make up half of the population and whether you like it or not, we are here. That’s saying we will not take NO for an answer and so those were the two things that I implemented.

My parents raised me to be a fighter and for every single piece of progress I have made, I have fought for it. But the flip side to that is that I had incredible people, incredible men in my life who were also fighting alongside me. Like my co-founders, my co-founders were there every step of the way and also like speaking up against any dis-respect and our early investors as well. You know…you will do it on your own, it might take longer but you will do it.

You need not just a support system, but a support system from the gender that seems to be doing most of the oppression. It’s like being a woman and having men around you who believe the things you do. It definitely makes the journey and the fight very worth it and a lot more bearable. I think that having a strong support system like that is very important in every woman’s fight to achieve their goal and their dreams. I have been in male-dominated spaces all my life. In primary school, the Jets club was mostly male, I went to an only girl’s secondary school and so the Jets club was almost empty. In university, I was in computer engineering and we had sixteen girls out of one hundred and something boys. It was just like a very giant imbalance but I fought and I came out top of the class because all of those things are important to me.

No one is better because of their biological make up. I always try as much as possible to let women see that we are all the same and you know…people disagree. I don’t care much but we are all the same and I have as many chances to survive and be successful as you do inside of me and I am someone who wants to fight for that. Then, one of the things that you also have to try to do once you get to that epiphany of ‘I’m going to do it myself with the help of some people’. If you do succeed, you need to hold out the door for other women to walk through. That journey doesn’t need to be as complicated as your own.

Do you get it? I mean…it would be a journey I have to say. 

One of the things we need to avoid is people making promises they cannot keep, and so if I can’t do something. I am very okay saying I don’t know and we all need to be okay saying I don’t know and we also need to understand that the journey to gender parity in any sector: finance, tech or just general life is an on-going fight. It’s a journey and it’s not going to be done in a day. You have to just make the commitment, it was hard for me but it won’t be hard for the women coming after me. That’s it. 


Q: What would you say women can do to improve their technical & leadership skills in the workspace? 

I don’t think that’s a unique thing to women, I think it’s just to people. I suppose my first thing will be Learn! Learn! Learn! Upskill always. Since my bachelor degree in 2013, I haven’t attended any other formal school, so I’m for the most part self-taught in things that relate to business. We learnt along the way. We started our companies right out of school and we had to learn on-the-job.

So you can learn as you go… like Leadership. There is no skill that cannot be learnt. There is no skill that you cannot pick up via the internet. It’s a very important resource. I think apart from learning, you may need to have tonnes and tonnes of grit and determination. Being a woman is not easy, being a woman in tech is not easy, being a woman in any sector is hard. I don’t think there is any sector where we get the respect that we deserve. But, you need lots of determination, this is where I want to be and then you need to learn because one of the things that learning and taking courses does is the validation against the imposter syndrome that usually comes once in a while. So when you have the confidence that I know this thing. I know what I’m saying. It usually helps.


Q: What do you think companies can do to help women get more visibility?

I feel that it’s about allowing them to have ownership of their domain. So, we have gender parity in Piggy vest and what we try to do is, when we hire people; people have different personality traits, some people are outspoken and some people are not outspoken when they come into the company. But, subtly what we do is, the non-outspoken ones, we are giving them more responsibility. Before you know it, a person who is typically not speaking out is speaking out to get your job done. You have to work with your team members and to show impact, you have to speak out and then the outspoken ones, we specifically pair them up with people who are less outspoken.

We work with people who like now are… there are particular people in mind I have when they started and now they are team leads and they are significantly more outspoken taking leadership positions and taking responsibility and not as a formal process of ‘I am taking you to train for leadership’. It’s really just the little things. Ownership of their domain, tell them that you have confidence in their abilities and recognise their abilities when they do well. So, we do this not just for the women but we do it for the men as well because the goal is to have a well-rounded organization where everyone feels like their own efforts in the grand scheme of the company.

So, if you have an organization where women are mostly on the lower rank, then you need to focus more on them to bring out this inner really great performer and you know, as a leader, it is your responsibility to bring it out in them; because we are a small company and we are trying to put down this kind of culture. We do a lot of one-on-one with them and I know a lot of them. The things that go on in their lives and also when they make mistakes. Instead of just correcting them, you need to dig deep into why those mistakes are made.

So, it’s about just looking at a female employee or any other employee as a fully formed human being that has positives and negatives, highs and lows and how you can make those work for the good of the organisation and for the good of the person themselves. 


Q: What are your three non-negotiables?

Honesty is one. Two, everything that I’m doing has to have more impact than just me right? and then, number three is to always give it 110% as much as I can in whatever I do. So, that’s why I try to limit the things I do so that whatever I do, I do it well! My dad used to say “Aim very high, work very hard, care very deeply”


Q: What are your favourite apps, gadgets and productivity tools?

Well, I use all iOS devices. So, watch, iPad, phone, mac. My favourite productivity tool is still Microsoft Office Suite. I am very old-fashioned. Excel, I use excel a lot. I love it. My music app, Spotify. Those three across all devices. 


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