Small island nations have traditionally lagged behind on using technology. Infrastructure is expensive and tricky to build; small population sizes make it difficult to attract investment or interest.

But in some areas, they have an opportunity to press ahead. Take Samoa, a Pacific island nation with a population of just 190,000 people. It is unlikely to become the next Silicon Valley, but it could leap ahead of larger nations in one crucial area.

Samoa is planning a digital national ID system to make public services more accessible to citizens, ICT Minister Afamasaga Lepuiai Rico Tupai tells GovInsider. “We would like for you to just go to one location and things are solved”, he notes. The project is intended to be completed in three years.

Digital ID trends

Samoa is not alone in the pursuit of a national digital ID system. The Maldives has a similarly small population of 400,000, and introduced a multi-purpose ID card in 2017 that single-handedly functions as a passport, national ID card, driver’s license, and health insurance card.

A leader in the field, Estonia – population 1.2 million – introduced its national digital ID back in 2002, and its system is currently the most advanced in the world. Estonians can use their cards for digital signatures, banking, submitting tax claims, and even e-voting, among other things.

Just this week, Thailand announced plans to launch its system by the end of this year. The ID could allow people to make payments using biometrics, like fingerprints, retina scans or facial recognition.

Predicting natural disasters

Aside from identity, Samoa is using tech for social ends. Climate change has made the Pacific island more susceptible to natural disasters. Samoa is mitigating the damage by using technology to predict weather patterns. “We know when a storm is heading our way,” Tupai says.

Additionally, the government alerts citizens to imminent dangers via text messages. “If a tsunami is hitting us, then we’ve got technology all around the country to be able to get people to be alert of what’s going to happen,” he adds.

“If a tsunami is hitting us, then we’ve got technology all around the country to be able to get people to be alert of what’s going to happen.”

In healthcare, Samoa is developing a central patient records database. Regardless of where the patient goes for treatment, whether it be a private clinic or a public hospital, their health record would be readily available to the doctor. This would help doctors make better informed decisions and give patients a better healthcare experience.

Partnering with private sector

The biggest challenge for Samoa is finding people to build new systems, like the digital identity. “We are yet to find out how we’re going to do it,” says the Minister. With “a lot of these services we don’t have the capacity locally to build them…so we have to bid globally.”

However, the government is having trouble engaging the private sector. With a specific tender for projects such as the national ID, there are few companies that are capable to completing the job. So it is pulling out all the stops, including reaching out to the companies directly and posting the tenders up online. “Whichever way that will make us get to the best people in the world to the job, we will use all avenues,” he explains.

Samoa needs talent and technology from the private sector to achieve its vision. Can you help?