Raj Hegde is joined by Sebastian Manhart - Technical Advisor on Digital Identity for the German Chancellery to explore governmental reform and understand stakeholder expectations behind the rollout of digital identity projects in the post-COVID era.
Tune in to this episode to learn how governments can transition from risk-averse waterfall approaches, improve human factors in public services and navigate through the government-private sector nexus to promote citizen access to essential services.
Hey guys, welcome to another episode of frontier talk, where we explore the intersection of identity people and technology. Over the last eight episodes, we've looked at applications of decentralized identity across a wide range of industries. Be it mobility, telco, or healthcare, but now it's time to flip the switch. The digitization of public services is something that is peak. My interest of late governments across the world are perceived to be slow, inefficient and bureaucratic. So the question remains can the blitz scaling world of technology cope with the slow moving world of government to help us answer this question, we have someone who has worked tirelessly to bring digital identity to the more fragile contexts of the world ever so passionate about helping governments make the most out of tech. He is now known as the man behind the recent cross border SSI initiatives involving countries that is Germany, Spain, and Finland. You have to share his take on the challenges and opportunities for government reform in the post COVID era, Sebastian Manhart technical advisor on digital identity for the German chancellery. Sebastian, I'm delighted to have you on the
Pod. Thank you very much for having me today, Raj .
Right. Sebastian, I want to start off by taking a step back and exploring your journey. So to say, so you pursued a degree in developmental economics from Cambridge. So some curious to know how did you come across digital identity and, and what excites you about a decentralized ecosystem of digital identities?
Yeah, I mean, I have to take maybe one or two or three steps back and that situation like pretty much anyone working in digital identity, I didn't set out to work in digital identity for me. I came into it through the humanitarian sector, which is maybe a bit unusual, but I set out to work in what's called the, the aid or humanitarian sector, which is a 200 billion a year industry. And when I was getting into it very much, from an entrepreneurial perspective, we noticed with my colleagues at the time that there was a huge challenge with transparency and accountability in the sector, a lot of money got wasted and we essentially found that digital identity was one of the missing building blocks in all these huge aid programs that are happening around the world. And so I helped set up and run probably the world's only nonprofit biometrics company called SIM France, which I was the CEO of until a couple of months ago until early in the year.
And so for six years, I was very much focused on digital identity and last mile settings. So, you know, Afghanistan, Somalia, Nigeria, all around the world, focus on how can you use digital identity to empower individuals who otherwise would have no type of identity and allowing them to access healthcare services and education, cash payments, all of that. But then I did that for a number of years. And as you can imagine, I worked a lot with governments and these systems were heavily centralized. And that's the only way in some of these contexts. You know, people are illiterate very often. They don't have smart phones, there's no internet connectivity, it's a very harsh environment. So you can't really deploy the solutions that we're going to talk about today. And so you end up working a lot with heavily centralized solutions, often in very shady data centers with governments that, you know, you don't necessarily trust. And that kind of started to flip me more and more. And I decided to jump on the other side and I looked more and more to Europe where I saw the future of digital identity being designed as we speak. And I got very interested in the opposite approach, which is one where you don't leave the power to an individual government to do whatever they want with all the sensitive data. And so that's how I got to do digital identity and then into decentralized digital identity.
Right. That's fascinating. We will definitely look into your learnings from working with developing countries, but before that, could you perhaps double click on your roles and responsibilities as a technical advisor to the German chancellery?
Yeah. So in, in Germany, and we're going to talk about this, it's pretty interesting because you have the government itself. Obviously now the government is changing, but the still acting government on the angle on miracle spearheading a digital identity program focused on the centralized entity. And as far as I know now there are new countries who are also joining like New Zealand and others, but it's quite rare for government to take the lead and focus on decentralized identity as the main approach. So that was very interesting for me. And I started getting in touch and we started kind of understanding what they needed to do. And my role there is very much focused on Europe and on the international context. So there's a national program and obviously we want to make sure that whatever happens in Germany can work across borders in Europe, but also frankly, that Europe as a whole is going to go in a progressive direction when it comes to digital identity. And so I collaborate with other member states with the commission. I work a lot on the Ida's proposal, which we might talk about today and I manage international stakeholders for the chancellery.
Amazing. I think it's, it's, it's quite fascinating to your, about how you manage stakeholder expectations and, and your, I don't know your experiences on the negotiating table. That's something that I would love to explore with you because you played a key role in these recent joint deals involving, you know, big players. This is Germany, Spain, and Finland, where they are set to explore cross border SSI initiatives. I don't know if I'm reaching a bit with this question, but could you perhaps talk us through what goes behind the scenes? How has the experience at the negotiating table?
It's very interesting, right? Because when you are talking to governments and they're very different perspectives, depending at the level that you're talking to and also different incentives, frankly, and when it comes to decentralized entity, one thing that surprised me was actually how many evangelists exists in government for decentralized identity and SSI. And most of them are at the working level. So they had the people who actually get shit done day to day, but they're not necessarily the people who can set the direction that the government is going to go when it comes to identity as a whole. And so I think the, the challenge here was to, you know, I, I literally, I spoke to, I think 300 people across all European member states, the commission everywhere to identify who were those evangelists, because I knew I needed them. But then I worked with these evangelists in the respective countries to convince the, the political advisers, you know, the people who very close to, you know, the politicians who will eventually sign these deals and get them on board and understand.
But really we did that by understanding what the incentives and motivations for each country and each politicians were. And what's came out of that was that there were a number of countries. You mentioned Spain, the Netherlands Finland, but there's a number of other countries in Europe that are very progressive when it comes to their thinking on digital ID, who gets that now's the time to act. And so then we found some politicians who were willing to put their name on it. And so that was how we went about it. And yeah, I'm glad that it worked out
Right. And you briefly mentioned about expectations of stakeholders. And when you're dealing with politicians, you're going to deal with a wide range of requirements and expectations. So I'm curious to know how do you navigate through the expectations of each and every stakeholder and perhaps what's the one crucial skill that served you really well on the negotiating table?
I mean, I did, I've been an entrepreneur for 10, 12 years before joining government. And so I think that's served me well because I learned how to sell. And I learned that selling requires listening and listening very intently. And I think that was probably the most important skill from the stand, all these different stakeholders and their motivations was just to, to talk to them, but not to talk at them, but to really listen to them. And what came out of was, as I said, sort of a very diverse set of expectations, but also a lot of commonalities with what we do, what we were trying to do. And so I will say the one skill is definitely listening, even though, you know, across cultures across borders, it's not always easier. Europe is a very diverse heterogeneous continent, but it, it worked out well because we found these commonalities in terms of the vision that we were trying to achieve.
Right? So as Sebastian just mentioned, listening is a very important trait in anything and everything. So to our audience, I'm sure that you're enjoying listening to his insights out here, but I think the next step is responding to his comments. So please get on the comment section and sharing your insights and feedback and help us get better on this journey. Moving forward. You know, you've worked very closely with developing countries to bring digital identity, and now you switched towards doing the same for the EU for that matter. So I'm curious to know, how would you compare bringing digital identity to developing countries versus the EU and what are some of the learnings of your previous experience, a CEO of SIM prints that have now permeated through to your new role?
Yeah, I mean, at its most basic, every government is trying to achieve the same, which is to improve the lives of its citizens. And so I think that's something that is the same, no matter where it worked and you find brilliant, very caring and forward looking people in government, wherever you go. And I think that's something that for me, was quite inspiring because we, I think, especially in the private sector, people outside of government, there's a pretty government has a very bad reputation in many places. And you just expect these lazy people who slack off don't work and just, you know, get their paycheck at the end of the month. Couldn't be further from the truth in my experience, call me, maybe I got lucky, but I just want to be very clear. I work with amazing people all across the world in government and this, the state, the stopping point is incorrect.
It's very different. On the one hand, the developing countries I worked in usually have very few resources. And so they have to, there's almost a scarcity mindset, which leads to a lot of prioritization of where those resources go. Unfortunately, those resources often come from abroad. I say, unfortunately, because that creates a dependency on the political whims of the west, you might say that's can change overnight and might lead to overnight budgetary constraints in a developing country. So that's a pretty bad, I would say difference. On the other hand, you don't have to deal with legacy systems. So now in Europe, when I think about the ideas, like essentially this, this wishlist where we want SSI decentralization, we w but we also want all the existing legacy systems to be used. And then we want interoperability between all of that. And that's kind of impossible, but that's how people are talking in Europe, because everyone wants to protect what they've already invested so much money in and so much experience in the developing world. You know, you rocked up and often there's no nothing existing and you can just design what makes most sense tomorrow, not yesterday. And so you can create incredible systems. So I've, I've made very good experiences that way. And now when I work in Europe, sometimes I'm like, oh my God, there's so much baggage that we're carrying with us. So yeah, there's pros and cons, but also a lot of commonalities.
Absolutely. I mean, as an entrepreneur, you might know, I don't know, working with limited resources and in that scarcity mindset more often than not tends to get the best out of you because with limited resources, it's what you have. And then he's got to go out there and do the magic. So to say, so you've repeated this multiple times that, you know, you're really bullish about identity in EU. Now, my question to you is that the EU is fundamentally not known to be software centric. So what makes you bullish about the EU identity dream? So to say,
Yeah, I think the U has a lot going for it. Like I am personally really inspired by the process that we're seeing with AI. That's what those are. Don't know the Ida's, I would kind of call it the GDPR of identity. GDPR should be a name to most people, right. But Europe is basically trying to define the most advanced common framework for the use of digital identities on a continent. And it's amazing because what I'm seeing is, you know, it's the core group that is currently driven by the European commission is around a hundred policymakers from 27 member states. But then at national level, each of these 27 member states have probably another five to 30 people working on this. So just in this process right now, you get several thousands of Europe's best, most tech savvy, and tech driven policy makers getting together to define a common framework that will be hopefully the gold standard for 5, 10, 20 years to come.
And I think this process is unique and really incredible. And so that's something that I think sets Europe apart. There's nothing like it anywhere in the world, as far as I know. And, and that's one thing. And then on the other hand, I think you've got amazing. The private sector is really flourishing when it comes to SSI in Europe. There's many hubs of decentralized technology in general, you know, especially if you think crypto and defy, but also SSI. You've got a lot of amazing private sector companies and what I'm seeing increasingly. And I think we might talk about this later is the nexus between them and the government becoming stronger. And I think that can create an environment that will set us apart. That's the positive side. I would say the negative side is when you're trying to get 2000 policy makers from 27 member states to agree on something, things can get watered down and, and, and D almost crippled to become useless. So it can go in, can go in either direction, but I'm an optimist. And I still hope that what we're seeing right now in Europe, we'll, we'll go down the positive route.
Brilliant. I mean, optimist tend to get more done than pessimists. You're already on a good track anyways. Right? So now that we've explored the state of digital identity in the EU, and let's dive into how governments can effectively bring SSI initiatives to market. Now, what gets me excited about this intersection of government, citizen and tech is the fact that all three parameters are interconnected. You know, governments are responsible for meeting the needs of citizens. Why tech essentially serves as a force multiplier in bringing about rapid systemic change. Self-sovereign identity is based on the principle of independent control and existence, but state is your credentials kind of divorce this possibility because the person can lose the identity if the state revokes his own credentials. So my question to you is why do you think governments should be the identity provider of choice? Yeah,
And I mean, I have a lot of work, a lot of friends who work in the decentralized tech space, and we certainly have interesting conversations about the role of government versus the role of the private sector. And I felt that, I mean, from my perspective, I see government is not as inherently bad or good. I think that government plays an incredibly important function in a functioning state of providing essential services to its citizens. And for me, digital identity or more identity foundational legal identity is a core, is a fundamental human right as defined by the UN. And it's something that has to be provided by the state, just like other basic services, like, you know, clean water, electricity. It is just something that we require to move around in our daily lives. And I, I personally think that we go a step too far. If we think that, you know, we can live without that and that the private sector will solve for that as well.
Because in my view, we, I would love a borderless world where everyone, you know, hold hands, holds hands and we get everything that we want. But the reality is we live in nation states and in those governments have to play this role. And so I, that's where I that's my starting point. Right? Then there are many different ways that you can go about. The reality is in most states. And I mentioned my experiences, for example, in Sub-Saharan Africa, you have very strong centralized authorities that wield a lot of power over citizens and, and the data. And that's where I think you can get more creative. For example, governments like Germany recognize that they have a duty to provide foundational ID in digital form as well to its citizens, but are open to then decentralizing everything else, right. To make sure that the government doesn't know what you do with that identity. It doesn't know what other credentials you, you connect to it, or you use. And, and that's, I think the way to go is that you almost have kind of a state flavored, decentralized identity. You SSI, where you have the government issuing the core credential that you need, but then everything else happens without their knowledge and without the interference. And that's where I hope we're going to go.
Right? And now adopting credentials is pretty much as a two way street, right? On the one hand you have the parties that are building solutions. On the other hand, you have citizens, citizens who need to adopt that solution. So, so when it comes to onboarding users, a how do you limit the technical complexity and uncertainty for them? And B how do you motivate them to actually get on board and try out the solution?
Yeah, I'll start with the second pump because I think it's a bit easier. It's, it's all about creating value for, for citizens. And the answer here is let's look where citizens spent their time and where they experienced pain, pain points in their daily lives, the historical approach of governments when it comes to identity, it has been very public sector focused. And as the German, for example, I use public sector services. 1.2 times a year on average, 1.2, that's nothing. I use private sector services, thousands of times a day, maybe a hundred times a day. So if we really want to optimize for value to citizens, we're not going to start with public use cases first, but that's what governments have done over and over and over again, and are still doing in Europe. We're going to start with private sector use cases. And so I think that's just one example where we, by design, we can increase value utility and therefore adoption.
If we really focus on where people spent their time, you know, banking travel, e-commerce you name it now with, COVID obviously there's also very strong public use cases like a COVID certificate, but you need to find those that have the highest utility in terms of usability. And I think that's a huge challenge, especially for the decentralized identity space, because there's still a pretty high barrier to entry. You know, you need people who have, as far as I know, will have a smartphone who can use that smartphone. I have many, you know, if, even if I think of my parents, they wouldn't be able to use the solutions that we're currently discussing. So we need to lower the barrier there more and more. And also when it comes to interfaces and there's still a lot of work to be done. If I think of the, the UX of a lot of the applications that I've encountered, they're getting better, but they're still far removed from some of the most intuitive applications that we use in other areas of our lives. And so I think we need to summarize on the one hand, we really need to drive utility. And that's, I think a design choice of what use cases you focus on. And then we just need to push the private sector more and more to develop the most user-friendly applications we can get. But if we can get those two together, I think we'll see a lot of adoption in the space.
Right. And speaking about adoption, when it comes to building solutions, do you think the focus should be on, on a specific use case or should the focus be on agency?
What's your take, when you say agency, you mean
By agency, mean focus on the individual on having
Complete control of his or her data. I mean, I, I don't see them as mutually exclusive, but if we're pragmatic about how we roll this out, and we're talking about a lot of also pretty regulated use cases, for example, banking and as such, I think we need to roll out gradually. So we start with a wallet and ideally I see a world where people can switch wallets as they please, right, where there's a full data portability. So there doesn't have to be one wallet. It could be plenty of wallets and they choose whatever they like, but then they, we need to roll out. We can't just say, okay, from tomorrow, you can do everything with this wallet. That's not how the world works. So my experience is you need to stop with specific sectors and companies that are going to either issue or verify those credentials. And so my recommendation is let's start with the highest utility sectors and use cases, and then gradually increase what you can do with that wallet. Obviously, hopefully in five or 10 years, you can do everything with it. But tomorrow we need to pick one use case the day after tomorrow, the next, and then gradually increase.
Brilliant. And speaking about the supply side, now you've been an entrepreneur. So I'm curious to know, what do you think are some of the top priorities for anyone looking to build decentralized identity solutions and more importantly, and I think this is more relevant in the FSI space. How do you distinguish between noise and a proper assessment of public opinion?
Yeah, I think for, for what to build. And I mean, if I, if I put my, both my entrepreneurial, my government lens on, and I, I really think that it open source and transparency will play a very, very big role if we want to see wide-scale adoption and this and that. And for me, this is something that I've really seen as well with the whole COVID apps and being open. It's almost an expectation by government, or do I find that government often doesn't really understand why they want open source? They just say it has to be open source. And, but what I really see in practice is that open source creates a lot of trust in, in the cities, but in the citizens because they then know that whatever they are putting their very, their most sensitive data into has been vetted by civil society.
And so I just think that, you know, I would strongly recommend adopting a business and development product development model that embraces open source over proprietary systems. I just think you're going to get further. The second thing is, and I think open source helps, but this can be done without open source is interoperability. As we, as government, we are very reluctant to a future where one or two providers will be able to lock you into a specific wallet and almost force you to have all your credentials just with them. So you will get much more traction with government, much more funding, and also political backing. If from the beginning you can be interoperable. And if you see the latest announcement, I think it was yesterday of the data services act that was released about plot platform governance. It goes in that direction too, right? Europe is basically going to almost force big platforms to be interoperable. And this is what we're going to expect. I think in the digital identity space as well,
Right? Fingers crossed it actually materializes into something really productive. Now, one of the key takeaways from the pandemic has been the embracing of more risk and adoption of technology to actually drive change something that government usually tends not to be very good at, but has now been forced to do so because of the situation we find ourselves in. So, so my question to you is how can governments make the transition from a slow risk averse waterfall approach to a more dynamic agile approach?
So for me, this, as an entrepreneur coming into kind of this space has been one of the most fascinating aspects.
Was it beautiful, right? Like, I mean, just, just, just being in that environment.
No, but it's, it's interesting because I think my, my team in the Chinese study is probably a bit unusual. I understand in terms of how it runs compared to most like government it projects. And we, we also got some, yeah, some bad press for that because we are pretty agile team. And it's funny when you're in government, because as I said, everyone complains that you're so slow and then you never get anything done. And then when you try to be agile and fast, people also complain because you're being too fast and you're not taking enough precaution, but it was interesting for me more than anything is that government in itself could be one of the most risk-taking environments, right? Because if you're a civil servant, you can do, you're not going to get fired, right? Like you can take exorbitant risks as a civil servant compared to anyone else in the private sector and entrepreneur like you, you won't be able to pay your bills next month.
If you really fuck up in, in this, in this environment, in the civil service and you can, you can take big risks. And so this is something that I really hope we're going to see more of the problem is that government and the civil service, because of this kind of certainty of job security re attracts people who are not risk-taking. So you ended up with people who are very risk averse in positions, where they could in theory, take a lot of risks. And that's kind of why I hope that in future, you're going to see more people with an entrepreneurial background or private sector background, joining government, and realizing that they can take risks and then doing it. But again, this is kind of more, my hope, what I see is also difficult is that everyone is afraid of press, right? Like whatever you're doing in government, it's tax dollars. It's not your private profits. You're reinvesting, it's my money, it's your money. And so there's rightly a lot of heat on anything you do, but yeah, I hope we're going to see more agile approaches in government because I think everyone would benefit from it.
Absolutely. And I'm curious to learn more about the composition of your team. I mean, do you hire guys who have an entrepreneurial background where perhaps more younger dynamic, more risk-taking and is it like, how big is the team sort of say, do you keep it more lean to get things done more quicker? Or what's your, yeah, what's your way of doing things
Really nice theme, because the way that the chancellor works it's it has, it has cool teams, but then it really takes people from all the different ministries and brings them into kind of, yeah. Cross ministry teams. And so it's nice because you've got people from ministry of finance and all, a lot of about, you know, decentralized finance, crypto banking, then you get people from ministry of education will know a lot about, you know, digital diplomas and all of that, and you bring them all together. And so the team has grown quite a bit and now probably the core team has run, let's say 15 people who manage like the specific project and, and you get, it's largely young and you get a lot of people who I think, you know, people who work on this topic quite excited about decentralized identity tend to be younger tech savvy forward-looking. And so it's a pretty interesting team, but again, it's my first experience in government. So I don't know how representative it is of other, other places.
All right. Brilliant. I think now's a good time to bring the heat with the podcast. There was recently a, a high profile attempt in Germany for a public private cooperation for a reusable digital ID, a digital driver's license. It lasted only one week in the app stores before it was removed for insufficient security testing. What lessons should we take away from this case? And do you think this could have been avoided if the tech was not hyped as much as it is right now?
Totally. And we've certainly learned a lot from this. It was a fuck up. There's no way around it. And it was released in a way that it was simply not robust enough for what, what did that encountered? And we've learned a lot of lessons that I can share. And what I think was unfortunate is it was released shortly before the German election and as such, it got
Significantly more attention. And so what we thought was going to be a fairly silent release, turned into a 300,000 signups within 24 hours or something. And obviously a lot of media coverage. And doesn't change the fact that the underlying issues were there independently of how many people focus on it. Right? And I think one, one lesson is you need to rope in civil society more and earlier because a lot of these security mistakes, but also frankly, other mistakes that were flagged that had nothing to do with security were, were flagged by civil society. We've got a very strong, especially kind of tech hacker community and in Germany. And they, they took it apart and put it back together. And so what was in there that could have happened earlier, that could have happened before we released it and together with them. And so that's definitely a major takeaway is how to collaborate better with civil society.
The other one is communication, and this is something that really pains me because as an entrepreneur, when I ran my own company, we could communicate whatever we wanted. You know, the approval system was calling the CEO and that's it. And now anything you want to communicate has to go through lengthy approval processes, sometimes spanning ministries, which means that, you know, you release something, something happens, okay, shit happens in an agile development setting. I know that that's part of what we do, but usually you can iterate and you can react. Then you can talk about it in this case, the government, and this is something I think, a big learning facets. How do we, how are we able to communicate with the public? Because you get a lot of heat from the media, but there is no counter perspective from the government in this whole process because we can't quickly react.
So this is something that I think we need to think about better in the future, because the citizens need to hear different opinions, need to hear also the government's position on it. And, and I think the final one is, again, coming back to use cases, and this was the second use case, which we probably should have picked one that was a bit less high-profile and kind of gradually increase the, the, the impact of the use cases and driving everyone has a driving license, right? So like people were going to jump on this. Maybe we should've picked something that had a slightly more niche implementation because SSI is still pretty nice and we're aware of them. And so things are going to go wrong and we need to find a way for things to go wrong without, you know, things being tanked. So this is, I think what we'll try to do better next time.
I mean, it's crazy, right? I mean, this serves as a very interesting paradox on how governments effectively function. You know, as I mentioned at the start of the podcast, you know, governments are perceived to be very slow and inefficient. And on the other end, you have something that's rolled out so quickly in a blitz scaling manner compared to products, say in the valley and you know, it's the fail fast approach wherein you fail. But I mean, you know, the chances of failing a high, but Hey, you've at least got something rolled out. So, so like, you know, what's the incentive now for governments to actually roll things out in a more quicker pace, because they know they're going to be subjected to more heat if they go on and do so. So how do you navigate this, this paradox of social?
You need strong personalities. The boss of my Dean, he, I give him a lot of credit because he gets a loan. And for example, he used, he even used the fail fast, fail forward terminology on Twitter, and he got eaten alive for it. And I understand why, right? People are like, this is very sensitive data. You can't fail fast when it comes to sensitive citizen data. I get all of that. So I get both perspectives, but the reality is I've worked in a tech company for six years. We are going to be much further in six or 12 months because this happened then if we had tried to plan it for two years and then slowly rolled it out in a super controlled manner, right. So we need to find a middle ground. And again, I think you need strong personalities who are willing to take some heat and take a few punches and keep going because yeah, you need to have thick skin to, to, to go through that.
Absolutely. I mean, I think it's all about timing in the end. Perhaps a little later would have been more sufficient, I think most elections, but that's, that's that's for anyone to guess. So speaking about this intersection between government and tech, you know, government relies on the tech community to actually build a novel solution. So, so what do you think are some of the unsolved gaps between these two communities and how do you bridge these gaps? Because you've seen both sides. So to say,
This is a topic I'm very passionate about because I see the guy was being way too big, and this is true in decentralized identity. It's, it's true in decentralized finance. It's true in crypto it's you see almost, you know, a flourishing tech community that is really pushing the envelope, and that is creating incredible products, being quite visionary, really thinking ahead, but that sees itself. And I think that's also because of the people who drive driving these movements as sees itself as almost an antidote to government, you know, government has failed us. We can do better. We can stand on our own kind of, we spoke about this a bit earlier. And let me say government who perceives these, these trends, these technologies as a threat and they are threats, right? They are a threat to the status quo. If we think if, if you know, blockchain applications are going to take off, a lot of industries are gonna, that are acting as intermediaries.
They're gonna fail to survive. And these industries have a lot of leverage on government, right? And so I kind of see that, and I see a big gap between the two and I don't see people moving between the two. I mean, civil servants would join a crypto startup. I haven't seen many. And also I haven't seen many of my crypto friends saying like, Hey, I really want to work for, for government. And so you get a gap that is just increasing with every year. And that leads to almost either we're going to fight each other. Or, and I hope that this is going to happen, that some governments are going to embrace these technologies. I mean, El Salvador is an interesting example when it comes to blockchain, right? Whatever you want to make of it. I find it super interesting that the government is just saying like, okay, let's try to, to embrace it.
And I think those governments are going to learn a lot and I've got to really like move ahead much, much quicker than the rest. So yeah, I, I hope that we can bridge the two. The way to do it is, is communication is to, to, to talk is for people in the private sector to seek a conversation with the government and the other way around, ideally even join, move across more often, try a couple of years in government, see what it's like. But as an initial step, I would encourage anyone to talk to the other side.
I mean, that is definitely a shoe. I mean, I, I tend to look around these board of advisors at all these companies and, you know, advisors advising the government to say, and more often than not, they're these 70 or 80 year old guys who've done a lot, but they are like not in touch with the current president or the status quo. So to say, so I think there's room of improvement for, for both sides. But anyways, this actually reminds me of my conversation with Harry barons in the first episode of frontier talk, where he mentioned that people or retaining people rather is the most important KPI when it comes to building these centralized identity solutions. So from a government perspective, you know, how do you retain talent at a time when big tech is pounding on anyone and everyone, and there are so many opportunities in the market, what's your take?
It's tough, right? Because government has way less flexibility in attracting and retaining talent than a private company. And when it comes to pay perks, potentially even career progression. So what I see as being the biggest drool of government, most people would say, you know, a fixed job for life. That's not at all. What I would say, what I say is the ability to work on some of the systems that it will have the biggest impact on citizens lives. Because imagine what would happen if governments rolled out some of these systems and they have the scale, they have the scale, they have the money. So what they, what they're lacking is sometimes the vision, the, the tech savviness, the experience in these technologies. But if you can bring that, you can make a massive difference. And also you've got to stand out. That's one thing I'm noticing. If you are an entrepreneur, a tech entrepreneur going into government, you're going to stand out and that can be a real asset. If you have the right people around you, that can be a huge asset. And so it can be quite exciting, but again, it's a different work environment. You know, when I, when you run your own company and you can do whatever you want, it's certainly different, but also your sphere of influence and impact is smaller. So yeah, that's how I would say it,
Right? Let's, let's, let's deep dive into this sphere of influence concept that you just mentioned. You know, working with legacy systems requires governments to more often than not outsource projects involving new systems to vendors. However, as you might know, there's often a suspicion involved whenever you come in as a vendor, because there's always an ulterior motive involved, which is to say, sell a product or a service. Do you have any tips or vendors to, to say, overcome such an image and perhaps be more authentic?
I mean, I used to be a vendor for six years and I spoke a lot to governments. I know what you mean. And I'm on the other side being approached by vendors. So I get it. I mean, for me, it's, it's what we said earlier, right? If you're trying to sell a listen and try to help. So I get so many messages from people who are like, literally in the first message they write to me, they sell this solution and that that's just never going to go anywhere. Right? These might be brilliant people with so much information to share, but they're not going to get past that first hurdle. And so for me, what I've seen work really well is there are people who run some, you know, SSI companies that I'm familiar with, who just share their knowledge and experience with us. And that's so valuable.
You know, when somebody just sends you an email, like, Hey, by the way, you might already be familiar with this, but did you see that this company and this government that this, and this is how it would relate to what you're doing? That's amazing because I probably didn't know. And that's how you build trust, right? Like that's how you show your, how you show, you have experience, you build trust. And you've got to get to talk about your solution at some point, but initially give advice, give experience, give help, and create trust with the other person. Otherwise the government is, as you said, that ulterior motive almost sounds a bit too harsh. I wouldn't say that, but you kind of know that you're almost, you're almost always trying to keep private companies at arms length also sometimes for valid reasons, because you can get into trouble if in certain situations you don't. And that's why I would say, just try to be helpful first and foremost,
Right? I mean, it's, it's fascinating because I mean, the more I spend time with people, the more I realize that intelligence is actually domain specific and not generic in nature. You know, what I suppose said before was that if anyone was smart, I thought he, or she would be intelligent across a wide range of domains. And actually not the case, you know, you might be able to build the most incredible rocket for that matter, but you could be someone who just doesn't empathize with people or just can't build that trust level. So it's about pulling yourself in multiple spheres to just be this complete rounded person that you can be. Yeah. That's my philosophy for the day. Anyway. So what's the, what's the AWS situation that, that use the Bassett Meinhardt is spending most time wrestling with at the moment
Intersection of blockchain and government, because I think it's going to change everything slowly sector by sector. And I think especially government is currently still too reluctant to open the eyes to it. And so that's probably the most interesting innovation I see.
It's amazing. Right? So that was a fascinating conversation, but now it's time for the best part of the podcast, which is, which is frontier fire, where I put my guests on the spot and ask them a series of rapid fire questions. So Sebastian, I ready for the challenge. I'll try, let's go describe yourself in three words,
I'd say passionate risk-taking and curious,
Brilliant. What's your mantra in life
To embrace change? Because I think that change makes us a better individual and professional assault trying to regularly get out of your comfort zone and embrace that right.
And our yummy out what important truth to very few people agree with you on
That as knowledge workers, we need to optimize productivity. And what that means is to work less like, and I mean less and less and less, I think that somebody who works 20, 25 hours a week might have a much higher quality output and therefore more impact than somebody who works 50 or 60 or 70 hours a week. And so most people will disagree with me on this, but I think that as a knowledge worker where the quality of the interactions, the quality of your, of your ideas matters more than anything you need to, you need to force yourself to work less because otherwise you're not going to be at your best.
Could you perhaps elaborate on that? I know this is a rapid firearm, but that is a very interesting take. So I'm just going to dive in, sorry guys.
Yeah, I it's, it's just my personal experience. My experiences, I did both. Right. And when I was an entrepreneur working crazy hours, I got my shit done. I had the output, but, and I thought I had the quality, but when I reduced my hours and I started to be able to breathe and see, and think, I actually realized that the quality of my interactions with people, the quality of what I was suggesting and saying and doing was infinitely higher. And so overall my impact was much higher when I worked or is much higher when I worked 25 hours a week. Then when I worked 70. So I tried to structure my life to work less and less. And I actually think that serves my employers well, and this is something that I think, yeah, most people find very counter-intuitive because we're kind of fully bought into this like workaholic culture, which I think is complete bullshit. And so that's something that I don't think everyone will agree with me on.
Brilliant. So the moral of the story is procrastination is the key to success. I'm going to remember that for sure. So, so again, what's the best piece of career advice you've received,
I guess depends what position you find yourself in. But for me, it's always been one person once told me, identify whatever you really dislike in your professional life and find someone who just loves it. And when you do that, you, I mean, it's basic delegation, but it, if you enforce that all the time, you end up working on the things you love all the time. And if someone else works on the things that you find, I'll tell you boring, and they'll having a great time. And so this is something that I really recommend whenever you're doing. Even like, if you, anything you can, you realize you're doing five times and you don't like it is the way to give it to someone else who loves it. And often there is,
Yeah, brilliant, a person who inspires you and why
Angela Merkel. And I'm saying this, I don't agree with their political views, but I just have so much respect and admiration for someone who managed for 16 years to keep her calm, keep her shit together, be passionate about everything she was doing. Learn so much about everything in a changing world and kind of be that almost that pole of tranquility and, and reason in a world that is getting increasingly crazy. And so having worked also in the chance, we haven't had the luck to work in the Chancery still with her there I've been even more impressed. And so for me, yeah, she's very inspiring.
Absolutely. I think it's, it's, it's, it's very rare to find someone of such stoicism in a crazy world, as he just mentioned. Yeah. Things are going to a pretty bad place in my opinion, but that's for later, finally, what's your advice to anyone listening to this podcast?
I would repeat what I said earlier, which is try to bridge that divide. If you are in the tech scene, if you're in the private sector, talk to policy makers, they need to hear what you have to say, but do it in a way that comes from a place of help and advice. And if you're a policy maker, if you have a government, you also need to be aware of that divide. So try to bridge it and try to talk to the people who are pushing the envelope in the sector. Yeah.
On that knot's Avastin. I genuinely want to thank you for enlightening us about the transformational power of tech and its applicability by governments. Government officials are usually trained to give diplomatic answers. So I must give you extra credit for being super transparent and authentic on this part. I genuinely wish you the best of luck in all of your end of us moving forward and really look forward to seeing a lot of your work come to fruition in the coming months and years. Thank you so much, ambassador,
Thank you rod for having me.
So that concludes another episode of the frontier talk podcast. I really enjoyed this conversation with Sebastian that explored the intersection of government, citizens and tech. And I hope you enjoyed this conversation too. If you did, please share this with anyone you think might find this information useful. Now on a personal note, it is really fulfilling to see a little community being born out of this podcast and to our audience. We sincerely urge you to please share your thoughts, comments, and feedback. Why the comments section below it is only with this, that you can continue to get better in the process until next time. This is me Raj Hegde, and I hope to see you all again on this fascinating journey to really find the eye in identity, stay safe.
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