Social impact at scale with thoughtful APIs groomed with good design
Navanwita Bora Sachdev is a freelance contributor and the Editor of The Tech Panda.
The consequences of using Application Programming Interfaces (API) are undoubtedly far reaching, something that could be heaven sent for dispersing information and services on a large scale. Groomed with good design, thoughtful APIs for Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) could transform a society into a well-informed entity.
APIs are often called the unsung heroes a user doesn’t know about. Few users know just how many APIs are serving their needs in even the simplest of digital contractions, whether it’s hailing an Uber, making a peer-to-peer payment, or communicating with a company via WhatsApp. APIs even drive streaming services like Netflix.
In each of these, the customer-facing company satisfies a specialist need for a particular product or service, but they are drawing on another company’s areas of expertise and sharing software services to simplify and enrich the customer experience. This is why APIs are often compared to Lego connector blocks, bridging the gap between potential digital packets of information.
It is no secret that APIs can help businesses accelerate growth. A recent Deloitte Research found that more than a third (35%) of leading technology organizations were generating at least a quarter of their revenue through APIs. The most relatable examples of success are Twilio, WhatsApp, Google Maps, Slack, Amazon’s Alexa, and Facebook.
Since its impact is so far reaching, especially in the future, it is only logical to wonder of the social impact such a technology can have. After all the API economy has a remarkable impact on the economics of any given premise. A State of APIs survey found that almost 60% of 2,200 respondents considered participating in the API economy a top priority, of which, 67.1% worked in the financial services industry.
API for ESG
ESG is a great use case for APIs. An ESG API helps organisations comprehend and manage their ESG data, evaluate their performance, and share their results with other organisations, which can be useful in tracking and identifying the impact of organizations on a society and the environment.
The data can also aid investors in making decisions regarding sustainability initiatives. A few examples of good ESG APIs are ESG-API, ESG Enterprise, MSCI ESG data API, Factset ESG-API, Sustainalytics ESG Data Services, and Xignite Global ESG-API.
“Countries across the globe have been reporting emissions data for decades. However, there are still a lot of gaps in terms of access to the right data and the expertise required to quantify emissions. There is a large unmet need for accurate and hyperlocal GHG data on a global scale,” says Chandrashekar D, VP of Engineering, Ambee, a Bengaluru based company that launched a greenhouse gas API in 2022.
APIs & Governance
Not just private companies, but public institutions such as cultural heritage organizations and statistics offices are increasingly offering APIs, usually as part of larger open data strategies. Such providers include the United Nations (API), the World Health Organisation (API) and the World Bank (API).
Several federal and regional governments have implemented Web APIs, many of which give access through open data portals (e.g. data.gov, data.gov.uk, open-data.europa.eu, etc.).
India too is leveraging the power of APIs to reach its vast population.
India & APIs: The case of UPI
In India, the government is driving API adoption by launching initiatives such as the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy, which aims to make government data more accessible to businesses and citizens through the use of APIs.
“While India is still in the early stages of API adoption compared to the US and Europe, its growing tech industry and large pool of skilled developers make it an attractive market for API providers and businesses looking to integrate with Indian companies. With continued investment and support, India has the potential to become a major player in the global API economy in the years to come,” says Rakshith Rao, CEO of APIwiz.
The best example of the social impact of APIs is probably the payment industry of India. Largely being disconnected, Unified Payments Interface (UPI) was brought in to offer a real-time payment system in India enabling instant money transfer between bank accounts via mobile devices.
“The success of UPI in India can be largely attributed to the use of APIs, which have played a critical role in enabling the integration of various financial institutions and third-party service providers,” says Rao.
Developed by the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), UPI is built on a set of APIs that allow different banks and payment service providers to connect and exchange information securely. These APIs enable UPI to seamlessly connect with multiple bank accounts, thereby providing users with a single interface to perform a variety of financial transactions, such as sending and receiving money, paying bills, and making online purchases.
By using a simple and intuitive mobile application that is built on top of the UPI APIs, users can perform transactions quickly and easily, without the need for extensive technical knowledge or specialized hardware. This has made UPI a popular payment method in India, with over 74 billion transactions processed through the platform in 2022.
Moreover, the use of APIs has facilitated the integration of third-party applications and services with the UPI platform. This in turn has allowed for the development of a wide range of innovative new products and services, such as mobile wallets, bill payment platforms, and digital lending platforms, all of which have further expanded the reach and utility of UPI in India.
While finance is one of the most potent sectors for API implementation, other areas of governance can aid society in
APIs are undoubtedly powerful mediators in a datafied society. A study that discusses different aspects of APIs from the perspectives of social scientists who use APIs for data collection, found that APIs are fast becoming a relevant form of data access, in academic and applied research, and for civil society more broadly.
The pandemic most definitely accelerated the shift to API usage. Data-driven organizational agility has become critical. In a recent survey of 13,000 developers, almost one-third identified that APIs played a role in their capacity to respond to the pandemic, for example complying with new regulations and advancing the development of new applications for working remotely. We can prepare for future predicaments, such as the pandemic, with APIs that have a thoughtful design.