Cash gives people dignity: What I learned at the Global Cash Forum

by 13th Jul 2017
Cash transfer programme beneficiaries in Masvingo, Zimbabwe Cash transfer programme beneficiaries in Masvingo, Zimbabwe

CARE International provides humanitarian and development assistance in 79 countries around the world. We are committed to evidence-based delivery, continuous improvement, value for money, and providing appropriate, flexible aid to communities. So cash was always going to be on the agenda for us.

What inspired me about the recent Global Cash Forum? The balance between the commitment to maximise the impact of every pound available and the compulsion to empower disaster-affected communities to prioritise their own needs and ultimately provide dignity.

Putting dignity into humanitarian delivery

The humanitarian community is still learning about cash as a delivery modality. The collective knowledge, experience and geographical coverage at the recent Global Cash Forum was mind-blowing. We did not all agree on everything; there remains a great deal of discussion about delivery approaches, including the ECHO cash guidance. But what united the room was agreement that cash gives people dignity. It enables people to prioritise their own basic needs, to make choices for themselves and do what is best for their family.

Cash can enable assistance to get to people when aid workers can’t. When the context is right, cash can work through government systems and support the creation of national safety nets. Cash prompts a private sector response, helps local businesses survive a crisis and be part of a community’s recovery.

There are sceptics who see cash as high risk. Surely it could be spent on all sorts of things?! That is certainly not what CARE has seen. Cash delivery is easily monitored – in our recent food security programming we have seen that the vast majority of money is spent on food, although school costs and small-scale agricultural inputs were also purchased. At the Global Cash Forum Gabriel Fernandez of the Liberian Government summed this up best: “Cash works… poor people are not irresponsible.”

Maximising impact

The scale of humanitarian need is growing. 65.6 million people around the world have been forced from their homes, among them 22.5 million refugees. The gap between needs and funds has never been larger. We need to squeeze as much as we can from each pound given to help those in need.

When we use cash as a mechanism it is certainly cheaper. We don’t have to pay for logistics and insurance when we deliver cash rather than in-kind goods, so for every pound given, more gets to the beneficiary. In our most recent cash programme over 90% of aid went to direct implementation (£9.14 for every £1 of indirect costs).

Additionally, time spent on logistics can be time invested in more accurate and responsive beneficiary targeting – checking we have the right people and the right amount of money being given. With cash we can work with local business – help them be part of the solution, not another casualty of a crisis. At the Global Cash Forum, Alex Grey of Relief International gave an excellent example: in Kenya, in addition to cash programming they gave small grants to local traders, allowing them to restock and respond to community needs quickly.

We can also really invest in monitoring and evaluation. CIUK’s largest cash response was £42m in Zimbabwe.  We invested a great deal in M&E to ensure that we had a deep understanding of the results it created. We were able to map in detail the number of people moving from two meals to three, check that the funds were not creating household level conflict and understand the reduced use of negative coping strategies.

Scaling up CARE’s cash interventions

DFID’s Patrick Saez, in his presentation at the Global Cash Forum, stated that cash is likely to be an appropriate mechanism in 80% of humanitarian contexts; it’s currently only used in 7%. World Vision has committed to 50% of its humanitarian programming being distributed as multipurpose cash by 2020. Joanna Macrae, from Give Directly, argued that the real benefit of cash programming is the wider multiplier effect it has and that cash programming won’t achieve its full potential until we use it to do more than just service basic needs in a crisis. What does this mean for me as Head of Programmes for CARE UK?

CARE UK does not have a target for how much cash programming we want to do, but we are clear that we want to do considerably more. We are updating our go/no-go documentation to ensure that every time we consider a humanitarian intervention we consider if cash could be an appropriate methodology. We have started to disaggregate our data so that we can track how much and what proportion of our programming is in cash and are monitoring it to ensure it increases. We have invested in specialist cash expertise, enabling us to design, implement and monitor more and larger cash interventions. Moreover we are designing our logical frameworks and monitoring systems on cash programmes to ensure that they are supporting our cash research and learning agenda. We are also investing time and resources in actively participating in, and even leading in some countries, cash coordination groups. Last year, we developed a set of cash guidelines in order to support the delivery of quality cash-based responses.

We will be sharing what we learn with the wider development community, including at our forthcoming event Cash: Creating a climate for risk and innovation in humanitarian delivery to be held on 25 July. Please send me an email if you’d like to join us.

Victoria Wickenden

I am Head of Programmes for CARE International UK, overseeing our development and humanitarian programming in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. I joined CARE in 2016 and am really enjoying scaling up our programming, particularly in the Middle East, on commercial contracts and on cash programming. Prior to CARE I worked at DFID and the Foreign Office for many years, covering a range of policy (trade, economic, business and entrepreneurship) and programming issues (in Africa and the Middle East) and did a stint in private office. Before that I was an ODI fellow in Tanzania. I have two degrees in economics and continue to take a particular interest in economic and entrepreneurship issues.


Twitter: @v_wickenden