Multiple cash-based programme delivery systems and ECHO: What’s best for quality and efficiency?

by 17th Jul 2017
CARE cash transfer programme beneficiary and gender and accountability focal point Ropafadzo Gwenyama (second from right) with her family in Masvingo, Zimbabwe CARE cash transfer programme beneficiary and gender and accountability focal point Ropafadzo Gwenyama (second from right) with her family in Masvingo, Zimbabwe

Having finished up a week of intense discussions on cash programming in Geneva earlier this month, I have to say that even I, a cash advisor who is avidly passionate about cash-based programming, am all “cashed out!” However, there is one major takeaway from the Global Cash Forum that I can’t help thinking about. I was struck by how much the discussion about how best to deliver cash at scale efficiently and effectively dominated the whole day – and for good reason.

ECHO sent shockwaves through the humanitarian community earlier this year with the publication of their new guidance on cash, which is to be applied primarily to protracted emergencies where cash-based assistance forms a significant part of the response. ECHO proposes that multi-purpose cash to meet basic needs should be delivered by a single agency, with another separate agency carrying out the beneficiary targeting, M&E, accountability, community engagement, etc.

The message from ECHO at the Global Cash Forum was loud and clear: adopting this new approach to delivering multi-purpose cash in certain contexts is likely to be more efficient and effective, whilst offering better value for money. However, can we deliver cash in a highly efficient manner whilst maintaining the flexibility to have tailored cash delivery systems so it reaches vulnerable segments of communities who might have particular access barriers? Moreover, will the separation of functions between cash delivery and other supporting programmatic functions (targeting, M&E etc) potentially impede responsive, adaptable programming?

The case of Zimbabwe: Overview

CARE International in partnership with World Vision International in Zimbabwe has recently completed implementing a DFID-funded cash transfer programme in the Southern Provinces of Zimbabwe, which ran from August 2015 to May 2017. This large-scale, humanitarian programme reached over 400,000 people affected by El Nino-induced drought. Its objective was to meet the immediate food needs of households through the provision of unconditional, multi-purpose cash via mobile money. Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), Econet and NetOne, were engaged to facilitate cash transfer payments through their mobile money platforms, Ecocash and One Wallet. On a monthly basis, CARE transferred USD$2.9 million to 73,718 recipient households, 60% of which went directly to women. The recent external evaluation report by Oxford Policy Management showed very positive results of the programme, with significant gains in food security status and a reduction in negative coping strategies.

Sometimes multiple Financial Service Providers are required

Our initial plan was to deliver the cash using a single MNO. However, after we carried out a rapid assessment to verify the coverage, we discovered that NetOne had stronger coverage in two districts. It was then decided to additionally engage NetOne in order to fill this coverage gap. At times, cash transfer programmes may need multiple different cash delivery systems, whether that is multiple different systems from a single agency, or multiple different agencies delivering cash using different systems based on what is most appropriate for their targeted populations. In Zimbabwe, we used two different mobile network operators, recognising that no one MNO could successfully deliver cash to all of our targeted communities. Having this flexibility to contract multiple financial service providers ensured that our communities’ accessibility was best supported in terms of geographical reach, network coverage, and familiarity.

Ensuring a responsive, adaptable project

Delivering cash transfers as well as MEAL functions can ensure a responsive, adaptable project – but it requires capacity and resources.

  • Investment in beneficiary accountability

Our beneficiary targeting was integrated with our complaints and feedback response mechanism and supported by our direct engagement with the MNOs. As we received tip-offs about potential inclusion/exclusion errors, we swiftly followed up on these, in addition to our on-going random beneficiary verification. This meant we were able to update the beneficiary list on a rolling basis, in close collaboration with the MNOs. Having an integrated approach between our targeting, complaints response mechanism, community engagement and direct engagement with the MNOs supported speedy resolution of inclusion/exclusion errors. However, it was resource intensive, not only during the initial set up of the project, but throughout, so we need to remain realistic about the time, staffing and finances that are required to support quality cash delivery.

  • Joint work with MNOs of key aspects of the programme

Working with the MNOs, we jointly carried out certain aspects of the programme, to support the cash transfers. For example, the MNOs provided Brand Ambassadors who worked with CARE/WVI staff to carry out awareness-raising activities with the communities on how to use the platforms. Beneficiary registration was also carried out jointly – the MNOs registering beneficiaries on the platform and logging KYC (Know Your Customer) requirements whilst CARE/WVI mobilised the communities, shared information about the process and verified identities.

What are the ways forward to support quality cash delivery at scale?

  • Have the flexibility to base decisions on cash delivery systems on what is best to meet people’s accessibility requirements, even if this means having multiple financial service providers.
  • Having concerted links between MEAL and cash delivery in order to maximise all the stakeholders’ skills and knowledge and facilitate speedy delivery.
  • Investment in community and beneficiary engagement and accountability – this is the cornerstone of quality programmes and should not be underestimated in terms of resource requirements.
Ciara O'Malley

My role is to support the growth of cash-based programming in CARE, as well as ensuring CARE is continuously enhancing the quality of our cash work. This includes sharing our learning, knowledge and experiences with other humanitarian stakeholders, as well as learning from others.

The humanitarian system has traditionally been grounded in the provision of in-kind aid and services. However, there is a growing body of evidence that shows at times, providing disaster-affected people with cash can be more effective at meeting needs, supporting the recovery of the local economy, more timely and be more cost-efficient. I work with our teams, as well as external stakeholders, to grow that understanding of “why cash” and “when cash”. My specific interests lie in cash operational modalities, coordination, quality cash programming, gender and cash, linking humanitarian cash-based responses with development programmes and social safety nets, how cash can support the strengthening of disaster resilience and market systems.

Previous to joining CARE in January 2017, I worked with HelpAge, Oxfam and Trócaire (Caritas Ireland). I’ve managed or supported the delivery of cash-based responses in a range of humanitarian crises which includes South Sudan, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Nepal, Myanmar, Ukraine and Zimbabwe.