And one thing is clear. Whilst consensus is emerging about the importance of moving to a more comprehensive and high quality use of cash assistance, opinions are divided on who should do it and how to coordinate those involved. So perhaps unsurprisingly, the issue of cash coordination features heavily in the report, and no doubt will in the debates that follow. In this blog I explore some of the key questions regarding the coordination of cash – or essentially – how to get people to work together to ensure cash aid is the most effective it can be.
“At global coordination meetings, there is a turf war going on between the three UN agencies on who should ‘own’ cash – this is not helpful.”
– Anonymous, from The State of the World’s Cash Report
Let’s start at the trickiest point – coordination of cash is particularly problematic when we look at Multi-Purpose Cash, i.e. cash assistance which has no restrictions on what people have to use it for. In a world where humanitarian responses are designed and implemented in neat, sector compartmentalised ways, like Food, Shelter or WASH, Multi-Purpose Cash throws a spanner in the works where the cash assistance is likely to be used to meet a variety of needs, across multiple sectors.
This flexibility is in part what makes cash programming stronger; no one gets things they don’t need. But because where the money goes affects who is in charge – it leads to a furious debate over who has responsibility for coordinating cash and how do we measure Multi-Purpose Cash across the humanitarian system. According to The State of the World’s Cash Report, despite endorsement from the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Principals of the World Bank’s strategic note on Cash Transfers in Humanitarian Contexts, which calls for the formalisation of cash coordination, the report says that “…over the past two years, little progress is perceived to have been made in this area. Respectively, only 41% and 48% of respondents in the practitioner survey agree that the predictability and quality of cash coordination has increased in the past year.”
According to the report, the lack of a cash coordination mandate in the humanitarian architecture, and subsequent limited resources, leadership and structured engagement with national government counterparts, results in limiting the potential of Multi-Purpose Cash as a tool to deliver effective and efficient humanitarian assistance.
In the absence of progress over formal cash coordination in the humanitarian architecture, some donors have started to try and solve the problem themselves. ECHO, for example, has decided to try to meet its commitments to scale up cash, whilst at the same time, doing so in a manner that it feels supports coordinated delivery of cash. In November 2017, ECHO finalised its guidance on the delivery of large-scale cash transfers. At the heart of the guidance, it asserts that ideally cash should be delivered by a single financial service provider, in partnership with a minimum of three other agencies, whose roles are split according to function (for example, M&E, external evaluation, community engagement). This is a departure from the traditional consortium approach of dividing roles according to geography or sector.
By taking this step unilaterally, however, there is the risk that in the absence of formalised cash coordination systems, this approach by ECHO could create a parallel system that suits ECHO, but leaves the question of a coordinated aid system even more in question. If it does create a more streamlined, coordinated approach, then great! But ECHO is only one humanitarian donor, and whilst it has committed to trying to work with other donors to coordinate on a single approach to cash, unless the root causes of cash coordination issues are formally addressed by the IASC, ECHO’s approach will, at best, be a sticking plaster.
Download The State of the World’s Cash Report: Cash Transfer Programming in Humanitarian Aid from the Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP) website
CARE is committed to engaging with whatever structures are in place to best support coordinated cash delivery. In the fiscal year 2017, CARE led 73% of the consortiums we engaged with. In Zimbabwe, CARE co-founded and co-led with WFP the national Cash Working Group. In North-East Syria, CARE is co-leading the Cash Working Group with IRC.