Cash transfer programming: can Oxfam stay ahead of the game?

Disasters, Emergencies, Food & livelihoods, Food security, Humanitarian

Oxfam’s experience of using cash transfers in humanitarian programming dates back to the early 1990s. Here, Philippa Young, head of the emergency food security and vulnerable livelihoods team, explains how our use of cash transfers in emergencies has developed and continues to grow.

Oxfam has used cash transfers to respond to a range of acute and chronic needs for over 20 years. From 2005, cash transfer programming (CTP) began to represent a significant proportion of aid delivered by Oxfam and partners in humanitarian contexts, and this trend has been rising ever since, with the latest figures showing Oxfam’s humanitarian cash spend to have reached over 107 million pounds since 2005.

We believe that the aims of humanitarian work – meeting immediate needs whilst contributing to the longer term economic recovery of disaster affected populations and increasing their resilience to future shocks – are achieved most effectively and sustainably by working through existing structures in order to reinforce local capacity, with an approach of mitigating any risks towards the communities with whom we work.

Oxfam’s approach is fundamentally market-based, incorporating delivery of aid through market structures, as well as work to support and strengthen the capacity of key market actors and infrastructures (supporting traders and access to credit, rehabilitating infrastructure). Beyond that, Oxfam programmes also work towards increasing resilience in the longer term, looking at supply and income markets that concern the most affected.

In addition to directly implementing programmes, Oxfam also uses its experience and analysis to advocate for appropriate and timely responses, which contribute to economic recovery, and to influence key humanitarian actors to work towards ensuring long-term solutions to food crises. In our efforts to respond to the needs of field practitioners, Oxfam has been engaged in cutting edge
research and development initiatives since 2004.

We prepared CTP guidelines in 2006 to aid field workers in conceptualising and implementing CTP, and in the aftermath of the tsunami in Asia in 2004-05, Oxfam worked closely with the other founding agencies of the Cash Learning Partnerships (CaLP) to consolidate learning and develop
materials to train field practitioners in the sector. More recently Oxfam has been active in the development of the
EMMA (Emergency Market Mapping and Analysis) and PCMMA (Pre-crisis Market Mapping and Analysis) toolkits to support field-based decision making regarding the mode of support to
households affected by humanitarian crises. O
xfam is still the recognised lead agency in market analysis thinking.   

Oxfam’s approach is fundamentally market-based, incorporating delivery of aid through market structures

Oxfam has also been conscious of the fact that programme interventions can have differential impacts on men and women. An increased effort is therefore made by the organisation to ensure that its programmes aid in the empowerment of women and do not render them more vulnerable than before. To assess the effect of CTP on gender power relations, Oxfam conducted a global study on Cash and Gender in partnership with
Concern Worldwide. 

The face of CTP is changing and developing rapidly however, and Oxfam needs to make sure its stays at the cutting edge of developments. CTP is no longer a modality used by a few select organisations with specific expertise. It is now extremely widespread and used as a programme response modality by governments, UN agencies and the private sector, in addition to both local and international NGOs, reaching hundreds of millions of people each year. It is also used to address a variety of needs in multiple sectors including public health, shelter, nutrition,
education and food security.  

Whereas cash was once seen as the domain of programme technical teams, it is now recognised that management teams have significant responsibilities, as well as support teams (logistics and finance) and security. Oxfam has developed standard operating procedures aiming to guide these different teams through their roles and responsibilities, and to ensure that programmes have taken any possible
risks fully into account.

With the expansion of the interest in CTP have come advances in technology. There are now a variety of ways of getting cash to people, from direct cash in envelopes to using banks, post offices and remittance agencies, mobile money transfer through phone companies with no bank account required, and local traders/businesses. Digital technology is also allowing for improved accountability, by giving beneficiaries the opportunity for more rapid feedback and agency response. Advances in digital technology have seen
the speed, security and quality of humanitarian programmes improve and have resulted in global studies being conducted on the use of e-transfers and operational guidelines.

The digital capturing of beneficiary information, and sharing of this information with third parties, leads to greater thought around the sensitivity of data and privacy of beneficiaries. Should we really be collecting and sharing all this information? How can we store this safely? How do we make sure it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands? Oxfam is developing a responsible data policy to
help guide us through this changing world and help us consider the ethics and risks of beneficiary information collection.

With the advent of CTP at very large scale in some locations, governments are becoming more wary of the risk of this cash being diverted to support terrorist activities and there are now more stringent regulations in place such as Know Your Customer (KYC). NGOs will need to be much more aware of counter-terrorism laws, and to make sure their programmes operate within existing legal frameworks. There are now a number of global fora at different levels being convened to discuss the implications of the spread of CTP and evolving

The donor climate is also changing, with new and more strategic focus given to CTP. The European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) is prioritising projects around multi-purpose cash (the unconditional use of cash to meet beneficiaries’ overall needs) and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) is convening a high level cash panel that will look at criteria by which to judge the capacity of their implementing partners to deliver quality CTP in the course
of 2015. Their criteria will not only be programmatic (have we done market assessments, have we considered risks to beneficiaries, will cash meet their needs etc.) but will also be looking at operational aspects – what do our data collection policies say? Have we used digital technology where feasible and appropriate in order to save time and costs? How are we managing internal fraud risks etc.

We are still a recognised leader in technical sectors, but others are starting to react faster to the changing climate and context 

In order to deal with this changing climate, many NGOs have now recruited or are beginning to recruit cash specialists that sit completely independently of programme teams.  Job titles include cash transfer payment solutions director, cash preparedness adviser and multi-sector cash expert, and these sorts of roles are now also being recruited at country level and in emergency pools such as the equivalent of Oxfam’s response and resilience team (emergency deployment personnel) pool. Oxfam is beginning to think how it too
can follow this trend and keep up its impressive track record. We are still a recognised leader in technical sectors but operationally, others are starting to react faster to the changing climate and context under which humanitarian programmes are operating. Oxfam will need to react now to these game changers in order to keep up with others. How will it respond to these challenges? Watch this space!

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Banner Photo: Bassam Ghanoom, 29, buys food with cash provided by Oxfam. Sam Tarling/Oxfam

Ayad Gharab 31, and his wife Nawal, 28, shop for food with vouchers worth $35 dollars per each member of their family, supplied by Oxfam. Sam Tarling/Oxfam

Aisha Mohammadiya buying rice in Yemen with cash provided by Oxfam. Caroline Gluck/Oxfam

Cash distribution to fisherfolk in Bantayan Island, Philippines. Caroline Gluck/Oxfam

Author: Philippa Young
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.