Cash transfers: A catalogue of solutions

Anna Kondakhchyan Humanitarian

ICT in Programme Humanitarian Advisor, Anna Kondakhchyan reflects on an exciting new initiative designed to help practitioners navigate the ins and outs of electronic cash transfers.

As Oxfam increasingly defaults to distributing cash, instead of items, in emergencies we’re seeing more opportunities to provide timely, inclusive, secure and reliable payments through the use of electronic transfers such as mobile money, pre-paid cards and even SMS vouchers.  In our Scaling Humanitarian ICTs Network (SHINE) programme alone, we’ve had an opportunity to test the use of such technologies targeting 900 Households in Iraq and DRC. Early findings show that the technology itself is reliable and offers a more robust disbursement tracking and reconciliation process compared with traditional cash transfer mechanisms. With appropriate initial sensitization and set up efforts, the technology also has huge potential in situations where direct access to affected communities is restricted.

Yet, if you are a humanitarian working in the field of cash transfer programming, you have probably been faced with some difficult choices about what delivery mechanisms are available for your programme and context. Perhaps you have also had to spend significant time researching the types of tools and platforms available to you for the delivery of electronic transfers. Just under a year ago, Electronic Cash Transfer Learning and Action Network (ELAN), convened by Mercy Corps with advisory support from CALP, Oxfam, NRC, IRC and MasterCard, brought together humanitarians and private sector actors in Senegal and Rwanda to have an open exchange of experiences around implementing e-transfer initiatives and to brainstorm ways to improve the collaboration among the group.

From these events, the idea of an online catalogue listing providers and their solutions suitable for humanitarian cash transfer programming needs was born. ELAN and Oxfam facilitated two follow-on catalogue design sessions in London and Washington – refining what such a catalogue might look like to be useful for the private sector players looking for customers, for humanitarians in search of the best product for their context and potentially also for the donors. The design process was quite insightful – it made us think and re-think our typology of humanitarian e-transfers, draw parallels with online clothing retailers who have mastered the art of online search facility, and occasionally even question the very idea of developing a catalogue in the first place!

Several months on it’s really exciting to see the result of our collaborative effort as the beta version of the ELAN online Cash Catalog is out and ready for testing. So far there are just a few provider entries – and these are from the private sector players, who have agreed to be the early testers of the catalogue and have raised a couple of useful points. But we need more user feedback to make this tool work for you, the humanitarians. So take it for a spin, browse the categories and search functions and then share your feedback with us!

Just imagine- next time you are in the field, having established that your cash transfer programme could benefit from an electronic delivery mechanism, the answers to your questions such as ‘what solutions could work in my context?’ or ‘What solutions have already been tested in my context?’ or even simply ‘what solutions are out there?’ could be just a few clicks away.


Rosa Polaschek

Rosa is a New Zealand qualified lawyer with an interest in corporate accountability. She is currently working in Oxfam GB’s Private Sector Policy team on business and human rights developments.