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Cash Policy Commitments and Getting Over Humps

Amos Doornbos explores what the Grand Bargain means for Cash and Voucher Assistance and what changes are still needed. This blog is a more detailed version of a piece originally published on ‘This is Amos’.

19 July 2022 — By Amos Doornbos


The Grand Bargain made cash acceptable

Back in 2016, the humanitarian industry came together for what was dubbed ‘The Grand Bargain’. In simplistic terms, one of the commitments agreed was for ‘more cash programming’. 6 years on, how have we done?

Some types of policy commitments, like ‘more cash’ or ‘cash first’ help get us over a hump of change. The collective commitment helps de-risk the change for some. While for others the fear of being left behind the collective helps. And likely game theory has much to say about it all.

So after 6 years, we can say, the commitment to ‘more cash’ was successful. But now what? Cash programming is more acceptable now, which is great. But again, now what? Now the hard part begins.

Old operational models are no longer fit for purpose

Most organisations have embraced cash programming in a way that allows them to keep their organisational and operating models. These models, similar to logistics companies, are no longer fit for purpose. And since cash is acceptable now, we’re forced to reconsider them. And this will be painful. The original policy commitment was acceptable because it wasn’t threatening to the status quo. But now that we have moved beyond the acceptability hump, we see the next, larger challenge about operating models.

Digital transformation also implies change

Additionally, as cash grew in acceptability so did digital transformation and the realisation of the value of data and data management. We are collecting more data, about more people, and using more technology.  We are running faster than ever, but how much progress are we making?  We have optimised, chased efficiencies, and sought ‘value for money’ but the efficiencies and value were defined from our perspectives not those we seek to help.

We may be able to become more efficient.  We may, as an industry, become all six sigma black belts.  But as any respectable six sigma black belt will tell you, the last 1% gain costs as much as the first 99%.

While we have embraced the idea of digital transformation (everyone loves a shiny toy!), we need to connect digital to cash and do more thinking around how operating and organisational models should change in response.

Optimisation, efficiency and ‘value’ don’t work for the most vulnerable

The digital and cash revolution will roll on.  However, now as we over the hump of ‘cash is acceptable’, we will likely enter a period of creative destruction.  Particularly in our operating models.  Most humanitarian organisations operate project management models or logistics models.  Some have or are trying to move to a data company model, but the vast majority of us are still thinking about moving things from A to B – cash or something physical.  Even our ‘services’ are metric-ed as a factory – what are your numbers, your throughput, and reach?

The models that brought us growth and certain types of efficiency will also be our demise.  It is a race to the bottom and someone will always be cheaper than us.

And here’s the rub (or at least one of them) or skeleton in the closet.  We don’t reach the most vulnerable.  We reach and seek out the majority.  Our metrics of optimisation, efficiency and ‘value’ don’t work for the most vulnerable. The most vulnerable are the most vulnerable because they are hard to reach, fallen through the cracks already, and vulnerable.  The elderly, disabled, sick of Ukraine were not able to flee their homes.  They were stuck and remain stuck.  And for us to get aid to them is expensive in every definition of the word.

Perhaps the best is yet to come?

It doesn’t have to be this way.  It’s time for a new set of policy commitments.  Ones based on new operating models, ones that put people at the centre of programming, of data management, and so on.  There are opportunities before us.  Nothing new, but opportunities that have been dormant for years.   Our operating models can change, we can coordinate based on function, we can become knowledge organisation, we can take climate change (aka ‘atmospheric cancer’) – seriously, stop travelling as localisation might just be a huge opportunity waiting in the wings.

It will be extremely difficult and painful, but perhaps the best is yet to come?

About the author

Amos is currently the Disaster Management Systems Director for World Vision International. He is focused on enabling individuals to have more control over and access to their data and wrestling with issues like consent, ethics, and rights. He blogs daily on his website.