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Cash 101: Cash and Voucher Assistance Explained

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Cash Transfer and Community Resilience Programming in South Central Somalia

The Building Resilience in Central Somalia (BRCiS) attempts to provide immediate humanitarian assistance as well as developing longer term local capacity through a combination of locally adapted cash-for-work and unconditional cash transfers.

10 October 2014

Building Resilience in Central Somalia (BRCiS) is a four-year resilience building programme, launched in November 2013. It was designed to improve the resilience of vulnerable communities and households in Somalia to the cyclical shocks of conflict, environmental and economic crisis. The approach balances the need for immediate humanitarian assistance with the need to build long-term local capacity to deal with underlying vulnerabilities and challenges. The programme is implemented by five international NGOs: Cesvi, Concern Worldwide, International Rescue Committee (IRC), and Save the Children, under the lead of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). Combining different layers of intervention, it tackles vulnerabilities directly at community and household levels.

The programme uses the Reaching Resilience Project which has been developed by CARE Nederland, URD and Wageningen University. The approach includes an inception phase during which risk reduction plans have been designed with and by the communities. Each NGO is in charge of the implementation of the project in the areas where they have most experience and local acceptance. They use their own human resources, savoir-faire and knowledge of the context. A technical working group meets every month at management level to discuss the challenges and lessons learned in the field and try to build on them and harmonize the activities when it is appropriate.

Cash transfers are one of the backbones of project implementation since they are particularly well suited to the support that is needed in Somalia. The modalities of utilization vary from one community to the next depending on the NGO practice, the analysis of the needs and the context. For example, in some areas, the network coverage allows the use of money transfer through mobile phones. In other places, the NGOs have to resort to other solutions to implement cash distributions. The transactions are done by money transfer facilitators (Hawalas) who ensure the quality of the implementation in regions where security issues are very frequent.

Below are some of the key benefits of the utilization of cash transfers in the context of resilience building in South Central Somalia.

Cash transfers sustain local markets and economy

The response to the 2011 famine in the Horn of Africa has proved that Somalia’s traders are far better at importing goods and transporting them to remote places than NGOs will ever be. Somalis are competent merchants and regular market monitoring has proved over the years that local markets are stable and able to support cash based interventions.

As a resilience programme, it was only logical that BRCiS chose to support local solutions for procurement of goods. Distributions of free goods imported from outside have often proved harmful to local markets, which are also one of the only sources of employment of long-term and casual labour, and indispensable economic forces in the local recovery.

BRCiS approach to resilience relies for a large part on the idea that Somalis know what they need better than we ever will and that their freedom of choice is an important part of their ability to build their future. BRCiS believes that the capacity of the beneficiaries to bargain for the cheapest food, the best donkey, the most relevant business kit, or the seeds and tools adapted to their land is much better value for money in the long term.

This principle also avoids “failed” in-kind distribution when goods are distributed that are not adapted to the context, a waste of time and resource that is easily dodged when using cash transfers. The initial choices that are made by the beneficiaries also reinforce ownership of the project, and encourage a more sustainable use for a greater profit, as they feel more involved and committed.

BRCiS’ approach to cash transfers is locally adapted

BRCiS works in 98 communities, 7 regions and 21 districts of South and Central Somalia. In 2014, each one of these communities partook in a lengthy, participatory planning process, which identified the root causes of the vulnerabilities of each particular community and allowed for a 3 years disaster management plan to be designed. During this process, the hazards affecting the communities were mapped out and analysed and sets of activities were designed according to the available assets and resources and to the communities goals.

In BRCiS flexible approach, cash transfers play an important part in allowing beneficiaries to choose exactly how they want to address their own needs. Activities are planned collectively but cash inserts a dimension of individual choice in the implementation. BRCiS programmes’ teams strive to use cash transfers as often as possible. They favour vouchers instead of distribution of tools and kits, unconditional cash transfers (UCT) instead of food distribution and use cash-for-work for many activities that require labourers, thus injecting cash in the communities while building assets and infrastructures.

Targeting vulnerable groups

The community action plans are comprehensive in the way that they address structural issues that are affecting the entire community (e.g. access to clean and sufficient water). However, they also target issues that concern smaller vulnerable groups within the communities. These groups have been identified through the baseline survey and during the planning process to which they were associated. The community analysis pinpointed their needs and challenges and their relationship with the rest of the communities.

The most vulnerable groups are often marginalized for ethnic or historic reasons; they do not have access to education, land tenure and property rights, employment or market opportunities. Their income is next to nothing and they have barely any access to credit due to a lack of social network. Getting to know them better was the first step to identify the range of criteria for the selection of households to benefit from cash transfers (but not only) activities’, and particularly UCT, cash-for-work and Safety Nets.

Amina lives in the village of Tula Adey in El Wak district of the Gedo region, one of the poorest regions of South Central Somalia. She is seventy-three year old, disabled and the only support of five of her grand-children, all aged between four to eleven years old. “I always think about ways of getting food for my children because they don’t have parents to look after them and I am the only person who is concerned about their survival. I cannot get loans or borrow food because it is known that we are unable to repay or settle the loans we take. We rarely eat twice a day because I cannot work and I am disabled. We can only rely on what our neighbours give us.” Amina is part of a typical vulnerable household in South Central Somalia: a head of household isolated, elderly and disabled, with a houseful of children to care for. She has been identified as such by Concern Worldwide and has entered a UCT activity that will support her for a few months until hopefully and thanks to the other activities, the community is better armed to help her and her family.

From the field

Unconditional Cash Transfers (UCTs)

BRCiS approach to building resilience in a fragile state such as Somalia involves different and simultaneous layers of interventions: emergency / crisis modifying interventions, targeted / short-term interventions and longer-term / development interventions. Unconditional cash transfers have been identified as being particularly helpful to prevent the deterioration of localised food security crisis, linked to conflict, drought or flooding. They are frequently used as a crisis modifying[2] instrument, either directly or through DFID‘s Internal Relief Facility (IRF). All five BRCiS partners undertook 3 to 4 months UCT in 2014 to respond to critical situations across 8 regions of Somalia. For example, IRC delivered unconditional cash transfers to 2,700 households in Mudug and Nugaal regions with the support of Dahabshiil money transfer operation (MTO). IRC staff was deployed at the same time to ensure accountability of the operation. They also conducted a post-distribution monitoring exercise to capture lessons and will use them during 2015 cash-based programming.

Lean seasons or population displacements often have a dramatic impact on food accessibility and can push communities into crisis or emergency, particularly with regards to food security. To save lives and to promote access to immediate food and non-food support, Cesvi, Save the Children and Concern Worldwide use unconditional cash transfers via mobile phones. The mobile banking technology allows reaching beneficiaries in areas that are inaccessible due to security issues. The targeted households receive monthly cash transfers to increase their food intake and to protect their assets during the period of the shock. To improve the speed of such responses, Save the Children has signed framework agreements with mobile telecommunication firms (Hormud and Golis) in Somalia. This approach was used in response to displacements due to the military offensives in Hiran and Mogadishu in 2014. Concern Worldwide has also been using mobile money transfers for three years, with Hormuud and Nationlink telecom companies in Mogadishu, Lower Shabelle and Gedo regions of the south, and is soon to start the same in Somaliland.

Cash support is usually provided for three to six months, is aimed at saving lives and livelihoods/asset protection for targeted households. Transtec, BRCiS third-party monitoring partner reported the following on an emergency unconditional cash transfer in Luuq, in February, 2015: “The food consumption score (FCS) of the beneficiaries was significantly greater than those of the non-beneficiaries, indicating a greater frequency and diversity of food groups within the diet within the last 7 days. Similarly the reduced coping strategy index was significantly lower for beneficiaries as compared to non-beneficiaries.” However short-term they might look, UCTs are also very useful tools in term of displacement prevention. Food security issues linked to drought, flooding or conflict are a major trigger for departure in rural areas and by reaching out to the families in their home villages, BRCiS relieves the burden of the lack of food and helps the households through lean seasons, while working on other levels to mitigate risks, protect / reinforcing the existing assets and creating new opportunities through a range of other activities.

However, within the Consortium, NGOs generally chose to limit UCT activities to the most vulnerable of their beneficiaries and more particularly to those who are not able to work: elderly, disabled persons, pregnant women. Cesvi considers that they reach on average 2 to 10 per cent of their beneficiaries through UCT, and use conditional cash transfers, and in particular cash-for-work as a preferred way to inject cash in the communities.

Cash for work

Improving access to water for irrigation and livestock have been identified as ways to mitigate drought in the longer term and therefore improve the ability to bounce back after a shock for these communities. In areas where community and natural resource infrastructure (such as canals, earth bunds, water catchments, roads, etc.) needs to be rehabilitated or constructed, Concern Worldwide uses cash for work activities. The families without able laborers are supported by others within the community through public agreements at the time of registration. The completed irrigation canals and water catchments improve crops; the rainwater catchments provide water for livestock production and will hopefully make the communities more resilient in the event of lack of rain. The same type of activities is also proposed in the places where flooding are the more disruptive hazards. Cash for work focuses there in embankment rehabilitation in order to protect crops and infrastructures from rising water.

Improvement of waste disposal and environmental sanitation at large are among the main issues identified through the baseline survey for the WASH sector. Cesvi is implementing a number of clean up campaigns and awareness activities on environmental issues through cash for work. Disposal pits will also be constructed through cash for work. Cash for work is also used for the removal of Prosopis Juliflora, an invasive species widespread in Somalia, that can be re-used by beneficiaries for the production of good quality charcoal of very high calorific value (thus creating additional livelihoods opportunities for the beneficiaries).

Safety nets

In urban areas, there is little opportunity for manual labour work and the most destitute families among IDPs are left without any resources. Concern Worldwide assists them with regular, low-level ($30 per month) long-term (2 years) cash payments. Concern expects that this subsidy will allow the families to meet their most basic needs on a regular basis, allowing them to focus on other perspectives that might enable them to support themselves to a greater degree in the longer term.

To ensure that the safety net programme is not damaging existing social relationships or traditional community assistance mechanisms, beneficiaries are chosen among communities where very poor households are concentrated. There, mutual assistance is rarely possible because of the extremely low level of income.

This safety net pilot is in line with the social safety net system that is being considered at national level by UNICEF and the government (the value of the monthly transfer may be adjusted according to new guidance expected mid-2015).

Cash transfers as part of empowering activities

Women Self Help Groups (SHGs) are based on the traditional “aiuto” system where women get together in groups of 10-20 and put regular amounts of money into a common pot which they take turns in receiving. In the SHG model Concern uses, this pot of money is used as a central fund for business investment or emergency assistance, which is then repaid according to the timeframe and regulations that the women themselves set. After 6 months of support to form the groups, agree on modalities and save with their own money, Concern provides a cash transfer to the group to increase the amount of money in the common pot. After another six months of business skills training, literacy training and support to ensure the funds are used fairly and that any conflicts between the women are resolved, Concern releases another cash grant to the group for them to manage as they choose. This intervention has the multiplier effects of providing a source of financial support for the women involved when they need it, boosting their literacy skills and empowering them to make decisions and manage their own resources, something which many of them have not had the chance to do before. Concern has been implementing this activity in the past four years in Somaliland and had implemented the same previously in the south, where it has been restarted as part of BRCiS. The NGO observed dramatic transformations in the women that have been involved in the Self Help Group for while. They went from being downtrodden and feeling inferior in their communities society, to holding their heads high and being proud of their achievements.

Save the Children also uses a cash grants approach to support urban poor and IDPs in starting their own business. The activity includes a training that must be completed before the business grants are released. The grant is dedicated to buying a business kit but the trainees choose the content of the kit according to their specific needs. They are then monitored monthly to measure the improvement of their incomes.

Thanks to this wide range of context-adapted cash transfers, BRCiS is providing support to individuals in need. While doing so, the programme always endeavours to fulfill longer term, community-wide objectives: a sustainable economic environment, durable solutions for coping with natural and climate change hazards, and a peace-oriented, inclusive, social system.

This article was kindly written by Perrine Piton.

 [1] Cf. Community Baseline, A Survey on Resilience in South and Central Somalia

[2] Crisis modifiers are mechanisms which allow aid agencies or other actors to prevent an emerging crisis from reaching its climax. They rely on the Early Warning / Early Response couple to address the issue as it is still in its first stages so as to prevent it from developing and producing further counter effects (disease outbreaks, displacements, malnutrition…)


Main image: Pablo Tosco


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