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Cash Week 2019: How cash is driving change across the system

Cash Week 2019 aimed to provide a space to reflect, learn, and look ahead, to ensure quality in our use of CVA at scale. The CaLP team reflects on the key takeaways from the events that took place around the world, and what they mean for actors within and beyond the humanitarian sector.

20 February 2020 — By Sophie Tholstrup, Anna Kondakhchyan

Twelve months is a long time for the CaLP network. Over the past year our 80 members have travelled a huge distance – innovating around delivery and partnershipsincreasing the scale and consolidating the role of CVA in the humanitarian system, generating evidence and learning and listening to and learning from the people we serve. These developments have implications not only for the ways in which we plan and deliver CVA as part of an effective response, but also for the ways in which the whole humanitarian system operates.

As the scale of CVA in the humanitarian system increases – from $2 billion in 2015 to $4.7 billion last year – this will impact the ways we work, as individual organisations, together across the network and with actors outside the humanitarian sector. Learning from cash actors is starting to influence broader thinking around humanitarian reform, partnerships, accountability, localization and collaboration.

Our second Cash Week was an opportunity for members to come together, share learning, identify and address common challenges and understand implications for the ways we work together.

During the first Cash Week in 2018 we asked how can we, as a network, become more than the sum of our parts, and prepare for the future. This year we built on these discussions to explore how developments in CVA are driving and should drive progress across the broader system.

Discussions were rich and varied – captured in full in the event report. We have attempted here to pull out some of the key themes and insights which should inform the work of the CaLP network going forward.

What happened?

The second iteration of Cash Week was bigger and better than its predecessor. Events sold out within days, with close to 400 participants attending or tuning in for the “main stage” programme in London and many more engaging in the regional events in Kenya, Panama and Senegal. Our ambition was to provide members with both horizon-scanning opportunities and deep dives into some of the biggest current issues and debates in the world of CVA. The week included sessions designed by CaLP’s policy and technical experts as well as sessions proposed and facilitated solely by members of the CaLP network.

Five things we learned

1. We need to plan better – individually, collectively and with partners outside the humanitarian system – for the future of financial assistance

The humanitarian landscape is changing rapidly; the way we deliver cash is not. Being fit for the future means working better with others, getting serious about putting the people we serve at the centre of everything we do, and planning differently to prepare for future challenges (including increased population movement, and the risks associated with increased use of data) and opportunities (such as better connected recipients, new technologies, and new humanitarian players).

A recent ODI report shows that humanitarian financing makes up just 1% of financial flows in areas experiencing humanitarian crises. We need to learn to work better with and alongside other players and flows, including social protection, remittances, and peer-to-peer giving. We also need to focus on where humanitarian actors add indispensable value, rather than competing where we’re not best placed to do so, to maximise our collective impact.

2. The rise and rise of collaboration is a huge opportunity to deliver better – but must be driven by impact not by self-preservation

The emergence of new operational models and collaborative approaches to delivering CVA has been one of the most significant changes to the humanitarian landscape over the last year. This presents a huge opportunity for building and delivering better. We need to draw on the network to ensure the best collective evidence and learning informs the development of these models so that they deliver better for and with people in crisis.

Cash Week participants set out their recommendations and aspirations for emerging models across a range of areas. First among these was the need to put recipients at the heart of their design and evolution, with a robust and transparent approach to monitoring and evaluation so that experience is shared and drives learning across the system. There will always be trade-offs – no one model will cover everything. Complementarity is more important than designing a single, perfect, standalone model.

3. The regulatory environment for CVA is getting more challenging: we need to move from downstream risk transfer to risk-sharing

In times when “principled humanitarian action is under attack all around the world and access barriers manifest differently, from violence and insecurity to bureaucratic constraints, through counterrorism regulation and funding,” we need to find ways to move away from the current practice of downstream risk transfer to implementing partners to an approach where risk (and accountability for managing these risks) is accepted and shared by all parties.

In one of the closed-door workshops CaLP convened in the run-up to the event in London focused on risk, held in Douala, participants called for a “switch from a competitive mindset between organizations to a new approach that is open to sharing experiences and expertise.” A large diversity of actors with many different viewpoints and backgrounds need to be in the room when discussions about risk sharing take place. Different people see and define risks in different ways (IT specialists versus accountability experts versus senior management, etc). There won’t be a perfect approach, it will be about trade-offs and context-specificities. But when actors come together and influence donors and regulators as a collective, positive change is possible.

4. Data responsibility is now everyone’s business – and it’s not as intimidating as it sounds

Our understanding of how to treat data responsibly has evolved over the past years, but not fast enough to keep up with the volume of data we are collecting and using. Whilst some of our members by their own admission are now on top of responsible data management, many CVA practitioners still find this a paralzying topic.

The key to data responsibility may be in finding the balance between security and utility, speed and due diligence, underutilised data and potential for data misuse. But as Linda Raftree, one of the panellists in the ‘CVA Data Responsibility and Risk’ session, put it, “breaking data responsibility into manageable bits and pieces is key to making progress in this space and getting everyone in your organisation involved in making positive change in their areas of focus.”

5. Last year we resolved to broaden the conversation, and we haven’t gone nearly far enough

At the core of the CaLP network is a group of highly engaged, highly knowledgeable CVA experts, but in order to share and sense-check learning, integrate a more diverse range of experiences, and  in turn influence and be influenced by broader humanitarian action and other relevant areas, we need to bring different voices to the table. Events across regions and live-streaming of London events went some way towards facilitating participation across different geographies, but we need to enable more participation from other types of actors, particularly local actors and host governments.

What will the CaLP network do with these takeaways?

Insights from across the week will help to drive the work of the CaLP network going forward.

  1. The discussions are shaping the emerging CaLP 2020+ strategy.  In March, there will be a series of webinars to share the initial draft and gather feedback from members.
  2. Looking to the future, we will build on the Future of Financial Assistance report and the roadmap developed during Cash Week to support more future-focused and people-centred strategic planning across the network.
  3. We will continue to ensure that emerging operational models are informed by evidence and best practice from across the network, and will provide a platform for learning to be shared and put into action across the system.
  4. We will consolidate and analyse work on risk taking place across the network, publishing a summary brief on this rapidly-changing area and continuing to convene discussions between members to identify and address sticking points.
  5. We will continue to translate emerging expertise and findings on data responsibility best practice into actionable steps for CVA actors.
  6. We will step up our efforts to broaden the conversation – ensuring different types of actors from different regions are engaging in, contributing to and benefiting from developments around CVA.

Thank you as always for your active participation, your insights and for sharing the great work across the network. If you have any thoughts or feedback on this year’s event or for future events please contact membership@cashlearning.org and let us know.