Skip to main content

Cash 101: Cash and Voucher Assistance Explained

We are sorry but the page you are looking for is not available in the language you have selected, please go to the corresponding homepage
  1. Home
  2. Blog
Blog Post

Four Reasons to Use a Route-Based Approach to Cash and Voucher Assistance

With human mobility being a fact of most humanitarian crises, is it time to change from a country to a route-based approach?With four key points, Holly Welcome Radice argues the time for a route-based approach has arrived. 

13 September 2023 — By Holly Welcome Radice

Thousands of people a day cross the jungles of Panama. Migrants are traversing the brutal heat of the Sahel. Boats of asylum seekers are arriving on the shores of Italy and Greece. Human mobility is a worldwide phenomenon – and it’s increasing. 

The IOM estimates that in 2020, 281 million people lived in a country other than the one they were born in; that is a 120% increase from 1990. Human mobility is a feature of all major humanitarian crises; the UNHCR estimated that at the end of 2022, 108.4 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced. And, in these crises, Cash and Voucher Assistance (CVA) is used at scale to deliver support. However, CVA delivery can fall short in terms of reaching people wherever they are often CVA is being delivered in urban centres far away from the people following migratory routes. 

A report by the CALP Network in 2022 explored human mobility and CVA in the Americas. The study advocates that to offer better services to people on the move, humanitarians can shift the design unit from a country to a route in contexts of human mobility.  

CALP is not the only organization questioning the possibility of using a route-based approach with CVA. The IFRC released a series of studies on CVA and migration, offering valuable insights supporting the approach. The British Red Cross’ report in the Sahel came to the same conclusion as CALP, calling for a ‘journey-based approach’. 

The evidence in these reports brings us to four key arguments for using a route-based approach when human mobility is high and CVA is feasible.  

Why should we start to use a route-based approach? 

First: It is desirable. 

People on the move make it clear that they prefer CVA. The IFRC studied three countries within a human mobility context and found an overwhelming preference for CVA; for example, in Colombia, it was preferred by 84% of the interviewees. People on the move have diverse needs; they know best how to use the transfers for their families.  

Second. It is feasible.  

Humanitarians sometimes express that no financial service providers work across borders; this is untrue. There are options: closed-loop payment networks, FinTech products, digital currencies, wholesale banks, payment aggregators, and payment rails (e.g., Visa, Mastercard). Payments beyond borders are possible!  

Third: The elements needed exist.  

There is no one way to build a route-based approach, but the elements needed to start doing so are there. For example, multi-agency coordinated responses are one possibility and agencies that can provide continuous delivery to people along agreed routes are another. Also, there are successful examples of humanitarian coordination and unified delivery models that can be applied to create a route-based approach. The elements needed will depend on the context. The need for which elements should be analysed through the lenses of people on the move, humanitarian organizations, and financial service providers.  

Fourthly: Actors are innovating already.  

A VenEsperanza program in Colombia has a low-cost and highly effective strategy for working with people on the move. They use various social media tools for outreach and offer self-enrolment and pre-registration for people in transit. The IFRC’s humanitarian service points approach positions waystations with humanitarian assistance, including CVA, across routes. The RefAid app, used by different humanitarian organizations, provides people on the move with information on services that are near them.  

Now is the time to use a route-based approach with CVA. 

Human mobility is increasing at tremendous speed. In the Americas, the number of people thought to have passed through the Darien Gap doubled from 2021 to 2022 – reaching 250,000 in this context alone. Hundreds of thousands of people are taking dangerous journeys. CVA could help vulnerable people make less risky decisions (e.g., travelling through more secure areas or not sleeping in open areas) if they have access to predictable humanitarian assistance along their journey. Critics sometimes ask ‘Does CVA increase protection risks for vulnerable people on the move?’ (e.g., by attracting the attention of criminal gangs). However, I believe that this is not the right question. Instead, we must ask ourselves: ‘What is the risk of not providing people on the move with this type of support?’ 

For more on this topic see: Mapping a Route-Based Approach to CVA: Feasibility in select contexts in the Americas and CALP’s thematic page on CVA and Mobility. 


Main image: Programmatic Partnership Migration response in the region of Tulcán, near the Rumichaca Bridge on the border between Colombia and Ecuador. In this region, a mixed flow of migrants, some in the direction to the north and others in the direction to the south walk to their new destination. The Ecuadorean Red Cross provides life-saving humanitarian assistance. Credit: IFRC and Ecuadorean Red Cross/2023.

Listen to the Audio Version of this Blog


Cash 101: Cash and Voucher Assistance Explained

Explore the Cash 101