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Cash 101: Cash and Voucher Assistance Explained

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Making cash people centred: Practical advice from IFRC

IFRC has put together a short online course for humanitarian practitioners highlighting the role of Community Engagement in Cash and Voucher Assistance. Providing a sneak-peak into some of the course content, they’ve summarised their top-line advice for making cash people-centred throughout the programme cycle.

4 July 2023 — By Mark South , Güneş Alpan

Since February 2022, IFRC and National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have reached over a million people across 29 countries with more than US$100M in cash assistance – quickly getting financial resources into the hands of people and communities at scale, where it can have immediate impact on people’s lives.

Given the minutiae of negotiating with Financial Service Providers, mobile phone companies and app developers, of establishing processes, ensuring due diligence, and managing all the ones and zeros necessary to make cash happen – some people fear there is a risk that we could all-to-easily lose-sight of the human realities at the core of what we are trying to achieve.

But cash is not about replacing engagement with people. It is about capitalising on the opportunities that technology presents and integrating the most relevant elements alongside our community-based approaches to support people in crisis more quickly and more effectively.   Ultimately, cash is the same as any other humanitarian support: it’s about people.

Recognising this IFRC has put together a short online course highlighting the role of Community Engagement in Cash and Voucher Assistance.

A quick taster

As a quick taster, and to encourage you to visit the modules themselves, IFRC have summarised their top-line advice for making cash people-centred throughout the programme cycle:

1) Preparedness

Preparedness for cash, and ensuring capacity, systems and processes are in place to enable inclusion and participation of people from crisis-affected communities is key. Learning from the Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) programme in Turkey, along with other responses, underlined the importance of quickly establishing call centres and feedback mechanisms at scale to support effective cash assistance. Experience emphasised the importance of recruiting people from crisis-affected communities to answer calls and respond to questions, ensuring callers could use the languages they were most comfortable with, building-in cultural awareness and sensitivity, and bolstering relationships and trust between Red Cross Red Crescent and crisis-affected people.

2) Assessment

As with every other stage of the programme cycle, it is vital to include community members as deeply as possible, providing an environment where they can bring their invaluable skills and insights – language, cultural understanding, existing relationships – to bear on your work. In assessments, people from affected communities can, for example, advise on the best ways to carry out the process, flag sensitive issues, and help engage people who may be marginalised or hard to reach, and who might otherwise be excluded. They may even, as in the response to Hurricane Dorian in the Caribbean, help identify that cash will not be the most effective approach.

3) Planning

Working with crisis affected people to define the aims, strategies, and activities within your response, will increase buy-in, build trust, and help ensure your work is as effective and impactful as possible.

In particular, including crisis-affected community members in decisions around eligibility criteria for cash or vouchers, and the best options for people to access their money (bank transfer, mobile money, remittance agencies, post office etc) is vital in ensuring interventions are appropriate and meet people’s needs, as well as supporting understanding and acceptance of cash assistance as a whole. In Hungary for example, discussions with refugees highlighted that some of those most in need would have been excluded from cash assistance, informing adaptation of eligibility criteria to remove barriers to their inclusion.      

4) Implementation

Keep communities well informed of progress, activities, delays and changes, and integrate feedback mechanisms alongside other efforts to enable participation throughout the entire process.

As well as responding to individual issues raised through feedback, use the data as a whole to inform changes at the programmatic level to improve your response. Making changes that improve the system for everyone, and prevent issues for others in future, is far more efficient than simply resolving each individual problem one at a time.

5) Evaluation

People affected by crises are the experts in their own lives and their own recovery, and nobody is better placed to know whether assistance has worked.

As well as evaluating programme achievements, we also need to look at how achievements were reached – did people feel they were treated fairly and with respect and dignity, did they feel meaningfully included in decision-making?

It’s also important to listen to people not directly supported by cash assistance – how do they feel about the programme?  Do they understand why they were not included, and have they experienced any impacts – positive or negative – connected to the programme?

Above all, what are people telling us that we can do better next time?

Community Engagement in Cash and Voucher Assistance through the programme cycle

Want to know more?

This course is available to everybody (not just members of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement), with seven bite-sized modules, each focusing on a different area of the programme cycle to ensure cash work is as inclusive, participatory, and people-centred as possible.

Amongst other contexts, the course draws on experience gathered through the implementation of the Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) programme in Türkiye, which has delivered over half-a-billion dollars over three years, supporting more than 1.5 million people.

Each module takes about 15-20 minutes to complete, and they can be taken in any order, so it’s perfect to dip in and out of, but with all seven combining for a broad overview.

If you’re interested in enrolling, please visit IFRC’s learning platform and search for the Community Engagement and Accountability in Cash and Voucher Assistance (or CEA in CVA).

Author bio


Mark South has been in the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement since 2007 and currently serves as Community Engagement and Accountability Delegate for Europe and Central Asia. Mark played a key role developing content for the CEA in CVA e-learning modules.

Güneş Alpan is working as a Community Engagement and Accountability in Cash and Voucher Assistance Delegate for the IFRC Europe office in Budapest. Her focus is to ensure strong integration of CEA approaches in the CVA assistance throughout the Ukraine and impacted countries response. Previously, she was working for the ESSN Programme in Türkiye and contributed to the development of CEA in CVA e-learning modules.


In the cover image: Registration point for CVA in Poland. Credit: Carla Guana/IFRC. June 2022.


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