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Protection in Cash Based Interventions – Interviews with Richard Nunn and Lou Lasap

As part of an ECHO-funded Enhanced Response Capacity grant, UNHCR in partnership with WFP, Oxfam GB and the Cash Learning Partnership held an inter-agency workshop on cash and protection in Nairobi on the 10-12th March. The workshop brought together cash and protection practitioners to reflect upon protection in their cash-based interventions (CBI) experience, discuss how protection can be better integrated into tools for CBI, and develop protection objectives for CBI. Richard Nunn, Oxfam GB regional protection advisor, and Lou Lasap, Oxfam GB Cash and Protection officer seconded to UNHCR to support inter-agency cash and protection in East Africa, provide some insights on the event and explore how cash transfer programming can contribute to protection outcomes beyond the “do no harm” principle. This article contains interviews with Richard Nunn, who discusses cash transfers and its relationship to protection, and an interview with Lou Lasap, who provides detail about the above mentioned workshop.

17 June 2015

Oxfam inDadaga Village, Ouallum Province, Niger

An Interview with Richard Nunn

What are the key concerns and specific risks around protection issues with regards to cash transfer programming?

RN: Key protection concerns include the diversion of cash, potential barriers to access for groups such as child-headed households or elderly people when using specific delivery mechanisms such as bank transfers or mobile money as well as security risks both for beneficiaries and for agents who may have to transport cash over long distances. Even in the case of electronic transfers, beneficiaries may withdraw the whole amount immediately and go to the market carrying large sums of money, thus putting themselves at risk.

There are also specific risks stemming from the ‘cash for work’ modality including beneficiary safety, which can be mitigated by the provision of protective equipment and of adequate medical insurance cover. The inclusion or exclusion of specific groups unable to do manual labour, for example the elderly, pregnant women and children, represent yet another type of risk; as well as the added burdens on women doing cash for work in addition to all of their normal duties.

Finally, potential protection risks exist within the household; for instance when transfers are directed towards women, men may feel disempowered and this could result in tensions or domestic violence.

Most of those issues apply to many other different types of programming, but because cash is a new programme modality and is still considered a controversial form of assistance in some contexts, it provides an opportunity to discuss those issues.

Could you share examples of how cash transfers could provide positive protection outputs?

RN: The recent ERC literature review on cash and protection conducted by Michelle Berg and Louisa Seferis highlighted notably that, unlike what is often feared, cash transfers can in many cases decrease intra-household tensions as the ability to meet basic needs can result in a reduction of domestic violence.

Often in humanitarian settings people stand at risk of being exploited for access to assistance or services. Cash can give beneficiaries access to those services. Additionally, cash transfers have the potential to give people dignity as they can choose over what they want to spend money on.

What are the limitations to what cash transfers can achieve?

RN: It is important to note that cash does not necessarily affect the external security environment; it won’t necessarily stop corruption or exactions from a rebel group, it won’t solve the lack of available services or prevent animal attacks… it should therefore be considered as part of a wider response, potentially by multiple agencies or in relation to development interventions or to a safety net programme. Cash-based interventions can also be an opportunity to connect beneficiaries to other agencies that can help on other aspects of people’s needs, or to government agencies for physical or legal protection.

In some highly insecure contexts, such as in some areas of Somalia, ensuring the security of cash transfer agents proved challenging, sometimes impossible. What would be your recommendations in such situations?

RN: By using a cash transfer agent or a sub-contractor, part of the risk that an organisation would normally face is transferred onto that service provider, which becomes part of the programme. Organisations therefore have a responsibility to mitigate or at least minimize that risk, and to assess jointly what level of risk is acceptable. Transfer agents often have their own ways of ensuring their security and have better access to communities than humanitarian organisations; and if not they would often raise their security concerns and refuse to take immoderate risks. It must also be acknowledged that any risk to an agent implies as well a risk for beneficiaries not to receive assistance. There are of course ethical questions as to the possibility to shift the responsibility for protection on agents.

What are the key steps that will lead to protection mainstreaming in cash transfer programming?

RN: First of all it is important to note that these are common with protection mainstreaming in other types of programming. At programme level, this starts by involving the target community in the programme design, in deciding the modalities to be used and on the management and implementation of the programme. Participation should not be limited to community leaders but should include women, children, people with special needs, ethnic groups, refugees…

The risks, not only to beneficiaries but also to service providers and staff, associated with the implementation should be assessed and mitigation measures planned during the design phase and this exercise should be repeated in case of issues arising during implementation. Practical measures can for example ensure security at distribution sites or avoid disruption of day to day activities in the target community.

At organisational level, a commitment must be made, that is reflected within organisation policies. Protection objectives and measurable indicators must be incorporated into programmes. This can then be cascaded further down to staff performance objectives and managers can be accountable for ensuring their staffs are trained on protection.

But the responsibility for mainstreaming protection goes beyond merely implementers and concerns everyone involved in humanitarian action: NGOs, UN agencies and relevant government agencies. Finally donors can hold implementing agencies accountable for mainstreaming protection. For this to happen, they need to set requirements around the inclusion of protection objectives in programme proposals.

Getting the buy-in at different levels will be crucial to move forward, to develop tools, to identify minimum protection standards and develop guidelines on how to create protection objectives and indicators.

An Interview with Lou Lasap

Could you explain the objectives of the workshop?

LL: This is part of the ECHO-funded multi-agency project led by UNHCR  which has two aims: to  “Improve cash based programming through elaborating the operational implications of the multipurpose grant and increase understanding of protection results”; including improving the capacity to mainstream protection in CBIs. The workshop contributes to the latter objective, and was organised to obtain the perspective of    NGOs, WFP and UNHCR on how they managed cash-related protection risks, and engage them in a review of some most commonly used tools for cash-based interventions.; This is part of a process of  developing minimum protection requirements or elements to be integrated into those tools to ensure that the analysis of protection risks informs programme design and that mitigation measures are embedded in CBIs. The third objective is to identify possible positive protection outcomes of cash-based interventions as well as the limits to what cash transfers can achieve.

Could you describe some of the outcomes of the workshop?

LL: Sharing experiences contributed to having a more objective and balanced view about the potential risks and benefits of using cash or vouchers to meet specific humanitarian needs.  It is not uncommon to hear of fears about   the potential negative impact of cash transfers such as intimate partner violence or tensions at community level. However, the  literature reviews on cash and protection and experience shared by CBI practitioners share that these negative experiences have mostly been related to elements of the implementation process that can be mitigated, such as security risks faced by participants following the reception of a cash transfer. This underlined the benefit that protection mainstreaming could have. Participants highlighted the need to do risk analysis and do further documentation of CBI experiences.  Better understanding protection impact or risks of cash transfers could help to shift from reactive measures to more informed programming that integrates mitigation measure in the design..

Could you explain what types of tools were reviewed and how protection can be integrated within those tools?

LL: Participants reviewed examples of market assessment, needs assessment, and post-distribution monitoring tools. We looked into key areas of enquiry that could be included within existing tools to understand potential risks and benefits, and reviewed data-gathering methodologies. The workshop participants agreed to start applying these minimum requirements, bring them forward in the region and feed these into the global ERC tools and guidance to inform guidance on cash and protection and related training materials.

Which gaps did you identify in how protection is understood by non protection specialists?

LL: There was a good understanding of the do no harm” principle among participants. This is very important; and the fact that participants bring different sectoral areas of expertise reflects their appreciation that safe programming as the responsibility of all staff involved in implementation, and not only protection specialists.

Most workshop participants noted that their organizations asked about and addressed issues of safety and security during the process of receiving cash or vouchers. Participants felt that the issue about the potential impact on gender dynamics in the household after cash distribution is harder to explore, particularly in looking at intimate partner violence, and acknowledged they need more technical support on this.  They acknowledged how important it is for organisations to use qualitative data-gathering (monitoring) approaches like focus group discussions and triangulate this with other information, such as protection incident monitoring and analysis by mandated agencies.

The use of CBI to contribute to protection outcomes is still a new topic in the group. During the workshop, there was only one experience of a safety net program that used cash (along with a comprehensive package of complementary activities) to contribute to a protection objective which was, improved care of orphaned children. There is still limited experience and evidence of whether and how CBI can be used in protection programmes in order to achieve specific protection outcomes.  Workshop participants were in agreement in the need to explore the potentials of using cash or vouchers to enhance protection and document this experience to draw lessons in programming.

What remains to be done to mainstream protection in cash transfer programming?

LL: Organisational processes can be improved to guarantee that all staff is aware of the importance of protection mainstreaming. Equipping staff with the right skills to use existing tools taking into account protection risks, getting organisations’ commitment to ensure joint analysis and planning to have an integrated approach to humanitarian interventions are all necessary steps. This is crucial as similar information is captured for interventions in various sectors, with limited communication between sectors. There is therefore room to coordinate and jointly analyse and design programmes.

Secondly, it is important to know what to do with protection-related information volunteered by beneficiaries on which the organisation is not able to act. Humanitarian organisations are encouraged to have a clear system of managing information in a way that does not cause harm to informants or persons affected, and be able to refer these, with consent of the persons affected to organisations with mandates to respond.

Routine monitoring of CBIs also present opportunities to identify non-CBI related protection threats. This underscores the need for CBI staff and protection teams or specialists to work together and share information to help inform advocacy and campaigning for protection.


Main image: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Oxfam