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Change Without Transformation: How narratives influenced the humanitarian cash agenda

July 2024 — By John Bryant, Leen Fouad

Cash assistance has had an impressive breakthrough in a sector resistant to reform – in the past 15 years, cash has gone from less than 1% to almost 20% of the total value of humanitarian assistance. This is a qualified success in a sector comprised of a large and complex group of organisations, agencies, governments and donors with very different agendas and interests. Thus, understanding how this achievement was realised, and the role different narratives played in framing arguments and reinforcing evidence, is important for other reform agendas. However, the rapid rise of cash has slowed in the past five years, despite its many advantages, and its transformative potential has not yet been reached. The narratives used in support of cash, the counter-narratives in response, and even the narratives surrounding humanitarian cash today all merit analysis, as they highlight both the successes and the limitations of reform efforts.