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MasterCard Worldwide and Mercy Corps: ELEVATE phase I report

2013 — By Sara Murray

The Nepal pilot focused on testing several key stages in the deployment of mobile vouchers, including the following:

  1. Identify a technology partner,
  2. Customize a mobile voucher platform, and
  3. Use the platform to distribute goods to people in need.

Two different types of mobile vouchers (SMS and smartphone application) were tested and evaluated. The vouchers provided assistance to some of Kathmandu’s poorest residents: families who struggle to meet their basic needs, have limited literacy and are often unfamiliar with basic mobile technology. By the end of the pilot, 228 vouchers (100% of the total distributed) had been successfully redeemed through the two different mobile voucher solutions. While the smartphone application vouchers were reliable and efficient and are highly recommended for future deployments where that technology exists, SMS vouchers presented higher error rates and were more difficult for users to redeem.

The opportunity to experiment outside of an actual emergency provided a rare and valuable opportunity to advance our understanding of the technology available for mobile vouchers. While ELEVATE initially sought to develop a globally deployable mobile voucher system, our experience in Nepal revealed that each new deployment of mobile vouchers will require customization to accommodate differences in program design, beneficiary accessibility barriers (such as low literacy levels) and local mobile network availability. These customization requirements mean that a single, pre-packaged, globally deployable mobile voucher solution is not cost effective for one NGO to develop and manage at this time.

However, the Nepal experience reinforced our belief that using mobile vouchers can improve the speed and cost-effectiveness of cash transfer programs (CTPs). It also showed that the underlying technology and actors required for mobile vouchers (including mobile phone networks and companies with platforms that can manage mobile vouchers) exist and are often affordable. But humanitarian practitioners need guidance and tools to put these puzzle pieces together to create solutions that are more cost and time effective than traditional (non-mobile) methods.

In the next phase of the ELEVATE program, we will focus on developing a toolkit that will empower program teams from Mercy Corps and other organizations to integrate mobile vouchers into emergency response and recovery programming. A second mobile voucher pilot will use and adapt lessons and templates from Nepal in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Following the DRC pilot, lessons and resources will be compiled in a toolkit that will help practitioners understand the menu of technical options currently available and select options that support their program objectives. It will provide practical resources, including assessment tools and contract templates that can help practitioners better manage service providers and maximize information and management benefits offered by electronic platforms. Mercy Corps is also enthusiastic to participate in MasterCard’s development of new products and services that can move us towards a global solution and major breakthroughs in this space.