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Policy paper

Seeking Solutions: New roles for technology in cash and voucher programs – An inspiration brief for technology and private sector partners

2015 — By Electronic Cash Transfer Learning Action Network (ELAN)

Today, more people have been forced to flee their homes than at the height of World War II. The scale of these humanitarian crises are challenging, and sometimes outpacing, the capacity of institutions created to respond to them. Yet, the approaches we have available to reach populations in need have also advanced. In particular, the trend towards distributing cash and vouchers – instead of goods – has grown tremendously within the world of humanitarian assistance. This growth has been enabled by innovations in payment technologies.

This is a trend we embrace, since – in the right circumstances – cash and vouchers can reach people more efficiently than goods, which are cumbersome and expensive to transport, store, and distribute. And equally important: cash and vouchers offer flexibility to people affected by conflict and disaster to purchase exactly what they need. Used appropriately, cash and vouchers can also stimulate the recovery of local markets, thereby extending the positive impact of that initial injection of humanitarian support within affected communities.

Although cash and vouchers are now widely used, they are still impeded by the challenges of operating in post-disaster and conflict settings. We firmly believe that technology – and the private sector – can play a formative role in helping us overcome some of these challenges. And in doing so, we can improve and streamline humanitarian responses around the globe, reaching more people, more efficiently.

This brief is intended to inspire new thinking about solutions, products and tools that could support the use of cash and vouchers in humanitarian programs. It frames the top eight challenges identified by participants in an e-voucher design workshop held in London in February 2015. The workshop included 34 participants from international NGOs, UN agencies, donors and the private sector.

While the workshop focused on voucher programs, many of the challenges discussed also apply to cash programs. We invite actors from within and beyond the humanitarian realm to consider the needs presented in this brief and propose solutions.

The workshop was hosted by the Electronic Cash Transfer Learning Action Network (ELAN), which connects businesses and humanitarians to improve e-transfers in emergencies.

The ELAN is convened by Mercy Corps with support from the MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth. The ELAN advisory group includes the the CALP Network, the International Rescue Committee, MasterCard, the Norwegian Refugee Council and Oxfam. ELAN staff are available to answer questions related to this brief.