Aid goes digital: Getting electronic cash to disaster victims

Mobile Technology

Aid goes digital: Getting electronic cash to disaster victims

Using mobile technology can get money to disaster victims in a hurry. Photo credit: Institute for Money, Technology, and Financial Inclusion (flickr).

In an emergency, getting cash to victims as quickly as possible is key to rebuilding the local economy. A new report from the Cash Learning Partnership helps aid organizations avoid common pitfalls and design smart programs using new tech.

When emergency strikes, prices for basic necessities can soar. Food, water and fuel are often still available in local shops, but are in high demand due to limited supply. Instead of shipping in and delivering supplies themselves, aid organizations like Mercy Corps make a bigger impact by providing cash that people can use to purchase goods from local businesses, kickstarting the local economy in the process.

Well-designed e-transfer programs get money to needy families--fast. Aid organizations have long used cash transfers and paper vouchers, but electronic cash transfers are easier, less expensive and don’t take as much time. However, aid organizations just beginning to work with these programs can run into problems that reduce effectiveness, and take longer to get food on tables. Aid groups must work with new partners, figure out how to keep data secure, and teach victims how to use the system, all while trying to get money into the hands of people who needed it yesterday.

The Cash Learning Partnership’s report, E-Transfers in Emergencies: Implementation Support Guidelines, helps the development community do just that, by putting lessons learned from several e-transfer programs in one place. The how-to guide takes a step-by-step approach to designing an e-transfer program, from choosing a delivery method to protecting users’ data to partnering with the private sector.

Aid organizations face four common obstacles, according to the report:

  • Literacy levels. Some people who need e-transfers can’t read, so agents or merchants can make the transactions or the instructions could be in pictures rather than words. 
  • Corporate language. Aid workers need to be able to speak in a language that financial institutions and other businesses can hear in order to set up lasting partnerships. They must be able to speak to profits and revenues, not just poverty alleviation and lives saved.
  • Unstable network connections. When the internet connection is spotty at best, some programs may have a difficult time reconciling payments with the system. However, some methods allow for transactions to be reconciled later.
  • Protecting users’ data and complying with local regulations. Beginning preparations before disaster strikes leaves time for organizations to manage time-consuming regulatory hurdles and to try out the program.

For more tips on creating effective, smart e-transfer programs, read the report.

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