Guest post by Sara Murray, Electronic Cash Transfer Program Manager, Mercy Corps
Conflict and displacement in South Sudan and the Central African Republic, an unprecedented movement of people due to the Syrian refugee crisis, and typhoons in the Philippines – we are seeing a confluence of humanitarian crises around the world and the need is tremendous. What if we, the humanitarian community, could get better, faster and smarter about how we respond to communities in crisis?
Last month, 50 people from non-governmental organizations and companies around the globe met in London to launch the Electronic Cash Transfer Learning Action Network, whose mandate it is to do just this. Supported by the MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth, the Network is designed to connect businesses and humanitarians to improve e-transfers in emergencies.
Led by Mercy Corps, the Network’s founding members include the Cash Learning Partnership, International Rescue Committee, MasterCard, the Norwegian Refugee Council and Oxfam International.
At the launch, it was agreed that humanitarians and the private sector need to talk more. Rosa Akbari from the International Rescue Committee framed the challenge this way:
We [as humanitarians] need to get better at picking technology partners…not just vendors.
The private sector plays a critical role in providing products that deliver cash to communities in crisis. But they can only do so efficiently if they understand the unique contexts that agencies work in. At the same time, humanitarian agencies must understand the private sector’s business drivers and have realistic expectations about what the private sector can offer in challenging operating environments.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, Mercy Corps required an e-transfer product that could be used without connectivity and operate either on solar power or with a long-life battery in order to deliver aid quickly and safely to families displaced by violence. The solution worked well, but Mercy Corps suggested that bulky point of sale hardware was challenging to transport and customize. Listening to this feedback, sQuid, an electronic cash transfers vendor, has since invested in a tablet-based payment solution that offers more flexibility and greater ease of use in emergency contexts.
Our need for solutions that work where we work relies upon our ability to articulate our needs and partner with the private sector to build the appropriate tools to meet them.
Speaking at the launch event in London, Edgardo Yu from the World Food Programme said:
The Network will allow us to understand needs of our partners, the needs of the vendor community and will also allow us to take our experience, integrate that and propose ways to collaborate with partners – be it from collaborating in terms of information sharing, data sharing or tools sharing. At WFP, we are primarily concerned with addressing the hunger problem.
There are 800 million people who are hungry; we are reaching perhaps 100 million. We need the collaboration of partners to reach all of the hungry people. We cannot do it alone.
Learn more about the Electronic Cash Transfer Learning Action Network and how you can get involved. The network is open to all private and non-profit organizations who want to improve the reach and quality of electronic transfers in humanitarian settings.