Exclusive: ‘Cash meeting disasters head on’ – Ron Delnevo, The Cash Learning Partnership in “The Fintech Magazine”

Ron Delnevo, Chairman of The Cash Learning Partnership, describes how the network for innovation in humanitarian aid is seeking fintech solutions to solve world problems.

On Boxing Day 2004, shaky mobile phone images captured a catastrophe unfolding in the Indian Ocean. An earthquake in the ocean floor – one of the biggest ever recorded – propelled a deadly tsunami towards the beaches of Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka. More than 200,000 people died that day and hundreds of thousands more lives were impacted.

As humanitarian actors scrambled to deliver cash transfers for affected populations to access goods and services in those local markets that were still functioning or recovering, five organisations came together to found the Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP).

Originally involving five humanitarian organisations, in 2016 the decision was taken to expand the number of members and CaLP now has more than 90. They include local and international non-governmental organisations, United Nations agencies, the Red Cross/Crescent movement, donors, specialist social innovators, technology and financial services companies, researchers and academics, and individual practitioners. 

All CaLP members are working within the space of cash and voucher assistance (CVA). Collectively, operational CaLP members deliver the vast majority of humanitarian CVA worldwide. 

CaLP works on the premise that the potential of cash and voucher assistance cannot be fully realised by organisations working alone. Since its inception, CaLP has had a fundamental role in scaling up the quantity and quality of CVA in humanitarian responses, based on the simple question: why not cash?

To make this happen, it has been involved in building the capacity of CVA in the humanitarian sector through developing and operating courses (online and in person); building the evidence base, with research and knowledge management; advocacy and coordination, and provision of technical expertise on emerging topics. CaLP plays the key role of convener with the members of the network and beyond, to highlight, discuss and foster mutual learning on issues impacting both now and in the future.

The organisation has contributed to significant progress over the course of a few years, as thinking and processes have changed in the humanitarian sector, making the shift to using cash transfers possible.

In 2018, the use of CVA in humanitarian programming was estimated at US$4.1billion. This was a 68 per cent increase from the US$2.8billion in 2016, which itself was around a 100 per cent increase on 2014. In addition to this volume increase, the focus on quality means that the CaLP network is concentrating on finding the most effective ways to reach those in need, putting affected people at the centre of decision-making.

CaLP also plays an important role as a barometer for how the humanitarian CVA system is performing, by issuing a comprehensive biannual State of the World’s Cash report.

The CaLP network continually scans the horizon to spot emerging trends and issues, summarising, synthesising and analysing these to provide easy access for all stakeholders. This requires close attention to the use of technology in the humanitarian sector and an understanding of how the new digital trends and risks can affect the work of CaLP. 

The increase in humanitarian cash transfers over the last decade has been accompanied by a growth in the use of digital delivery mechanisms, including bank cards for payment or retrieving cash at ATMs, along with transfers through mobile phones and electronic vouchers. Such technology has been used successfully in some of the most remote and challenging contexts, such as Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, northern Mali and Yemen.

There is a world of opportunities to explore as to how new technologies can support the delivery of CVA to humanitarian aid recipients. For example, the Global System for Mobile Communications said recently that two-thirds of the 3.7 billion people not connected to the internet actually live in areas that are covered by 3G or 4G signals. Using this technology, once beneficiaries’ data is registered online, a service provider can, in one click, transfer money to the recipient’s phone number.

Another example of innovation comes from Jordan, where CaLP members such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees use iris scanning technology at ATMs, requiring no card or PIN, to provide 8.5 million individuals in need with up to 130,000 cash withdrawals on a daily basis.

With the rise in technology use come increased risks, including those related to the security of beneficiary data. In addition to being the overall ethical responsibility of the organisations collecting data, this can be a life-threatening issue in some specific conflict zones. CaLP has been at the forefront of making sure members are constantly informed and equipped to recognise and resolve such data protection issues, convening face-to-face meetings, running webinars and releasing podcasts.  

Recognising that humanitarian cash transfers are just one element of the financial flows that can emerge during humanitarian emergencies, CaLP, always mindful of the links to the broader financial assistance landscape, also aims to provide thought leadership on emerging issues likely to impact humanitarian CVA. 

In 2019, CaLP itself identified the need to work differently, to take advantage of emerging opportunities and to prepare for new challenges. With a new strategy for 2020 and beyond, CaLP will strive to become a network structured to help members understand future trends and be ready for them. This includes the ability to quickly react to immediate challenges such as COVID-19. CaLP has been issuing guidance, identifying best practice from the field and helping the whole network understand what the pandemic means for the use of CVA and the operations of CaLP members.

An example of that is evidence gathering to determine whether CVA programmes during the crisis have been negatively affected by anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing (CTF)sanctions. CaLP is aware that CVA is being scaled up to meet growing needs during the pandemic, with humanitarian actors at national and global levels working to expand cash programmes to reach newly affected people and, in some cases, switching existing in-kind programmes to cash. However, CaLP has also heard anecdotally that some programmes have been unable to pivot to CVA due to the potential chilling effect in relation to sanctions. Calls for simplified customer due diligence and therevision of sanctions on which these measures are often based, are best supported where CaLP can obtain examples of impact from practitioners.

With a strong platform provided by 90-plus members, CaLP is a gateway to meaningful partnerships in the field of humanitarian assistance. This is a significant opportunity for the private sector, working with CaLP, to offer thought leadership on payment choice and innovation in financial services, and to see how to leverage such leadership to deliver the best outcomes for humanitarian aid recipients.

So, an exciting future beckons for CaLP – and an excellent management team is in place to meet the challenges, led by Karen Peachey, CaLP’s very experienced and committed executive director. One thing is absolutely certain; the future of CaLP is in very safe hands.

  To learn more about the Cash Learning Partnership, please visit www.cashlearning.org/

My thanks to CaLP’s Anna Kondakhchyan and Alice Golay for
help drafting this article.




This article was published in The Fintech Magazine: Issue #16, Page 34-35.

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Ron Delnevo The Cash Learning Partnership

Author: Laimis Bilys