Mobile Cash Transfers are changing how we donate to disadvantaged communities

Mobile cash transfers have proven to be one of Concern’s most modern, innovative methods of giving those most in need, a foundation to build better lives in what are the most challenging of situations. Gavin Dalton explores this modern way of helping those who need it.

Picture from Pixabay.

The idea of cash transfers to disadvantaged communities worldwide comes as a faster, more efficient way of delivering humanitarian response. In Somalia in 2018, the Somali Cash Consortium was formed, led by Concern in coordination with other aid agencies and funded by ECHO (European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations Department). Throughout the year, the consortium distributed over €15 million to more than 300,000 beneficiaries through mobile-money transfers. Vital to the initiative was Concern’s Private Sector Engagement Manager, Paul Carr. Carr spent 15 months working in the field in the easternmost country of Africa. 

So what exactly is meant by mobile-money cash transfers? Carr explains.

“Traditionally humanitarian organisations would’ve gone with the physical products or services that are needed in an emergency response,” he said. “So if people are hungry, bring them food. If people need medical supplies bring them medical supplies.

“I think what became evident with the likes of food interventions was that we were flooding markets where there weren’t really viable markets, with foreign foods and that meant, although we may be plugging the initial food shortage, the medium to long term effects of this is that there’s no local market for local products. 

“It’s much cheaper to supply cash transfers than it is to organise the logistics of moving huge amounts of supplies – whether it be food, shelter or cooking supplies for example the logistics and time it takes to move things into these areas, in contrast with the speed of mobile cash transfers which is immediate, really allows them to buy the products they need at that time, far quicker.”

The delivering of all these payments obviously takes some work. Working with people  who may misfortunately have just endured a natural disaster like a cyclone, or are in the midst of a drought or famine for example in areas of low connectivity around the world obviously brings its own challenges from a technological point of view. Concern’s Chief Information Officer Barry Roche adds how exactly the NGO carries out the process of delivering money to the mobile phones of those in need. 

“It’s relatively simple,” Roche explained. “From a technical perspective there’s not that much to it. 

“Obviously we have our beneficiaries and they would register with us. This is the analogy I always use myself, if we’re in a particular country and they don’t have a department of social welfare, we effectively become the department of social welfare in that particular region. We’re there essentially to distribute social benefits. So if you are one of our beneficiaries, we will run registrations where we will go out to particular areas and say “we’re here, come to us and we’ll register you and put you on the system”. We’ll take the details and basically sync them up to the system. M-Pesa (a mobile phone based money transfer service) have been doing mobile money in Africa for a long long time. Somebody like that will then distribute the money for us.”

So after the details are received and processed, when do the residents of the communities receive their payments?

Carr said: “In one year we had two periods of 3 months of transfers so we would each month, for three months, give cash transfers over mobile money. Essentially we would work with the telecommunications companies and they would deliver the cash over their mobile money platform. Somalia has lots of development issues but it has an amazingly effective telecommunications network which allows us to reach practically everybody with money mobile transfers over mobile phones. The three month periods of mobile transfers will coincide with the periods where we feel it will be most needed.So it could be a period of drought which is relatively seasonal although climate change is having significant impacts on the predictability of those occurrences, but it could be in relation to the harvest, during harvesting times when food shortages will be most severe. We’ll time those transfers to coincide with the times when we know the needs will be greatest.”

The benefits of mobile-money transfers speak for themselves. Not only does it supply those in need with essential funding for putting the receivers children through school for example, it lays the groundwork for a sustainable economy in the specific region.

Carr added: “As for instance, as I mentioned before, when traditionally, aid agencies would’ve flooded markets with food and supplies which were from other countries, not locally produced, not bought from the local markets, then what happens to the local economy? What chances do local farmers have to sell their produce? What opportunities do local market traders have to sell their own produce if it’s being flooded with basically foreign goods. So, in the long term money transfers have great, significant benefits for small communities and that cash injection really stimulates the local economy. 

“A big one is the choice and dignity it gives to the people, we work with, the participants in our programmes, instead of us saying we know what you want, here it is, they have the choice, flexibility and dignity to make those choices and decisions for themselves.”

Speaking of some new plans in the pipeline for Concern, Roche said, “It’s ongoing in Somalia, there’s going to be another one in Syria and Iraq, there’s talk about one in Chad, so it depends on the scale of the programme. 

“It’s an ever evolving thing, but certainly from a programming perspective we’ve moved on quite a bit from the old idea of just delivering sacks of rice or foodstuffs.  We feel people should be in charge of their own destinies, if they’re in receipt of say five dollars, they can make the best decisions to suit their own specific needs or situation at that particular time.”

An exemplary initiative which showcases the great lengths improved digital technologies have strived to on a global scale, with its vast array of rewards more than evident— testimony to the great work being done by those involved.

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