by Karen Peachey, Director of the Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP)
The scaling of cash programming, enabled by mobile money, represents one of the most significant recent innovations in the humanitarian sector. In the first of a two-part series, Karen Peachey, Director of the Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP), explores their role in driving change.
This blog post is based on the keynote presentation delivered at the Humanitarian Innovation Exchange, which took place on 26 June 2019. The event was jointly organised by Elrha, Leiden University’s Centre for Innovation and the Dutch Coalition for Humanitarian Innovation (DCHI).
The use of cash in humanitarian response is not innovative per se. Cash has been used in relief operations since the Franco-Prussian war of 1870–71, and we even find reference to cash as part of a flood response in the Old Testament of the Bible.
This century, cash has been used in various humanitarian responses but, until recently, those examples were ad hoc, occasional and unconnected. More recently, as its use has grown and greater emphasis has been placed on its transformative potential, its innovative and disruptive nature has become more apparent.
The rationale for cash is simple. It offers dignity and choice, it can be more efficient than an in-kind response, it can stimulate local markets and support longer term recovery.
Evidence shows that when we decide what people in crisis need, we frequently get it wrong. In Iraq, for example, 70% of Syrian refugees resold large proportions of the food aid to get money to buy other things.
In a study by Ground Truth Solutions about how recipients view humanitarian aid, cash emerged as the greatest self-reported unmet need. The study also found that aid recipients view cash far more favourably than humanitarian actors do.
The Cash Learning Partnership
When the Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP) was formed in 2005, in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean Tsunami, only a few motivated individuals were inspired by the view that cash provided an important response tool.
From fragile beginnings, CaLP has now become a membership-based network with over 80 organisations supported by a globally dispersed secretariat of 30 people.
Like cash itself, many aspects of CaLP’s work are not necessarily innovative. But the way we work supports the scaling of innovation in three main ways:
We seek to build a network that is more than the sum of its parts
The network is intentionally diverse (involving private sector, donor, NGO, the Red Cross Red Crescent movement, UN actors and individual experts) with different interests and needs. We bring these actors together to generate ideas, foster collaboration and encourage new ways of working. Recognising that there are different ‘caucuses’ within the membership who may need their own spaces for discussion, we have also started to create different opportunities and platforms for engagement.
We believe that acting through a network allows individual members to have influence they could not have alone. It enables learning processes to shift from the individual to the collective, helping accelerate the pace of positive change.
We aim to be absolutely clear on the vision, but flexible on how we get there
When CaLP was formed we were making the case for cash, giving people the basic skills and tools to start to use it. Today the case for cash has been won, and many agencies have elaborate in-house capacity building and evidence-generation programmes. Some of what we did is no longer needed.
We see this as an opportunity to evolve. For example, with others generating more evidence, we can now invest in curating what exists, examining the gaps and promoting the application of learning to foster higher quality programming. This is not adaptation for the sake of survival, it is adaptation that seeks to push the agenda forward in the best and fastest way possible.
We believe that being neutral is vital
While we are not neutral when it comes to our vision — which is to radically increase the scale and quality of cash and voucher assistance where this means better outcomes for crisis affected people — we are neutral between members’ ways of approaching this.
The neutrality of the network is a precious commodity. Quite simply, if the network is seen as biased towards the interests of a particular group, our ability to convene actors and move debates forward is diminished.
But being neutral doesn’t mean shying away from tough issues. We provide a neutral platform through which tricky issues can be addressed. We can prompt and provoke, bring evidence, show examples of what needs to change and structure the discussion — but we cannot take sides about who should do what among the membership.