Tech for Impact — Year 3, pt. 2: Digitizing CVA Simplifies Logistics and Streamlines Information

Mercy Corps and Cisco’s 5-year Technology for Impact partnership started in 2017 with the goal of leveraging technology to deliver humanitarian aid and development assistance faster, more efficiently, and to more people. One of the strengths of the Technology for Impact partnership is the unique opportunity for training and iteration it enables, starting with our team members and extending to our tech-enabled programming. This is the second in a two-part series here on Medium in which we’re highlighting impacts on capacity building from our Year 3 report. This article elaborates on how we’ve built digital systems into cash and voucher programming that save time, protect participants, and improve reporting.

The first article in this series on T4D’s digital case management training and how they improved programmatic decision making in response to COVID-19 in Gaza can be found here on T4D’s Medium blog.

Digitizing Cash & Voucher Assistance Simplifies Logistics and Streamlines Information

As cash and voucher assistance continues to grow as a modality for delivering humanitarian assistance, so do the challenges that come with preparing thousands of paper vouchers and validating transactions. Mercy Corps’ cash and voucher programs are increasingly looking to digital systems to streamline participant targeting and enrollment, deliver transfers at scale, and provide secure means to share data with peer organizations.

Cash and voucher assistance (CVA) has become a preferred modality for humanitarian response because it ensures program participants have the flexibility to buy the goods and services that best meet their needs. According to the Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP), Global CVA disbursements have increased by 100% in the past four years.¹

While CVA has become a popular modality for assistance delivery, it comes with its own challenges. For example in Mali, Mercy Corps has been working to provide about 5,000 participants with CVA programming on a monthly basis to ensure food security and other needs. This means printing about 40,000 individualized paper vouchers over several months; documenting transactions in ledgers can be prone to human error and requires lots of manual labor. The Mercy Corps office sends a field team of ten to eleven people to collect information from market vendors on a monthly basis, spending about a day per market. Once the field teams return to the office, the three person finance team would spend about two or three days to verify all the transactions for payment. Then there’s the matter of handling lots of cash, which must be secured against theft and robbery.

Anthony Etim, Mercy Corps Program Manager

Mercy Corps introduced digitized systems into CVA programming to improve efficiencies in the face of challenges like those described in Mali. In Yemen, the country team uses the Genius Tags platform to collect recipient data and then link it to ongoing transfers, allowing the team to better understand and report on the purchasing behavior and transaction history between participants and local merchants. The automation of recordkeeping has also helped expedite payments to participating shopkeepers and also eliminates the need for printed vouchers. Anthony Etim, a CVA Program Manager, says, “The [digital CVA] system allows vendors to go cashless,” which simplifies the logistics of transporting and exchanging currency.

In addition to speeding up operations and mitigating human-error throughout the payment delivery and verification processes, the digital CVA systems make sharing information between organizations easier which in turn, enables collaboration. Mercy Corps has established a collaborative cash model with technology as a core component that is being replicated by consortia in Colombia, Gaza, Nepal, and Syria. These consortiums enable participating organizations and state agencies to deliver faster transfers and ensure participants receive consistent assistance across providers. Anthony explains,

“The technology is great because we have been able to pioneer new cash programming, and other agencies have seen the beneficial impact.”

With the abilities to share information, government and NGO agencies are encouraged to work together to provide CVA and social protection support.

If you’re interested in learning more about Mercy Corps’ Technology for Impact partnership with Cisco, check out the T4I Year 3 Impact Report and read about our work on disseminating information about COVID-19 on our WiFi networks, using 3D printing to make prosthetics, leveraging social media platforms to engage communities with local governments, and more!

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