The World Food Programme (WFP) uses innovation in refugee camps to bring both efficiency and effectiveness to the most vulnerable people in society and to encourage self-reliance and greater freedom of choice in how they live their lives.
WFP’s increasing use of cash as a modality for providing refugees with greater choices has led to a demand for innovative ways to deliver the funds.
“Refugees are innovative people,” said Felix Okech, WFP Kenya’s Head of Innovations. “We find that there are some processes that refugees are already doing that WFP just needs to support to make them more effective,” he said.
He went on to give an example: “Some refugee and host community traders were already grouping together and aggregating their purchases from wholesalers to receive better prices, but they were not doing it in an efficient manner.”
By introducing traders to key regional manufacturers, wholesalers and transporters, and by training them to improve their negotiating skills, WFP has been able to make an already existing supply chain more efficient for traders and for customers who also benefit from the lower prices.
At the forefront of innovative technology
The introduction of WFP’s Dalili and Point of Sale Apps (POS) have revolutionised retail engagement for both traders and customers in the camps. The Dalili App allows customers to compare the prices of commodities from different retailers on their smartphones and to rate the customer service.
“Before we used to have to go to the shops to see the prices, but now with Dalili we can see the prices before buying. It gives us choice,” said Halima Adikadir Mahat, a refugee from Somalia.
In addition to allowing traders to regularly update their price lists online, the Dalili App also enables them to run promotions and to give customers delivery options.
“We used to put a board outside our shop with all the prices. Now customers can see the price list and any new goods that you have on the internet,” said Hussein Osman Abdi, a Somali refugee trader. “You can also add transport to your promotion on Dalili which helps customers because Kakuma is big,” he said.
The Point of Sale App (POS) is operated through a tablet and enables traders to digitally manage their stock, inventories and profits, and to generate sales reports which can also be used in acquiring loans and credit from banks.
“The POS is the most important thing in my shop,” said Mabruk Murjan Abdi, a Somali refugee trader. “Now everything is digital; it allows me to manage my stock, my profits, petty cash and my income.”
Looking to the private sector for partnerships
Partnerships with the private sector enables WFP to use innovative processes to deliver cash to beneficiaries in both development and emergency situations.
WFP worked closely with telecommunications firm Safaricom to develop a tool that was named ‘Chakula Chap Chap’ (quick food), which enabled the delivery of emergency cash transfers to beneficiaries via their mobile phones within 48 hours of being registered during the 2017 drought. Similarly, the initiative known as ‘Bamba Chakula’ has for the last four years enabled refugees to receive cash transfers through their mobile phones as a part replacement for their monthly food ration.
In June 2019, WFP has partnered with Equity Bank in the first phase of a pilot initiative which will see 1,064 refugee households in Kalobeyei settlement receive 100 percent unrestricted cash through an electronic card. This gives refugees greater choices in how they spend their money.
Not all of WFP’s innovation schemes are technology oriented. A hydroponics initiative enables beneficiaries to grow crops such as cowpeas, tomatoes, spinach and kale, without the need for fertile soil and with minimal water usage. Although still in a pilot phase, hydroponics is well suited to sandy, hot and water-less regions where evaporation rates would significantly affect traditional farming methods.
Future innovative ideas
Future innovation initiatives from WFP could include Near-Field Communication Cards which would enable contactless payments and remove the need for smartphones. Food ATM’s could address problems of food storage by creating silos of correctly stored food items, that could be accessed when refugees need them.
“The refugee context is always evolving,” said Okech. “We always need to be looking at the processes, the approaches, and the tools that we are using to deliver assistance and promote self-reliance, to see where improvements can be made and where there are opportunities to make adjustments for greater efficiency and effectiveness.”