Working in Iraq on cash assistance for families in need

How two WFP staff collaborate to overcome challenges and pioneer solutions

Story by Brooks Fleet, WFP Supply Chain Retail and Markets

At the UN World Food Programme, Supply Chain Retail Officers and Programme Officers work extremely closely when delivering cash or voucher operations, but have you ever wondered exactly what each of them does, and how they work together? What better example than in Iraq, where today the transfer modality is nearly 100 percent cash-based transfers.

We spoke to Ahmed, a Supply Chain Associate working on retail and logistics and Abdulla, a Programme and Policy Officer (Cash-based Transfers, CBT) to find out the similarities and differences in what they do, and how both of their roles contribute to a successful CBT programme in-country.

Ahmed (left) and Abdulla. Photo: WFP/Sharon Rapose

Can you explain the core duties of your role?

Ahmed — “I work on payment reconciliation, market analysis, monitoring retailers, market price assessment, retailers’ training as well as communication with the government regarding the import and export of food products into the country. In my day-to-day work, I organize meetings and discussions with cooperating partners’ retail and logistics focal points, and colleagues to support those who have been displaced. This work includes bringing up operational challenges and finding solutions together.

My duties currently in the Iraq office are to collect and analyze data on the Iraqi food price market to obtain better prices for people assisted. Part of this work is encouraging retailers to stock local products like tomatoes and chicken. This is on the micro level; our Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (VAM) colleagues lead on market and monitoring across governorates and the whole country. It’s especially important given the Ukraine conflict and rising food prices. I follow up and monitor the work of contracted retailers inside the camps and provide guidance and training to retailers to assure families get the best service and value in return. My previous experience in the field of logistics, transportation and storage has given me the skills to assess and evaluate market information to better understand the market situation and to provide trainings to retailers on things like stock management which can help improve their business. Our Supply Chain team does the reconciliation every month and prepares the monthly distribution reports to ensure that the vendors are paid the value amount as captured in the SCOPE system.”

Abdulla — “My duties include designing and planning CBT activities, implementation of CBT projects, and finally, working with colleagues in Supply Chain on the reconciliation and closure. My role also includes coordination with the Financial Service Providers (FSPs) and Cooperating Partners (CPs) to ensure the operation goes smoothly and according to plan. We are using 100 percent CBT modalities in the country through different delivery mechanisms: Mobile Money Transfers (MMT), Direct Cash, and E-vouchers (EV).”

How do Supply Chain and Programme colleagues work together in CBT?

Ahmed — “We do the camp assessments together to assess local food prices and quality as well as share thoughts with one another and discuss with them the proposed supply chain market solutions for programmatic needs.

With my colleagues in Supply Chain, we are focusing on the market situation and analysing the needs of families and VAM and Programme. We also analyse the distribution situations, monitor the performance of retailers, and provide these retailers with guidance including retailer trainings. We assess which market development activities are feasible in the area.”

Abdulla — “We have complementary duties when it comes to the CBT operation process. For instance, both units work together to ensure the E-voucher retailer prices are set prior to the redemptions and based on the market price range. Supply Chain colleagues conduct market assessments and make sure every month the retail prices are fixed and approved by WFP. Following that, we as Programme CBT oversee the data processing in the WFP SCOPE data management system, and completion of payments to ensure the cycle starts and people can redeem their vouchers accordingly.

Moreover, at the end of the month when distribution to households is completed, we start with the reconciliation process. The reconciliation phase is basically to ensure that all the amounts distributed and number of people reached are reported and reflected correctly in the WFP system. The process starts with receiving distribution reports from WFP’s contracted FSPs or CPs. Once we receive the reports, we share them with Supply Chain colleagues so they can create the Monthly Distribution Reports (MDRs) and get them signed by both WFP and the relevant FSP or CP. Later, and based on the signed MDRs and invoices, we as Programme process the reports on the Invoice Tracking System in order to submit the reports to Finance to reflect the actual distributed amounts in the system. With that, both Programme and Supply Chain work together to make sure all the distributions are reported properly on WFP’s systems and our donors/audits are able to see how the funds are transparently consumed.

My job differs from Supply Chain colleagues in that I am working mostly on managing and implementation of programme CBT activities in the country, while Supply Chain colleagues are involved in the reconciliation phase, market and price assessments as well as monitoring retailer performance. I on the other hand am mostly involved in the modality/delivery mechanism designs, transfers to people assisted, and coordination with FSPs/CPs and Sub-Offices.”

Ahmed (left) and Abdulla at the UN Compound in Erbil, Iraq, where they are based. Photo: WFP/Sharon Rapose

What is your favourite part of your job?

Ahmed — “My favourite part is planning, operations and monitoring. Planning is important to understand both the current situation and that of the future. CBT implementation requires monitoring market stability, current exchange rates, and import conditions at the border. Without this planning the team would have a hard time understanding fluctuating market prices. Furthermore, I like the challenges that make our work harder. For example the curfew put in place during COVID-19 limited the times we were able to access the camps and required more intensive planning. These challenges give me more opportunities to work as a team with my colleagues.

My favourite part of my job is also the opportunity to work alongside the IDPs and refugees. They are always super motivated and inspire me daily. I can see that the families are happy and satisfied with the food quality and prices.

Working in the humanitarian and development field is great and working with WFP makes me more positive. My work also brings energy into my life. The challenge to achieve Zero Hunger is my priority in my job.”

Abdulla — “I can say that I like my job including each of my duties. I remember that when I applied for the post of Programme Assistant (CBT) in 2016, it was a very new field in the country. The first day I started working in CBT, I felt that the field is very advanced and uses the latest technology. I felt even happier when I saw the people assisted were happy with the new modalities and delivery mechanisms launched in Iraq. We worked not only with the Country Office team, but also with the private sector to help FSPs start with MMT, which was even new for them. Before that, our assistance was mostly through in-kind food. CBT was covering only around 10–20 percent of the total assistance for families, however, now we are proudly covering 100 percent of all WFP activities through CBT. This makes me feel that I was part of a great team that managed to reach this achievement.”

With thanks to all partners who support WFP’s supply chain and cash and voucher assistance in Iraq, including Belgium, Canada, Denmark, European Union, France, Germany, Government of Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Multilateral Funds, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, UN Agencies, United States, the World Bank, PepsiCo Foundation, and Individual Donors through #ShareTheMeal.

To learn more about Supply Chain Retail and Markets, click here.

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