Listening to Affected Populations in Humanitarian Cash Transfers

A case study by Africa's Voices Foundation

Over the past few years, Somalia has been devastated by a prolonged drought. In 2017, at the height of the crisis, malnutrition and increasing food insecurity, cash shortages, and disease outbreaks affected thousands, many of whom vulnerable Internally Displaced People (IDPs).

UNICEF, through a joint intervention with the World Food Programme (WFP), delivered unconditional cash transfers (UCT) to 18,979 drought-affected and vulnerable families. The UCT programme addressed non-food needs of affected populations in Xudur, Wajid, and Baidoa districts - hotspots of malnutrition, disease outbreak and a high concentration of IDPs.

Somalia Estimated Nutrition Situation, August -October 2017 (Source: FSNAU)

Somalia Estimated Nutrition Situation, August -October 2017 (Source: FSNAU)

A Feedback and Accountability platform for humanitarian cash transfers

UNICEF’s cash transfer programme is delivered by implementing partners. Without a presence on the ground, it is challenging for UNICEF to track a cash transfer programme, to respond effectively to bottlenecks and complaints and to remain accountable to beneficiaries, especially the most vulnerable ones.

Cash transfers are a standard feature in humanitarian responses. It is, therefore, important that the priorities, needs, and experiences of IDPs and other affected populations actively shape cash transfer programming and delivery mechanisms.

To address these challenges, Africa’s Voices Foundation (AVF) worked with UNICEF to design and deploy a feedback and accountability platform that utilised SMS and recorded voice messages to engage with and consult affected populations.

It acts as a sustained, two-way engagement channel that enables open-ended responses.

This is how it worked.

A two-way channel of communications with affected populations

AVF sent voice messages to inform beneficiaries of their entitlements, instructions on how to redeem their cash, and any unforeseen delays to distribution.

Beneficiaries were able to report issues in accessing their cash by sending an SMS to AVF's platform.

Each issue was interpreted and responded to by AVF researchers and UNICEF programme staff through a secure, web-hosted complaints management system.

A post-distribution questionnaire provided beneficiaries with the opportunity to evaluate the programme through open-ended responses on questions such as whether they felt the transfers had met their communities’ basic needs, whether they were satisfied with the transfer modality, whether they felt included and what their community priorities were.

Why open two-way communications with affected populations matters

The two-way communication channel is a combination of case management and open-ended feedback. This combination enables:

1. Cost-effective process monitoring in humanitarian emergencies,
where weak infrastructure and insecurity make conventional methods costly and difficult to scale.

2. Tailored, responsive complaint management. Affected populations receive programme updates via SMS and may also report issues which are responded to with tailored replies. This builds trust between UNICEF and beneficiaries who feel included in cash transfer decision-making.

3. Transparent and accountable programme decision-making.
The open-ended nature of the communication empowers beneficiaries to provide richer feedback on their needs, priorities and satisfaction with the services they receive. The SMS feedback channel can them be used to pose open-ended questions to beneficiaries that provide actionable evidence for programme decision-makers.

“The work of AVF with UNICEF has led to development of a robust community engagement and complaints feedback mechanism, which has been recognised in multiple internal, UNICEF programmatic reviews as an exemplary practice in accountability to affected populations.”

Two-way communications for effectively addressing recipient feedback

Realtime incident identification, verification, and communication

Credit: Aapo Huhta, Finnish Red Cross

Credit: Aapo Huhta, Finnish Red Cross

Late morning, November 12th, 2018. AVF researchers identify an issue from messages originating from Xudur: beneficiaries are reporting severe delays in cash distribution. AVF raises the issue with UNICEF who requests WFP to replace the cash distribution machines in Xudur. AVF logs the actions in the complaint management system. Subsequently, the machines are replaced in Baidoa and Wajid.

November 13th. AVF composes, translates and sends an SMS notifying 4,000 beneficiaries of the delay:

“Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties you will not be able to redeem your cash today from the financial service providers. We are working to resolve the issue and will update you when you will be able to redeem your cash".

November 14th. AVF’s dashboard enabled high-level monitoring of beneficiary dissatisfaction. Complaints remained steadily high, and spiked on November 15th (379 messages).

November 19th.  When notified by UNICEF that the cash distribution machines had been replaced, AVF sent a recorded voice message and SMS informing beneficiaries that their cash was available to collect. Subsequently, the machines were also replaced in Baidoa and Wajid.

“Your cash is now ready to collect… should you experience any difficulty in receiving your cash, please send a text message to 345 starting with the word Dhibaato …”.

Closing the loop: After the resolution of the issue, beneficiaries responded to express their satisfaction and appreciation:

"Mahadsanid UNICEF we have received"

What beneficiaries told us

Photo: Simon Le Tocq

Photo: Simon Le Tocq

Female beneficiaries were less in favour of mobile money

There is a widely held perception that mobile money is empowering for women because it offers them control over household expenditure.

By asking all beneficiaries whether they would prefer to received cash via mobile money and enabling open-ended responses, AVF was able to identify an important trend among women in Baidoa and Xudur that contradicts this perception. Women reported that they were significantly less likely to prefer mobile money. They indicated fears that a husband’s phone would be registered for the household or that they would otherwise lose the ability to control expenditure of future cash transfers.

It is open-ended questions that made this possible. Affected populations are free to express concerns which might otherwise not have been identified.

            “...Some women gave their husband’s number and if the money is sent on that phone, the husband will use the money to buy khat whereas [with] the card, her fingerprint is necessary.”

Female, 40 years, Baidoa

Incremental monthly transfers can perpetuate dependency and may not be sufficient to build resilience among vulnerable communities

Some beneficiaries noted the need for investment beyond small monthly cash transfers, in order to to strengthen household economies and build resilience. Suggestions for alternative modalities included investment in productive assets, and cash for work.

This suggests that transfers via monthly increments may be poorly aligned with sustainably building a communities’ resilience and ability to meet needs.

This is another example of responses made possible through open-ended questions. Rather than focusing on reductive processes and outcome indicators, the open channel provided a space for beneficiaries to identify alternative solutions to building resilience.

“The cash aid has really helped my whole family. We need investment so that we can work and provide for ourselves.”


Beneficiaries feel included in decision-making when they are asked for their opinion

Participants overwhelmingly valued being asked for their perspectives on the UCT programme. Over 75% of respondents to the questionnaire in each district felt included in programme decision-making.

“Yes, [I feel included] because I’m asked questions about my needs. When you ask about the community's needs, it’s to find out about their challenges and make informed decisions that will benefit them.”

Female, 47 years, Baidoa

"The significant achievements in the development of a robust community engagement and complaints feedback tool, in partnership with AVF,  has allowed increased consultation, transparency and accountability with targeted communities."
Alejandro Guzman, Emergency Specialist, UNICEF Somalia

What’s next

After two consecutive poor rainy seasons, in 2019, Somalia is faced with another drought.

The rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation is estimated to leave 2.2 million people in need of urgent food assistance by July 2019. Almost half of them are internally displaced persons (IDPs).  Africa’s Voices will continue the partnership with UNICEF to support more effective, efficient and accountable humanitarian cash programming through a sustained channel of communications with affected populations.

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