Helping NGOs do more with their money

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Delivering the cash revolution

This is a guest blog by Alex Jacobs, Mango's founder and newly appointed Director of the Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP). 

Ever since I started Mango in 1999, I’ve been working with aid agencies to help them do more with their money. My commitment came from my own experience of working in the Congo, Somaliland, Nicaragua and elsewhere. I knew how much agencies already do and how much scope there was to do even more. That motivation has been reinforced through my work with many agencies since.

So it was a natural step for me to move recently to lead the Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP).

There couldn’t be a more exciting time to get involved in this world. Cash programming has such potential: giving people money rather than things during humanitarian response, and letting them decide how to use it best. Nobody knows better how to get the most benefit from every dollar and pound available.

The approach was one of the major themes to emerge from the World Humanitarian Summit. Most big agencies have taken it up. World Vision has committed that half their global humanitarian assistance will be provided through cash programmes by 2020. UNHCR will double their cash programming over the same few years. WFP is making massive progress. The International Rescue Committee has committed to 25% cash by 2020. And the list goes on.

Through the high profile Grand Bargain, all major donors and humanitarian actors have agreed to increase the use and coordination of cash programming, as well as to “collaborate, share information and develop standards and guidelines for cash programming”.

The argument about whether to increase the use of cash for humanitarian aid is over. It is happening, at scale and very quickly. And it’s also taking off in the development sector, for instance through government social safety nets and pioneering work by organisations like GiveDirectly.

The humanitarian sector has already learnt a lot about how and when it is best to use cash. Done right, cash programming can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of aid, strengthen the dignity of people in crisis and boost local economies. It can build on government systems. Cash drives collaboration, cutting across established ways of providing assistance. This is an impressive array of benefits with real transformatory potential.

At the same time, there is a wide view that cash is one very important tool among many. But sometimes it is still better to give people goods in kind or services that cannot be provided by the local market. Cash programmes bring their own complexities and need to be carefully designed for the local context. Agencies are hitting constraints in how much decision-making power they can release to beneficiaries.

The job in front of us now is to keep up momentum and build the common foundations that will allow everyone to make the best use of cash in humanitarian aid. That means driving change and working together to create the building blocks we will all depend on, such as: strengthening the evidence base for high quality cash programmes, developing reliable standards, building up capacities and new ways of working, and improving coordination. All this also needs to be joined up to other major initiatives within agencies and across the entire sector.

That’s where CaLP comes in. As the global partnership on cash in humanitarian action, we exist to bring agencies together to address exactly these issues.

We have some great plans taking shape, building on our work over the last ten years. We will develop a Knowledge Hub, to make existing knowledge about cash programming easily available. We are bringing our training on line, working with the Humanitarian Leadership Academy, RedR and others. We are working with Sphere on standards, with UN agencies on strengthening co-ordination and Development Initiatives on tracking cash programming. We’re also working with leaders across the sector to keep the pressure up, for instance through a regular “State of the World’s Cash” report.

Cash programming falls into that rare space of a reform that makes a real difference and is also politically possible. With the skills & experience they bring, Mango’s friends and partners are wonderfully placed to help make it happen. Next time you are involved in a programme, why not rise to the challenge laid down by a recent high level panel: instead of asking “why use cash?” ask “why not cash?” It’s one of the ways we can all make sure that the scarce resources available achieve as much as possible for people in crisis around the world.

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