May 19, 2022

Blog: What must we learn from CVA in the Ukraine response

The current crisis in Ukraine has shocked us all and resulted in a huge outpouring of solidarity and support. Rightly as humanitarians, and as custodians of the Fundamental Principle of humanity, we want to deliver assistance that supports people’s dignity and choice at the scale and speed that is needed.

Now more than ever, perhaps it is easier for us to understand what a cash first or default approach is. Markets are functioning across the crisis and all the countries affected (except for some areas of eastern Ukraine) and more importantly people are used to a cash economy. So why have we not been able to deliver cash within hours linked to well-established safety nets systems for those fleeing their homes? Why have we continued to deploy a goods-first approach?

We have chronically under-invested in humanitarian cash delivery; in National Societies, whose leadership needs to continuously commit to the organisational change required, deepen existing partnerships and ways of working with external stakeholders; in the systems and prepositioning of cash to enable strong and capable cash ready first responders; in the surge system, which provides support when national capacities are overwhelmed; and in the people and competencies that are needed.

For too long we have tried to adapt our existing systems for in-kind to cash, because cash ‘is easy’; because we focus on sectoral outputs rather than outcomes and impact; and because ultimately, we are failing to be driven solely by people’s needs and preferences. We need new operational models fit to deliver cash that place people at the centre and we need to shift investment to enable this to become a reality.

The Movement response is starting to deliver emergency cash in the surrounding countries, which requires simultaneously building National Society commitment and competence, data sharing protocols with a range of external stakeholders, self-registration applications, community messaging and feedback mechanisms as well as how to physically deliver cash into people’s hands, of course. We should be proud of this as it is a testament to those cash experts (well done BRC for supplying 14 such experts to date!) who have been advocating to their National Society peers to take up a modality that is new for the majority, at the same time as coordinating externally and internally and designing and implementing the response. The picture in Ukraine is somewhat more complicated.

Learning will start to be captured in real time but let this be a lesson to all of us that we must commit to do better. We need to build a new way of working that enables prepositioning of National Society leadership commitment to integrating Cash & Voucher Assistance (CVA) and sustainable capacities and a fit for purpose surge system that can and will deliver cash within 48 hours to, say, 500,000 families. To do anything less would mean we are not learning the lessons right in front of us.