July 1, 2020
Ensuring community engagement and accountability in Cash and Voucher Assistance during Covid-19
Original article on LinkedIn, written by Sophie Everest.
When the conditions are right, cash can be a more appropriate and effective approach than other, more traditional, forms of in-kind assistance. Cash and Voucher Assistance (CVA) can put more decision-making power in the hands of the communities we serve, helping people to overcome crisis with dignity. Cash recipients are generally more positive about the extent to which their needs are met than those receiving only in-kind aid. Promoting choice and enhancing dignity of affected people is therefore rooted in CVA programming, but this can only be achieved if cash distributions are coupled with 2-way communication and trust.
Data has shown an increase in the use of cash during the Covid-19 pandemic. This is undoubtedly good news, as aid organisations recognise the merits of using CVA to respond to the complex secondary impacts of Covid-19 on the lives of vulnerable people. However, we are still hearing that Community Engagement and Accountability (CEA) is not always high on the list of priorities. With traditional forms of face-to-face community engagement no longer an option, or at least limited due to social distancing guidelines and lockdown restrictions, there are more barriers than ever to engaging meaningfully with vulnerable people. However, we must recognise that prioritising community engagement will enhance the dignity and empowerment that underpin CVA. We cannot promote the effectiveness and appropriateness of CVA if we fail to consider the extent to which the programme has been accountable.
There are many actors finding practical and creative ways to get feedback and ensure the participation of communities during the pandemic. The Red Cross Red Crescent Movement is uniquely placed to do just this due to our network of community-based volunteers whose proximity to, and local understanding of, the communities we serve is unparalleled.
In Kenya, CVA is being scaled up to respond to Covid-19. The Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) has extensive experience in engaging with local communities and ensuring their participation in programme decision making. Community consultations showed that mobile money transfers, using a service called MPESA, is the preferred modality for cash transfers as it is locally available, highly trusted and makes cash delivery easily accessible. As the cash is transferred digitally over a mobile phone it’s also an ideal modality during Covid-19. KRCS covers the transfer cost and ensures that those who do not own a mobile phone are able to use a trusted proxy to receive the cash on their behalf. Selection criteria for cash distributions are disseminated through trusted channels, including radio and TV, to ensure communities understand who has been selected and why. Those who feel they meet the criteria but have been missed from the recipient list can call the complaint hotline to have their case considered.
In Bangladesh, the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society (BDRCS) relies on the participation and feedback of community members to ensure CVA targets the most vulnerable people with appropriate and effective assistance. Indeed, as a result of community feedback received, a private breastfeeding corner is now set up at every cash and voucher distribution site to support mothers and their infants. When complaints were received that one of the partner banks was not allowing cash recipients to withdraw cash at the agreed date and time, BDRCS took the issue to the banks’ branch management and had it resolved. When cash recipients said that they did not have the information they needed to establish small businesses with the cash they were receiving, BDRCS decided to share contact information, advice and guidance on how to engage with governmental departments such as the fisheries, agricultural and livestock offices. These improvements are a direct result of listening to the communities and acting on the feedback received. Not only does this help to make CVA more effective and appropriate, it is also critical to building and maintaining trust with the communities we serve.
These examples are only a small snapshot of the work being done by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to ensure the participation of local communities in programme decision making during Covid-19. Thanks to the Cash Hub – an initiative to scale-up the use of cash in the Movement- we had the opportunity to hear more examples of Cash and CEA best practice in Covid-19 responses from the Bangladesh Red Crescent, the Kenya Red Cross and the ICRC in a recent webinar. You can watch the Webinar recording here.
 Humanitarian Voice Network, ‘Changing the perspective: what recipients think of cash and voucher assistance’, Dec 2019, https://humanitarianvoiceindex.org/policy-briefs/2019/12/04/changing-the-perspective-what-recipients-think-of-cash-and-voucher-assistance