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The role of Cash Working Group Coordinator: focus on Bangladesh

Multiple country cash working groups have emerged the past years to encourage the coordination of cash transfers across sectors. Eun Jung Yi, Coordinator of the Bangladesh Cash Working Group, presents some of the key achievements of the group within its first 12 months of existence.

The first interventions based exclusively on cash grants were originally introduced in Bangladesh for cyclone Aila in 2012. Since then, more than 15 humanitarian agencies including INGO, UN agencies and members of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement have used cash transfers as the primary immediate response option to meet multi-sectoral objectives, such as emergency food, livelihoods and shelter aid. Delivery mechanisms have rapidly become more diverse, from cash in envelops to mobile money transfers and mobile vouchers.

Against this background, the appointment of a dedicated Cash Working Group (CWG) Coordinator provides opportunities within the community of practice to work jointly towards improving the design, implementation and monitoring of cash transfers. Because there is a growing demand for innovation with CTP, and because the CWG is not bound by the rigid “rules” of the humanitarian structure such as the cluster system, the coordinator can trigger change rapidly.

CTP coordination before,during and after an emergency

As with any other coordination initiative, information management is a key tool for a Coordinator to have at disposal during the immediate emergency phase. Despite the common understanding that coordination saves lives, quite often agencies do not see the merits of coordination at the early stage due to organizational pressure for speedy response and competition to win limited amount of external funding.

When it comes to cash, confusion doubles as there is no set rule on who leads and how. That is why the CWG offered a forum for members to share plans ahead of time. During the floods in the north western parts of Bangladesh, the Bangladesh CWG called for several technical meetings to facilitate the coordination of cash transfers from the planning phase. As planning areas keep evolving throughout the emergency, editing and circulating new 3Ws matrixes after each change proved challenging. So with the help of Terre des Hommes, the CWG created a realtime data management tool using Google spreadsheet. Through this tool, CTP planning was made easier and faster. Members saw the benefit of using the tool. They were able to predict each others’ plans and pre-coordinate location, grant size and even beneficiary selection criteria. Members had ownership over the system and did not rely on physical meetings to share such information.

Developing standards fit for the country context

Although much progress has been made in documenting good practices and providing guidance on CTP at global level, the practical adoption of those toolkits by agencies tends to take time due to a lack of understanding of the specific characteristics of the context within which they operate. A function of the coordinator is to stimulate members to improve their own guidance materials, and to share them within the CWG to encourage the development of common standards at country level. In one year, the CWG has produced Minimum Standards for Cash for Work, Cash Transfer Decision Making Tree, and Post Distribution Monitoring Tool.

Market price monitoring

Market price monitoring has been another critical focus area to promote a market-integrated approach to cash. Market price monitoring can be quite tricky as this requires additional coordination as many organisations implement through partners with minimal presence in the field.

Field partners are less likely to be familiar with CTP and market-based programming. But market monitoring should be part of a response toolkit as it allows monitoring the impact of cash transfers and also to consider diverse market support options, if needed. Thus we developed a simple template to collect basic commodity prices one week before and after the distribution of most cash grants. NGO consortiums such as the National Alliance for Risk Reduction Initiatives (NARRI) and Developing and Strengthening Humanitarian Assistance and Risk Reduction Initiatives (DESHARI) were instrumental in trickling down the practice and in collecting data to generate market trend figures.

Capacity building on cash and market

The fastest way to promote sound CTP processes is through training. The CWG Coordinator encourages agencies to incorporate CTP in their emergency preparedness and response training curricula, by offering course materials such as those developed by the CaLP and the IFRC, case studies and sometimes by supporting directly as facilitator. The CWG can also organize intensive and high-quality training. We brought level 2 training on CTP to those with practical experience of cash transfer management. Those trained received additional training of trainers and committed themselves to be part of a capacity building resource group. The other critical area to be improved is market analysis as this guides the selection of appropriate responses including market support. The CWG’s Pre-Crisis Market Mapping and Analysis (PCMMA) training was instrumental in demystifying the market approach and linking contingency planning with market analysis.

Paving a road for the future

It is true that many agencies see cash transfers or CWGs per se as an opportunity for humanitarian actors to make a bold move towards private sector engagement. New CTP modalities and delivery mechanisms are expected to bring much needed efficiency and even effectiveness in emergency response. In Bangladesh, mobile money transfer (MMT) is getting increasingly popular but this doesn’t go without frequent challenges related to beneficiary registration, mobile network coverage and lack of field agents. Fortunately, MMT service providers are regular attendants to the CWG, and demonstrate a willingness to be a part of a solution. We jointly prepared company profiles and held workshops to examine the causes of delays in transfers and how to make faster, economical and reliable distribution systems. MMT service providers have equal footing during the CWG meetings; they take part in frank and open discussions, and sometimes offer special deals for CWG members. 

After a year of existence, the Bangladesh CWG still has a long to do list, from field level advocacy through to evidence-building; it is important to keep the momentum to affirm its importance as coordination body within the humanitarian structure and with government partners. Technical knowledge transfer and best practices are essential ingredient for a confident cash community, so we combine workshop style exercise with regular meetings. The CWG is increasingly accepted by a wide range of actors from various sectors as a multi-sectoral coordination body. 

For more information, consult the Bangladesh Cash Working Group page.

Eun Jung Yi is Coordinator of the Bangladesh Cash Working Group, leading the emergency coordination, capacity building, advocacy, and evidence-based learning on CTPs and market. Eun has 8 years of experience in humanitarian assistance, having worked with international NGOs, UN agencies, and governments in Afghanistan, Panama, Mexico, USA and Korea.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the CaLP.

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