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KACHE project: From field testing in Mali to scaling up in ACF operations

Over the past year, ACF, funded by WFP developed a kit enabling electronic cash transfer delivery in contexts with limited or inexistent payment infrastructure. Maria Jimena Peroni Galli, KACHE project coordinator presents the features of the kit, preliminary results of the pilot project and the roadmap to scale up the system.

KACHE: where there is no other means to deliver

The introduction of electronic delivery mechanisms for cash transfers has the potential to enable greater scale and speed of response, enhance specificity of resource transfers to match needs of crisis-affected populations, improve monitoring and increase accountability while reducing opportunities for corruption and diversion. Therefore, E-payments can provide more efficient and reliable delivery of cash payment than manual systems.

However, despite overall positive experiences with E-payments, these are not being adopted systematically due to an overall lack of infrastructure which limits their potential use. 

To overcome this lack of infrastructure, ACF developed the Kit for Autonomous Cash transfer in Humanitarian Emergencies (KACHE), built upon Red Rose ONE Solution, and supported by the WFP’s Cooperating Partners’ Innovation Fund (CPIF). Basically, it enables ACF to make use of electronic cash transfers in emergencies where no suitable infrastructure is available.

The final goal of the kit is to rapidly set-up an electronic payment system where there is no other means to deliver products/services than through old-fashioned procedures like paper voucher or cash in envelope. The KACHE toolkit presents the following advantages:

  • MOBILITY: physical and rapid deployment in any operation 
  • AUTONOMY: ability to be used “offline” in places with limited connectivity
  • SECURITY: using “digital money” for improved security, monitoring and reduced fraud.                                                        

The kit mainly consists of a cloud-based platform (www.kacheproject.org), NFC[1](near-field communication) smartphones with Android applications, Bluetooth printers and smart cards. The kit was designed to manage different modalities of cash transfers (e-vouchers, e-cash and paper vouchers) in contexts with no functioning local communication network.

How was the innovation process?

The innovation development was itself a learning process with different challenges during the whole year. The process will be documented during January 2016 but we can report the following highlights: 

  • The key point is to have a really specific “briefing note” that clearly defines the humanitarian problem the innovation is trying to address, as well as the main characteristics that the product or process needs to have.
  • To build a solid and detailed functional design supported us in having a competitive procurement process which gave us access to lots of optimal and solid solutions for e-payments.
  • Internal buy in of decision makers to achieve a proper institutionalization of the use of the tool.
  • To test hardware and software in a reliable environment (Madrid) prior to deployment in the field.
  • To evaluate thoroughly the products and the processes vis a vis the initial functional design.
  • To build in-house capacities but externalize complex technological support to the service provider.
  • To design a scale up plan involving the whole organization.
  • To combine open source and closed source solutions.
  • Break down the organizational and disciplinary silos that might have hampered effectiveness in the past
  • Leverage technology to deliver high-impact programs and services at scale in collaboration with private sector.

How did the kit perform?

The kit was first tested in Gounzoureye commune in the Gao region of northern Mali from May to September 2015. As part of a project co-financed with WFP, 724 beneficiaries (31% women) received 39,000 CFA per month (circa 60 EUR) through the ‘hunger gap’ (July-September) in the form of e-vouchers based on KACHE’s smart cards. A total of 8 vendors localized among 3 villages sold goods for a total value of 84,707,110 CFA (circa 130,000 EUR) attending an average of 117 beneficiaries per day per vendor. 95% of the total amount transferred was spent by participants in less than 5 days each month. Monitoring data were accessible in real-time on a cloud-based platform, facilitating monitoring for ACF´s staff and “the reconciliation/payment and reporting processes for WFP”[2] .

The performance of KACHE was evaluated in September against the functional design´s performance indicators articulated around 5 pillars: i) autonomy, ii) reliability, iii) security, iv) ease of use and v) speed. In addition, the field test focused on internal and external stakeholders’ capacity building and learning. The field evaluation and documentation consisted of a post monitoring distribution (PDM) survey using Open Data Kit (ODK), focus group discussions, on-line key informants interview (KII), a documentation workshop and Information Technology team review. A detailed evaluation report will be published in January 2016.

Preliminary Results

1.Reliability

The KACHE kit is easy to use or understand during the whole project cycle of cash transfer programming for decision makers, implementing staff, vendors and beneficiaries (based on 11 sub indicators)

Usability ranked highly for implementing staff; and there was a general satisfaction on ease of use provided that proper and timely training and technical support is received. Suggestions received included improving functionalities to make it simpler for the vendor (i.e. ability to set fixed prices), and testing alternatives to a number-based pin code. Post Monitoring Distribution surveys indeed show that 43% of the beneficiaries received help from vendor to introduce the PIN and 48% did not know how to verify their balance.

2. Reliability

The system is reliable, meaning it consistently performs according to its specifications (based on 21 sub indicators)

Out of 2171 electronic transactions, only 3 presented some issues due to defective cards, which were solved in less than 1 week (the card printer was based in Bamako). KII´s preliminary results show high scores on how stakeholders value the reliability of the system (an average 4.34 points out of 5). PDMs show that more than 70% of the beneficiaries trust the system and the information it provides. During the documentation workshop, transparency, reliability and accountability of the system were highly valued by the participants.

3.Ready to use and autonomy

The system is quickly ready to be deployed for a wide range of possible uses and in different contexts and is autonomous (based on 22 sub indicators)

Preliminary results indicate a strong capacity of the system to be pre-positioned via stand-by teams to prepare to emergencies. Offline features were highly valued as well as the system´s capacity to manage several modalities[3]. The capacity to top up in a timely way was highly scored.

4.Security

The system increases physical security for staff, vendors, and beneficiaries as well as for personal data registration (based on 12 sub indicators)

The system scores high regarding processes that diminish fraud risks[4], thanks to the digital tracking of the whole process. 100% beneficiaries felt safe using the system and valued the fact that the card and pin code are unique and can be deactivated if card is lost or stolen.

Data privacy protection measures were implemented, including beneficiaries’ informed consent to manage their data. The greater beneficiaries’ autonomy to insert the pin by him/herself, the better data privacy on his/her entitlement can be ensured.

5.Speed

The system is deployed and operates faster comparing to old-fashioned procedures.  (based on 13 sub indicators)

Based on KII, the system stands out for its speed especially for the components of beneficiary registration, credit top-ups, reconciliation of payments and monitoring. The set-up phase needs to be reinforced with stand-by capacities to speed up the response.

The process of accessing commodities did not prove faster than with paper vouchers due to a (1) high concentration of beneficiaries for each points of sale (although an average of 117 beneficiaries per day per vendor represents a normal attendance), and (2) the challenges faced by vendors in repeatedly introducing commodity prices into the application. The speed of the purchase might increase with time and practice. In addition, the application can continuously be improved, and more points of sale/vendors can be integrated in the project.

Scaling up KACHE for accountable cash transfers

In conclusion, preliminary results indicate that the 5 pillars have been achieved to various extents. In addition, lots of lessons-learnt have been collected. In particular, the emergency response teams have now a pre-stocked reliable cash transfer kit that can be deployed rapidly where appropriate and feasible, even in absence of basic infrastructures. So … what to do now?

The process of re-thinking how to move forward consisted of analyzing to what extent KACHE existing functionalities could help to overcome our operational challenges. The KACHE team wanted to make sure that the upgraded version provides an added value to ACF missions in any context, regardless of infrastructure availability. The scaling up road map will ensure that KACHE´s functionalities (see table) become available broadly to achieve higher level of effectiveness in every operation involving cash transfers.

For this purpose, ACF´s scaling-up road map can be summarized as follows: (i) Field-test KACHE toolkit in ACF operations at scale and using different modalities (ii) Build internal stand-by capacities to use KACHE (iii) Improve KACHE toolkit to integrate innovative technical approaches and software developments responding to new challenges, contexts and interventions (iv) Document, learn, evaluate and share continuously.

KACHE system should allow us to digitalize delivery and monitoring in order to increase the use of cash transfers at scale in ACF operations. Our ultimate goal is to reach more people, faster and maximize the impact of each euro delivered to improve poor people’s lives.

This article was written by Maria Jimena Peroni Galli  KACHE Project Coordinator.  Jimena is currently Cash Based Interventions/ Innovations Advisor for Accion contra el Hambre.

She can be contacted  mjperoni@accioncontraelhambre.org

[1] Near field communication (NFC) is the set of protocols that enable electronic devices to establish radio communication with each other by touching the devices together, or bringing them into proximity

[2] Ali OUATTARA/Programme Officer/Cash Based Transfer PAM- Bamako, Mali

[3] To be tested

[4] This analysis will be reinforced by the auditor´s appraisal. 

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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