DAY ONE: What’s next for cash and CaLP?

Since September, I’ve been able to introduce myself as CaLP’s Director. And it’s a real privilege and pleasure to do that. There couldn’t be a more exciting time to get involved in the world of cash. I’d like to thank everyone for their warm welcome.

I’ve met a lot of people and learnt a huge amount. A very clear picture has emerged. Humanitarian agencies are taking cash seriously and are looking for ways of working together to realise its full potential.

First of all, those commitments are impressive. World Vision has said 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 Grand Bargain, all major donors and humanitarian actors have agreed to increase the use and coordination of cash programming together, and to “collaborate, share information and develop standards and guidelines for cash programming”.

The argument about whether to increase the use of cash is over. It is already happening across the board. 

The sector knows a lot about how and when it is best to use cash, and its huge potential benefits. And we know that cash is not always appropriate and cash programmes bring their own complexities. Agencies have hit constraints in how much decision-making power they can release to beneficiaries. 

The job in front of us now is to keep momentum high and build the common foundations that will allow everyone to make the best use of cash in humanitarian aid. That means working together to create the building blocks we will all depend on, such as: strengthening the evidence base about good cash programming in different sectors, developing reliable standards, building up capacities and new ways of working, and improving coordination. All this also needs to be joined up with other initiatives across our sector and beyond. 

We also need to work through some of the big questions posed by cash. Here are three. 

On the one hand, there is a drive for scale while on the other we are committed to quality and inclusion. Real scale, reaching hundreds of thousands of people, requires substantial up front investment. Not many agencies have the strategic focus and resources to do that. How do we match that with our desire for diversity and support for local leadership and organisations? What does it take to deliver scale and maintain quality? 

The political risks around cash programming are unique and translate directly into operational constraints. A news story about “stolen cash” will always have different resonances to “stolen blankets”. Counter terrorist legislation can create an insurmountable obstacle. We need politically smart ways of changing the narrative and mitigating the risks. 

The largest form of cash transfers worldwide are private remittances, estimated at $440bn to low and middle income countries. This alternative is largely unmediated and in tune with the on-line zeitgeist. It dwarfs organised aid, at about four times total official development assistance. What are the opportunities to learn from and collaborate with these models? 

Beneath these and related questions are the issues of power, trust and influence. We are still navigating the tensions between putting “people at the centre” and the need for control and oversight by donors, alongside the natural inclination towards institutional growth that protects the status quo. We need a more open conversation about the real implications of trusting local leadership and people’s abilities to manage their own lives – particularly when this conflicts with other actors’ interests. 

So the overarching question we face is: how far do we try to go with cash? We have limited time available for reform, before the sunlight of political attention inevitably moves on. In the next few years we need to lock ourselves into a path that we believe will achieve the best results for people in crisis. 

All these big issues combine technical, political and organisational considerations. They need careful thought and leadership, considering different points of view. Collectively, we will need to make careful judgements about what reforms are powerful and realistic, acknowledging where the power to change practice lies. We have a lot to build on, with the great analysis and recommendations already developed this year. 

Taking this on is where CaLP comes in. As the global partnership on cash in humanitarian action, we exist to bring agencies together to address exactly these issues, on a continuing basis. 

We’ve been reviewing our strategic priorities and are excited by the possibilities coming up. We plan to 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 and others. We are working on standards with Sphere, on strengthening co-ordination with UN agencies, and on tracking cash programming with Development Initiatives. We’re also planning a regular “State of the World’s Cash” report, to keep the big issues on the table and drive the agenda forwards.

All our work depends on working with others. We are looking forward to tackling all these issues together. Please stay in touch and don’t hesitate to let us know if you think there’s anything we should be doing differently. Together, we can make cash do more than ever before for people in crisis.


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