This blogpost is the first part of the Cash Group Discussion series, and a retranscription of the webinar held by Trust Consultancy & Development on January 19, 2022. This session was presented by Mohamad Haddad, Emergency Response Program Manager at CARE Syria.
Cash & Voucher Assistance (CVA) programs are increasingly emerging in the humanitarian and development community as a comprehensive toll to support vulnerable populations without disrupting the economic or social context in which they live. Over the course of the implementations, more and more technical considerations and innovations are added, to adapt to the challenges of this initiative and to develop good practices, in order to comply with the fundamental humanitarian principles.
In this article, CVA programs will be discussed from the perspective of the context in Northwest Syria, a region where the needs of the populations require increasingly adapted and flexible local responses. In order to properly understand the challenges posed to stakeholders implementing cash assistance programs, it is first necessary to agree on the terms, often technical, to be taken into consideration.
Cash and Voucher Assistance: Key Terms
CVA implies the necessity to consider the market in which the program will be embedded, in the sense of an exchange system between two or more actors or players.
It is within this market, and from the conditions set by this market, that market-based programming is developed, a general designation for any term or intervention embedded in market considerations, and whose purpose is to work through or support the local market to allow the implementation of quality emergency response. This includes all cash and voucher assistance programs, which can be: Cash Transfer Programming, Cash-Based Interventions, Cash Based Assistance or Cash & Voucher Programming.
From these considerations, Cash Assistance programs are developed, following a process that can be broken down into 5 phases:
Implementation of CVA programming in Northwest Syria: Key Areas
CVA programs are implemented in many humanitarian and development contexts around the world, each in a specific context and aiming to meet a variety of particular needs of the population. In Northwest Syria, CVA are implemented through the following initiatives:
- 1. Value Vouchers for Food: CVA is implemented in priority for Food and, as value vouchers. Beneficiaries can use the value vouchers with contractual vendors of food and NFI.
- 2. Commodity Vouchers: focusing on the items that the target beneficiaires would be seeking to get. In Northwest Syria, priority items identified for the population are fuel, fertilizers or agricultural inputs, allowing to support broader economic recovery and livelihood programming in the region.
- 3. Cash for WASH: implemented to support beneficiaries’ access to WASH services instead of contracting vendors for water tracking or other WASH activities.
- 4. Cash for Protection: is recognized important to support the access and delivery or protection services as GBV case management and support.
- 5. Cash for Work: will support economic recovery and livelihood opportunities for the beneficiaries.
- 6. Small Business Support: for small livelihood activities.
- 7. Multi-Purpose Cash Assistance: to support broader humanitarian programming, as winter plans.
Challenges: Inflation, Fluctuation and Access
Some of the challenges encountered when implementing CVA programs are unique to the Northwest Syrian context. The majority of the challenges encountered can be related to the operational context in which CVA must be embedded, influenced by economical, geopolitical, social and political considerations.
Every CVA program officer in Northwest Syria will know that one of the main challenge of their programming is to adapt to the permanent inflation and fluctuation of the financiary, banking and economic system. The constant changes in the surrounding markets are considerably impacting the CVA programs in Syria, and in its Northwest region, whether because of the closure of markets in certain areas, of the stopping of the provision of certain supplies from Turkey, or from the Government of Syria’s side.
Linked to the previous point, the exchange rates volatility is particularly impacting the programs and their need to remain constantly flexible and adaptative. SYP was the main used currency for CVA while the USD/SYP exchange rate fluctuation was quite acceptable, in 2020 the TL got to be the more used currency in NWS as the USD/SYP fluctuation went high, however even the TL exchange rate against USD has been not stable, all of that made pose challenges that practitioners need to constantly anticipate. the CWG has been always advocating for USD to maintain the assistance value for the beneficiaries
Additionally, a parameter unique to the context Northwest Syria, and to the CVA programming in the region, is the existence of unbanked areas, and the lacking of reliable transfer systems which would allow to confirm that the transfers are effectively delivered to the targeted beneficiairies.
This lack of clarity will nourish other challenges, in the relations and communication with the donors or implementing partners. The lack of some crucial information will render the risk perception uncomplete, and thus require strong communication channels with all the stakeholders involved, from the local authorities to the international donors, to ensure standards and safety are efficiently enforced.
Lessons Learnt: Communication and Innovation are Key
As for every humanitarian project, the best ways to overcome obstacles are to develop clear and solid lines of communication, and to continually seek innovative ways in anticipation of new fluctuations in the program context, especially as the distribution of cash requires sensitive controls and stable trust between actors.
Among the lessons learned presented by Mr. Haddad in the context of Northwest Syria, continuous communication between actors is one of the main components, as inside the Cash Working Group for Northwest Syria, for example, which brings together agencies United Nations, international and national organizations or donors involved in cash assistance programming.
To build trust between partners and ensure that operations run smoothly, all departments of a program must be updated equally to ensure that the information available is known to all and that challenges can be overcome with flexibility and responsiveness.
In the same way, a clear and uninterrupted communication allows in the same way to reinforce the sensitization of the donors, of which the continuation of the activities of the programs depends in the event of obstacles which would jeopardize the program. Advocacy efforts make it possible to share the needs identified by local actors, and to allow rapid necessary adaptations.
In addition, strong lines of communication can reassure stakeholders, who may have difficulty assessing the likely risks of the project. Coupled with internal audit and third-party monitoring activities, continuous monitoring of CVA risk and available and implemented mitigation measures is a fundamental element in building a relationship of trust between the various players, and must be part of the plans. cluster communications.
Finally, when new challenges appear regularly, the ability to implement innovative and adapted solutions makes it possible to respond flexibly to the obstacles that arise. For several years, and all the more so since the COVID crisis, new technological and innovative solutions have been constantly invented, and their application potential must be anticipated and studied upstream to ensure that the quality and continuity of services delivered to communities remain unchanged throughout fluctuations of the system.