How Do You Know if Cash Programming Is a Good Option?

2 March 2016
David Loquercio

by David Loquercio

Former Head of Policy, Advocacy and Learning at the CHS Alliance

During the last meeting of the cash working group in Geneva, a panel discussed the link between cash and accountability to affected populations. For organisations who aim to improve the quality of their programming and accountability to communities and people affected by crisis, is cash programming always a good option? 

There is obviously no definite answer to this question, as context will inform not only what is most appropriate, but also what is feasible. However, looking at this question through the lens of the Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS), we can already get some elements of response.

Aid workers may want to use elements of the CHS to help them assess what programming option is best suited to the context in which they operate and offers the best value to communities and people affected by crisis.

1. When assessing different options, it is important to understand the degree to which programming options are relevant and appropriate to needs (CHS commitment 1). Here, when markets work and have the capacity to deal with an inflow of money, choosing cash over in-kind can be interesting because it puts the choice in the hands of people targeted by the programme, and allows different people and families to better accommodate their specific priorities and needs.

2. In a humanitarian response, timeliness is also important (CHS commitment 2). Not only how quickly aid reaches people targeted by a programme, but also in terms of the shelf life of a response. Provided that the appropriate systems and expertise are in place and ready to go, cash can often be distributed more quickly than in kind. It also can offer more choice to people affected by crisis in terms of deciding the appropriate moment to spend cash, including spending over time, and on different items.

3. Considering potential negative side effects of an intervention should feature prominently in programming decisions (CHS commitment 3). Will there be negative effects on the economy, local market, social dynamics or the environment? Considering such questions will help determine whether cash or other programming options may be appropriate or not.

4. Today, no organisation can claim to work in isolation from others. This is why all aid organisations have a responsibility to coordinate with others (CHS commitment 6), accounting for actions already underway, or ensuring that the amount or composition of aid is fair and harmonised. In that respect, are there options that make more sense in the context of the colletive response, or that are easier to coordinate and harmonise?

5. Finally, acknowledging the limited resources available to aid organisations, what programming option will help ensuring that the largest possible amount of the original grant gets to communities and people affected by crisis and with the minimum impact on environmental resources (CHS commitment 9)?

If answering these questions pushes you to opt for cash programming, then the rest of the CHS is as relevant to cash programming as it is to other forms of programming, from guidance on community engagement, complaints handling, to staff management and learning.

Today, I suspect that visibility and past history slow down our transition towards more cash programming. By using the questions above, we could help making a faster, evidence based  transition towards cash where it is appropriate.

Formed in 2014, the Geneva cash working group brings together Geneva-based cash focal points and practitioners from NGOs and the IFRC to further some of the field-level technical and operational discussions around cash.