‘In providing aid, our giving must provide strength and bring ease of mind to calm hearts. Don’t be materially rich but poor at heart.’
Master Cheng Yen, Founder of Tzu Chi Foundation
Why consider CVA or any other form of cash aid?
In 2021, it is projected that 235 million people will require humanitarian assistance and protection1. 1 in every 33 people in the world population needs help, near 40% increase from 2020. The nature of the global humanitarian needs that usually derive from conflicts and complex crises has now been shifted to public health and health security. This is mostly due to the pandemic which killed approximately 2.3 million people worldwide and about 1000 people in Malaysia as of February 20212.
Through the ILMU Hasanah webinar held on 9 February 2021, Yayasan Hasanah has brought to the table of discussion on ways to provide effective and efficient aid delivery through Cash and Voucher Assistance (CVA). The webinar aimed to bring to the fore insights and challenges experienced during the common practice of aid delivery within Malaysia’s humanitarian landscape. Attended by 82 people who were mostly the actors in the humanitarian field, the informative session was moderated by the Managing Director of Yayasan Hasanah, Shahira Ahmed Bazari. The speakers of the day are Tan Sri Dr Jemilah Mahmood, Special Advisor to Prime Minister on Public Health, Jeffrey Perera, Deputy Chairman of MyKasih and Sio Kee Hong, Deputy CEO of Tzu Chi Foundation.
Globally, CVA has accounted for 17.9% of international humanitarian assistance in 20193. Though the number has increased by 10% since 2015 with a total amount of $5.6b spent for CVA programming in 2019, the humanitarian needs remain a huge gap.
During disaster, giving cash and voucher assistance may be a challenge as businesses are also impacted by disaster and the community in need may not have the means to travel to buy their necessities.The panel, through examples of their work and urged us to consider cash aid for the following reasons:
- CVA is cost and time-efficient. Providing cash or voucher assistance can reduce the cost of delivering humanitarian aid. By providing cash, aid providers, NGOs, and CSOs can use their budget to go the extra mile as no additional logistics are required in cash and voucher programmes.
- CVA is transparent and traceable. With an appropriate transfer mechanism, such as bank cards, MyKad @ identification card and mobile transfer, organisations can reduce the risk of abuse of funds. As an example, the system used by Mykasih allows the organisation to trace items bought as it is barcode controlled and allows them to generate real-time consumptions for audits.
- CVA reduces wastage and addresses the need. Often than not, failure in conducting a proper needs assessment leads to aid organisations providing assistance not needed by the community. The assumption that aid givers ‘know’ what aid recepients need is misplaced and power laden to some extent. Though the debate on whether to provide conditional or unconditional cash and voucher assistance continues, CVA has proven to provide affected populations with choice and more power to control their lives.
During disaster, giving cash and voucher assistance may be a challenge as businesses are also impacted by disaster and the community in need may not have the means to travel to buy their necessities.
Issues, Risk and Challenges
The panel recognised some misconceptions regarding cash aid which posed challenges to its scaling up and being widely adopted. Some of the challenges are:
- Limited knowledge and capacity – Processes and system is critical in implementing cash aid programming. As the cash programming evolves, there is a demand for humanitarian agencies to build their skills and capacities in fulfilling the gaps concerning technology, social protection, accountability, communication and coordination.
- Quality programming – The concept of accountability to the community in need was introduced with the aim to protect their rights and ensure quality programming. Cash aid programming that was designed without taking into account effectiveness, efficiency and accountability measures may lead to waste of resources, unmet needs, fraud and corruption, which cause the humanitarian gaps to remain huge.
- Protection – In some societies, especially in the protracted crisis area, giving cash may trigger safety issues. Hence, humanitarian agencies need to ensure that a safe and secure transfer platform is prepared when implementing cash programmes.
- Multi-sector assessment– The availability and accessibility of data are crucial in understanding the community’s needs. Without data and good analytical ability, practitioners often work in siloes, increasing the risk of duplication and redundancy.
- Donors’ reaction to cash provision– Too often, the decisions to provide to the community are driven by organisations and funder’s mandate. However, this risk can be reduced if both parties (the organisation and donors) understand the basic principles of humanitarian principles: humanity, neutrality, independence, and impartiality.
- Practicality – Sometimes, during the disaster, resources are scarce. Giving cash aid during the onset of disaster might not be practical when the businesses are also shut down and impacted by the disaster. In some remote area, limited retail outlets may also pose a challenge for the implementing agencies and community.
Some CVA approaches being practiced in Malaysia: The case of MyKasih, Tzu Chi Foundation and Yayaysan UEM
During the session, Jeffrey and Sio Kee Hong shared their organisation’s approaches in implementing CVA. Leveraging on MyKad technologies’ innovation, MyKasih’s cash aid programming allows the people in need to choose items they need in the selected retail outlets. All recipients will have their MyKad activated and registered with the MyKasih system. This approach is not only transparent but also efficient and convenient for the community they help.
Practising a needs-based approach, Tzu Chi foundations offered four types of financial assistance: long-term, education expenses, natural disaster and emergency reliefs and institution. Making use of their large numbers of volunteers, they frequently conducted house visits, frequent discussions with community leaders and provided direct financial aid distribution to the people in need.
Aishah Nor from Yayasan UEM has also shared some insight on her view towards cash aid programming from donor perspectives. Though cash aid is not Yayasan UEM primary programme, there have been continuous discussions about considering cash aid as part of their aid programmes. They have also started providing cash aid in collaboration with Pusat Zakat.
Providing better solutions for a quality CVA programming
In summary, the following solutions were offered to the organisation to consider taking the plunge:
- To have a cash coalition in Malaysia. Coordination from various section is pretty much needed and essential to ensure quality CVA programming in Malaysia. The cash working groups or coalition should work as a platform to gathers experts and practitioners from the field to discuss, share learnings and develop new tools and methods that work for the Malaysian context.
- Setting up the standard for cash and voucher assistance in Malaysia. Cash transfers are among topics that are well-researched in the humanitarian sector with comprehensive resources are available online. Hence, it will be beneficial for us to use the resources to set suitable standards for Malaysia. Though admittedly not all learnings from other regions can be referred to, understanding the culture and the systems that might work in Malaysia may help in setting up the benchmark for CVA programming in Malaysia.
- Link the CVA with the social protection system. The prevalence of prolonged health crisis such as COVID 19 pandemic in Malaysia, which has occurred for more than one year, has pushed for more mid-to-long-term solutions rather than emergency response. Getting the government to involve and collaborate will reduce redundancies and ensure wider distribution. Thus, linking the social protection system with CVA could help address the poverty and economic strain among Malaysians and increase resiliency among the community, with accurate data and coordination.
- Build a narrative of collective impact. All sectors need to work in contributing to shared knowledge, sharing measured success and failures collectively. External evaluation reports on cash and voucher assistance programme in Malaysia is still at scarce or almost none. Hence, an in-depth study in Malaysia is much needed, as it provides an overview of the cash aid situation in Malaysia.
- Develop the capacity of an organisation to understand CVA. Through proper collaboration and understanding of cash and voucher assistance, we can help increase Malaysia’s aid provider’s capacity. It is vital to make them understand the need to shift from giving in-kind donation to cash.
- Dignity is crucial to all giving. Having a universal unique identity is an example in which dignity can be ensured to nameless undocumented aid receipeints be it refugees, stateless etc.. When we glance at the refugee and stateless crisis that occurs, habitually, they will lose their identity along the way or often need to get a new identity (UNHCR card). As for Malaysians, cash aid programming can be easily done using MyKad and other digital platforms. However, when considering cash aid programming for vulnerable groups such as refugees and stateless, humanitarian agencies might need to make use of the available digital platform or invest in new technology to accommodate the vulnerable people’s need.
Restore Dignity, Give with Gratitude, Respect and Love
In conclusion, while we claim to be providing the best services to the people in need, we often forget that the people in need should be given the power to make decisions for themselves. In responding to the call for more cash aid programming, we should also not forget to restore the people’s dignity and give with gratitude, respect, and love.
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- Global Humanitarian Overview 2021. Retrieved from https://gho.unocha.org/
- WHO Coronavirus Disease Dashboard. World Health Organisation (WHO). Retrieved from https://covid19.who.int/
- 10 thinks you should know about cash transfer. Overseas Development Institute. Retrieved from
- State of World Cash Report (2020). Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP)