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Spotlight on the Start Fund: Choosing to have choice

March 20, 2015

Posted by in Blog.

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Choosing to have Choice : Lesson Learning on Cash Transfers in Emergency Response from Beni, DRC



In November 2014, CAFOD responded through its local partner, SOCOAC, to the emergency crisis arising from ADF Nalu attacks in Beni Territory, North Kivu Province, DRC. At the time of the START release, 80 people had been killed, hundreds injured and thousands displaced. Mass looting ensued with loss of homes and basic household items.  SOCOAC, one of the few NGOs in the area with significant experience in emergency response, was poised to respond. The following interventions were implemented:

  • Distribution of food and NFIs through fairs: coupons were given to beneficiaries to purchase items to the value of $75 sold by a selection of local vendors.
  • Distribution of cash to the total of $50 per beneficiary through a local reputable cash transfer service named CADECO. 

A total of 773 families received support over the course of 45 days (3,865 beneficiaries). CAFOD also provided additional funds to meet immediate needs for a further 190 families. A post distribution monitoring (PDM) survey of 15% of beneficiaries, noted significant improvements in food consumption score. 97.2% were satisifed with the NFI items purchased and 83% who received cash, spent it on health care.

Learning Fund Rationale

It was planned that CAFOD staff would have a field presence to monitor the project and take part in the PDM. High levels of insecurity made this impossible. Furthermore, the PDM survey was undertaken immediately after the activities and so it was not possible at that stage to assess the longer term impacts of the assistance delivered.  Whilst CAFOD is confident of the standard of the PDM undertaken by its partner, it was felt that the START learning fund would be a good opportunity to conduct beneficiary follow up on a more qualitative level to assess the longer-term impacts of the project. The model of cash distributions in emergencies was new in the area and for the local partner. This learning fund was therefore used to assess the successes and challenges of this mode of response, gathering information from beneficiaires, local authorities, the local cash transfer service and the partner. CAFOD aims to use the outcomes of this evaluation to guide future response, both for its own programmes and for those of other agencies with a similar goal to support effective and innovative emergency relief.


CAFOD and SOCOAC developed a ToR and questionnaire to be used to assess the project implementation. Focus group discussions and individual interviews were then undertaken by SOCOAC and CAFOD staff along with a number of locally trained casual staff. Targetted stakeholders included local authorities, beneficiaries and microcredit representatives all from Oicha. The evaulation took place over three days, 13-15 February 2015. Focus groups lasted for 75 minutes each and the individual interviews over three days. It was intended that more time would be spent on the latter but the volatile security situation called for a shorter field trip.


Type No. Participatnts sex Age Range
Focus Group Discussion 3 15 M 30-48
7 F 25-50
Individual Interviews 100 36 M 25-65
64 F 19-60

Key questions included:

  • Were you satisifed with the process of the beneficiary selection criteria?
  • What were your impressions of the approaches used in the project: NFIs and cash transfer?
  • What did you do with the cash received?
  • Who decided how the money would be spent?
  • Did you have any security incidents as a result of receiving the money?
  • Did the cash change your life in any way?


What did we hear?

Beneficiaries: None of the beneficiaries experienced any protection threats or felt insecure during the process. They appreciated the discrete nature of receiving the cash, minimising what they felt would have otherwise been the demands on them from others (beneficiaries were given time slots to come for their cash on different days in order to avoid conspicious queues and a discrete window booth was located at the back of the building for private access). They also appreciated the security training they received which sensitised on the risks of carrying cash, tips on how to look discrete when carrying the sum of money and where to safely store it.

The speed of the service and access to funding was appreciated, noting that the cash enabled quick response to individual needs. Common uses of the money included rent and health care.

Although many noted that they were unable to write and had little or no experience of banking, the process of opening an account and drawing the money out was a smooth one. The information sessions provided in advance of the process were said to be appreciated and useful. Those who could not sign for the money were able to use their finger print.

Feedback on decision making around cash spending was reported to be joint between husband and wife where both lived together, and mothers in female headed households.

Generally, community involvement was rated high. Community members felt they had an active part to play in the process and in decision making on who would benefit and how.

Official Authorities: This group responded positively to the cash distribution methods, equating the success of the project with the choice that it gave to the community. The Social Affairs Representative (seen to the left in the photo below) stated the project was “the highest quality she had ever seen.”

She described several cases which demonstrated the long term economic impact on vulnerable displaced households who used the cash as a baseline to enable them to start selling at the local market.  She shared the story of one distressed woman who had lost her husband and house as a result of the rebel attacks. After receiving money, she now sells rice at the local market and is able to afford rent and other life needs. The psychosocial impacts have been notable as she now has a safety net to help her as she recovers from the trauma of attacks. She is said to now be socially integrated again.

The Civil Society Representative highlighted the knock on effects of the cash, emphasising the injection into the community. Cash flows allowed for debts to be paid and for businesses to start. In this way, the local community benefited as a whole even though only the most vulnerable received the money.

Implementing partner: SOCOAC staff noted that many beneficiaries left other distribution sites of direct food and NFI distribution and came directly to them, asking if they too could have cash rather than receive items directly. Beneficiaries felt there was a stark contrast between this new method of response over the other traditional style methods being undertaken by other actors.  SOCOAC staff members were told that their approach was faster and more empowering. Community members requested that SOCOAC advocate on this basis to humanitarian actors (OCHA) for future interventions.

Cash Transfer Service: The CADECO institutional funding manager commented that the level of education and lack of experience with banking created challenges when working with the community but felt satisfied that the training they provided did mitigate most of the potential problems.

The speed at which the project had to be delivered was stressful but it was felt that the delivery went well.

Representatives observed that the cash allowed an injection of money into the local economy and also informed the community on banking and the existence of the financial services.

The funding manager noted that some beneficiaires are now coming to him asking for loans but unfortunately, their company does not have the capacity to respond. He requested that NGOs work with microcredit schemes in the future, involving local institutions to help grow services such as that of CADECO.

Conditions for Success

It is clear that not all emergency response contexts offer the factors necessary for cash transfer to be done effectively or safely. The success of this project has been attributed largely to the following steps being undertaken:

  1. Time taken at the outset for a thorough assessment of the context. Beneficiary feedback from a previous emergency response in July 2014 in the same area noted the desire for cash transfers to allow for outstanding needs to be met.  Market analysis was undertaken and two local cash transfer sevices were sourced who were willing to be part of the project.   A microcredit survey which involved community discussions, helped to select the best provider and a contract was drawn up.
  2. Even though it was the first time SOCOAC had undertaken a cash transfer programme, there was significant experience in the team. CAFOD’s emergency response officer had also previously undertaken CALP training which helped in the design and implementation. Cash transfer does require a base level of understanding and experience to implement effectively in an emergency context such as Beni.
  3. In the planning phase, the partner worked closely with the finance institution to mitigate security risks for the beneficiaries. The instituation was selected as it had safe and reliable banking methods.
  4. Community meetings were held with local authorities, key representatives and beneficiaries to discuss the planning of the project and to ensure that everyone understood the process. The local partner had a good reputation in the community and strong processes in place for effective participation and engagement.
  5. Although the surrounding area had high levels of insecurity, the security in the area of displacement was deemed safe enough to move forward. The branch selected for providing cash was located in a safe part of town with security protection from FARDC and MONUSCO.


Despite the various challenges in relation to insecurity during the implementation phase of the project, it was deemed a success by all stakeholders; the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.  CAFOD aims to undertake safe and dignified programming, building on local resources. In all respects, cash transfers upheld these goals in new and encouraging ways – by minimising risk and by listening to beneficiaries, giving them the power to decide.  Emergency response is notorious for its “short-term fix” solutions; cash transfers on the other hand were reported to have sustained impact, with various examples of cash being injected back in to economy and some starting small business initiatives at the market.  Mamy Sivahera, Emergency Response Officer for CAFOD in DRC, states, “We took a calculated risk trying cash transfer for the first time here but it has paid off. This has been a good experience and is the start of something new.” Since this project has finished, the insecurity continues.  Some who returned to their villages have again been displaced by subsequent rebel attacks.  They have left their belongings behind once more and are unable to attend to their fields for harvesting.  In situations such as this, cash injections may well be the most effective means of support to families who can decide how they can best meet their immediate needs.  Communities in contexts such as Beni may well have had many choices stripped from them in life but aid agencies can choose to listen and in doing so, give back power by giving back choice.

Photo: CAFOD

Download this case study here.


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