The shift to mobile technology for amplified government and humanitarian cash and voucher assistance amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Kenya

This blog is part of a series exploring COVID-19 and its impact on digital humanitarian action. More findings related to current trends, risks and the path forward can be found in our report.

On 5th January 2020, the World Health Organization identified the first case of the COVID-19 infection, and later declared it a global pandemic. Cascading, countries around the world continued to identify COVID-19 cases within their borders thereafter.

COVID-19 has wide reaching impacts for almost every sector around the world, and that included the humanitarian sector. The use of mobile-based services and innovation of new mobile enabled services became more important than ever, providing a critical medium for the delivery of health information and humanitarian services. Additionally, mobile, specifically mobile money came to play a key role in the delivery of cash and voucher assistance (CVA). Indeed, “necessity is the mother of innovation”.

Across Africa, over 80 percent of relief measures announced since the start of the pandemic were in the form of cash assistance. This provided economic security and social welfare for sustained livelihoods of the marginalised and low-income households, including the aged and people with disabilities from the effects of COVID-19. Likewise, Kenya streamlined mobile technology into the humanitarian cash assistance.

In Kenya, the government has an existing National Safety Net Programme (KNSNP) which entails four cash transfer (CT) programmes: Persons with Disabilities (CT-PWD), Older Persons CT, Orphans & Vulnerable Children (CT-OVC), and Hunger Safety Net Programme (HNSP) as per the  Constitution of Kenya (2010) and the  Social Protection Policy (2011). The government channels the cash assistance through selected banks or pre-determined payment service providers (PSPs). In the wake of the pandemic, the government expanded its safety net framework to include other marginalised households in the informal settlements, who rely on daily wages and had suffered massive job losses because of COVID-19. On the other hand, humanitarian organisations contribute to emergency aid, through physical distribution of Food Items (FIs) or Non-Food Items (NFIs) to affected families. As the government collaborated with humanitarian organisations to offer cash assistance, so did the private sector together with the humanitarian organisations through a Shikilia initiative.

The government also commissioned the Kenya Covid Fund to mobilise more resources for the emergency support and distribute relief packages to the affected households. However, this aid approach restructured when two women died in the food distribution stampede, leading to a ban on all physical emergency aid thereafter. Additionally, the presidential directive on curfew hours and imposed lockdown, including the Ministry of Health’s safety measures that included avoiding physical contact and social distancing to contain the virus, also constrained the conventional hands-on emergency assistance.

Hence, the government and humanitarian organisations collaborated to anchor their emergency response on the Mobile Network Operators’ (MNOs) platforms through mobile-based cash transfers to the affected recipients. The collaboration was through the Kenya Cash Working Group (KCWG) to determine the cash transfer amounts for the affected recipients. Seven NGOs, the Kenyan Government, the European Union and the Danish & German governments worked together to implement a “Safety Nets” programme, targeting millions of informal workers. As of 29 October 2020, multi-sectoral consortium had transferred a total of KES 446,813,412 (Approx. USD 4,087,908.86) to marginialised households through Safaricom’s mobile money. Well-wishers also channel their donations to the Kenya Covid Fund via Safaricom’s Mpesa mobile money wallet.

Organisations such as UNICEFF, Oxfam Kenya, Kenya Red Cross, Concern Worldwide, ACTED and World Food Programme among others provided Cash Assistance to recipients through Safaricom’s M-Pesa mobile money. Give Directly is also an NGO that supported affected families in Nairobi’s Mathare slum area, through 100% remote digital payments channeled directly to the recipients through Safaricom’s M-Pesa mobile money wallet. Their recipient targeting is now purely contactless, and done through mobile phone calls and messages, including the post-cash transfer audit. Their mobile-based cash assistance was 88% effective in the COVID-19 response. Mutual Aid Kenya is a grassroots organisation that mobilised mobile-based cash donations from well-wishers, to purchase and distribute food packages to marginalised households in Nairobi and Mombasa.

Mobile Network Operators provided the infrastructure that enabled the seamless government and humanitarian cash assistance. In Kenya, Safaricom’s M-Pesa was the heavily used as it has more subscribers than the Airtel Money and Telkom Kenya.

The intensity of mobile-enabled COVID-response through the mobile network platforms is evidence that cash assistance is much more effective and swifter, particularly in emergencies. Seeing the impactful outcomes of the COVID-driven assistance, from the use of the mobile-based cash assistance, its auditability, information collation, its swiftness and wider reaching, indeed, the increased humanitarian partnerships between the MNOs, government and humanitarian organisations is predestined.

This initiative is currently funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), and supported by the GSMA and its members.
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