Partnering with CARE Kenya on digitising emergency response to drought and food insecurity

Digital inclusion and exclusion are critical considerations in the humanitarian sector to ensure the benefits of digital technology are available to crisis-affected populations. As per the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) 74.1 million people are in need humanitarian assistance in East and Southern Africa. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that severe drought in the Horn of Africa from 2020 to 2023 hindered access to food, income and safe water in Kenya’s arid and semiarid lands. Countrywide lockdowns related to the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated humanitarian needs and underscored the urgent need to leverage mobile technology in humanitarian assistance and disaster recovery. Mobile-based solutions are among the critical ingredients for accelerating the delivery and impact of digital humanitarian assistance. The GSMA Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation (M4H) programme builds partnerships between mobile network operators (MNOs) and humanitarian organisations to enable inclusive and effective digital humanitarian action.

CARE Kenya has prominent humanitarian and development programmes in Kenya, providing crucial support to communities affected by droughts, floods, and natural hazards. Following the declaration of drought as a national disaster by the Kenyan Government in September 2021, CARE Kenya rolled out the Emergency Response to Drought and Food Insecurity (ERDFI) Project in Mandera and Garissa counties. The project was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in collaboration with local partners RACIDA (Rural Agency for Community Development and Assistance) in Mandera, Fafi Integrated Development Association (FaIDA) in Garissa, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Safaricom PLC and the GSMA M4H team.

Leveraging mobile technology in the height of the countywide lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic, CARE Kenya delivered unconditional cash assistance via mobile money to a total of 3,200 vulnerable households (25,372 persons) affected by the drought in Mandera and Garissa counties. Building on this monumental transition to mobile-based humanitarian cash delivery, CARE Kenya partnered with the GSMA M4H team for technical advisory and project learning support to document the key successes, pain points, lessons learned, and action points drawn from the implementation of mobile-based unconditional cash transfers. The GSMA-CARE strategic partnership also entailed convening key stakeholders for knowledge sharing on the effectiveness and efficiency of aid delivery with digital technology – for example Safaricom PLC, the largest mobile service provider in the project coverage areas, enabled the cash disbursement.

Key success factors in the roll out of mobile-based cash transfers included:

  • Rapid gender analysis that enabled CARE Kenya to determine gender gaps that needed to be addressed to ensure inclusive unconditional cash transfer implementation.
  • Establishment of a community-based cash transfer committee that verified recipients, ensuring all the requirements for the mobile-based cash transfer were in place by each selected household, including registration details.
  • A pre-disbursement assessment to determine target recipients mobile cash transfer readiness. This assessment affirmed the mobile-based cash transfer modality, which also met donor requirements.

Key lessons learned documented from the digitisation of the cash assistance underscored the following:

  • Efficiency and recipient dignity: ensuring confidentiality, reliability, and safety for recipients, including those in the hard-to-reach areas, reduced exposure for 3rd parties and fraud.
  • Recipient choice of cash utilisation and savings opportunities: the recipients were able to curate the use of the cash to their immediate and other needs, save in their mobile money wallet and keep track of their spending.
  • Criticality of readiness of the mobile-enabled CVA: 100% of the respondents were registered to receive mobile money through a mobile service provider prior to the start of the project. 99.8% were registered with M-Pesa and 0.2% with Airtel Money.

Post distribution monitoring (PDM) established a 90% satisfaction in the use of mobile money for the cash assistance, and compliance to the CARE Kenya’s Humanitarian Accountability Framework and global commitments required of all humanitarian actors as stipulated in the Core Humanitarian Standards. 98% of the recipient households stated that they were able to meet basic needs based on their own priorities. Key quantitative findings of the PDM with regards to digital inclusion revealed that the majority (84.2%) of the respondents are in need for beneficiary training on the use of mobile money.

The shift to digital payments is pertinent in the face of global and unprecedented humanitarian crisis, as digital payments can be swifter, safer, and more transparent than cash. Digital payments also provide better collection and analysis of data, and beyond meeting the immediate needs of the recipients, they play a pivotal role towards the achievement of the sustainable development goals. However, a primary consideration throughout the implementation of the mobile-based cash assistance was the necessity to narrow the digital divide among the recipients to enhance humanitarian assistance. The recipients’ inadequate levels of digital and financial literacy provided the impetus for this. Owing to the low literacy levels, a number of the recipients were not able to use their mobile phones without assistance. As such, some of the recipients were occasionally unaware that they had received their cash assistance as they own basic phones, on which messages must be deleted frequently to make space for incoming ones; otherwise, no messages are transmitted.

Incorporating mobile technology into humanitarian assistance is an important step towards meeting the changing requirements of affected populations. Humanitarian partners can not only bolster the effectiveness of aid distribution but also enable people to build resilience in the face of emergencies. Additionally, digitising payments significantly contributes to bridging the digital gender divide.  However, cross sector partnerships and collaborative efforts are essential to ensure that no one falls behind in the digital transformation of humanitarian relief.

The Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation Programme is currently funded by UK International Development from the UK government and is supported by the GSMA and its members.
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