What is the promise of mobile money cash and voucher assistance in Jordan?

This blog post was co-authored by Elizabeth Barnhart, Senior Cash Based Interventions (CBI) Coordinator at UNHCR Jordan.

Two weeks ago, at one of the largest refugee registration centres in the Middle East and North Africa, the GSMA Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation Programme (M4H) and UNHCR Jordan hosted the Government of Jordan, humanitarian organisations, and payment service providers (PSPs) to discuss what potential mobile money has for the thousands of refugees in Jordan. The answer was a resounding: “a lot of potential, if…”

M4H’s report, the Digital Lives of Refugees, demonstrates that the majority of urban refugees in Jordan own smartphones (73 per cent), and that communicating (calling/SMS) and obtaining information are the most popular use cases for the mobile phone. While mobile money is still under-utilised in Jordan (1 per cent), the high penetration of mobile phones and low penetration of bank accounts among refugees, indicates enormous potential to use mobile money.

Our panel featured: the Minister of Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship, His Excellency Mothanna Gharaibeh; CEO of the Jordan Payments and Clearing Company (JoPACC), Maha M. Bahou; CEO of Zain Jordan, Fahad Aljasem; and Senior CBI Coordinator at UNHCR Jordan, Elizabeth Barnhart. Four main points were discussed by our esteemed panellists as important to address if the humanitarian community wants to provide refugees with meaningful access to mobile money services.


Pictured, from left: Maha Khan, Research and Insights Director, M4H; the Minister of Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship, His Excellency Mothanna Gharaibeh; CEO of the Jordan Payments and Clearing Company (JoPACC), Maha M. Bahou; CEO of Zain Jordan, Fahad Aljasem; and Senior CBI Coordinator at UNHCR Jordan, Elizabeth Barnhart.


1. “With the right partnerships, [and] the right service providers, we can create an ecosystem in which all are included within a digital economy,” said His Excellency Minister of Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship, Mothanna Gharaibeh.

The Jordanian Government has demonstrated its commitment to building a digital ecosystem by rebranding its Ministry and mandating citizens and residents to pay for their government services digitally on the eFAWATEERcom platform by 2020. Recognising it is an ambitious target, the Government believes that through partnerships with the private sector and humanitarian community, the challenges and opportunities can be managed to provide refugees with services that are dignified and meet their needs.

Moreover, the establishment of the Mobile Money for Resilience (MM4R) initiative, under the Central Bank of Jordan and the Gates Foundation, focuses on scaling the use of mobile money services in government and humanitarian cash and voucher assistance (CVA) programmes.  The initiative will follow the partnership model and invest in the mobile money ecosystem, discussed below.



2. It will be prudent for the Central Bank of Jordan to consider tiered identification/know-your-customer (KYC) requirements for mobile money accounts for refugees.

This will enable those without the required identification to access ‘low tier’ services such as wallets with smaller monthly transaction limits to address any anti-money laundering (AML) and countering financing of terrorism (CFT) risks. Currently, refugees can register for a SIM card and open a mobile money account with either a passport or a Ministry of Interior (MoI) card. However, the latter is only issued to Syrian refugees. At the request of the Government, UNHCR issues an Asylum Seeker Certificate to each family, which is based on a dossier of information and biometric authentication (iris scans). The panellists explored the option of the Government recognising the UNHCR Asylum Seeker Certificate for refugees who are not issued the MOI card and do not have a valid passport. UNHCR and mobile network operators (MNOs) will continue to work with the Government on the appropriate identity documents.


3. Develop mobile money use cases which provides refugees access to formal financial services. This can help with the uptake of a fairly nascent mobile money market.

Research conducted by Digi#ances highlighted that Syrian refugees do not have formal access to credit but informal credit is widespread, which presents an opportunity for MNOs to leverage mobile money, given the high penetration of phones among urban refugees. It is critical that MNOs understand their customer’s pain points. Partnerships between MNOs and humanitarian organisations can help MNOs understand refugees’ needs, given that humanitarian organisations work closely with them. Likewise, humanitarian organisations can benefit from the expertise that MNOs bring in building large distribution channels and marketing campaigns.


4. The time is ripe for MNOs, humanitarian organisations, and the Government to work together to build awareness on the benefits of mobile money, while also ensuring that no one is left behind.

There is strong commitment from all parties to advance financial inclusion, and with this must come with investment in building a shared vision, long-term partnerships, the required infrastructure, and value proposition for customers to engage with mobile money. The onus is also on all the partners to ensure that the technology does not exacerbate any existing inequalities, such as cost for low-income refugees and Jordanians, and gender barriers in accessing mobile technology.