Revolutionizing humanitarian cash transfers in Vanuatu
When disaster strikes, getting aid to those who need it, quickly, is a priority. In recent years, Cash and Voucher Assistance (CVA) has increasingly become the chosen method of aid delivery within the humanitarian sector. A CVA program provisions the transfer of cash or vouchers directly to individuals or households within a community to spend at their discretion, rather than giving the money to governments or other state actors. In 2016 alone, it’s estimated that $2.8bn in humanitarian aid was disbursed through cash and vouchers (Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2018; p6). However, the CVA model can be expensive, inefficient and opaque; often a long process, requiring many volunteer hours of administrative work during a time-critical period.
Like many Pacific islands, Vanuatu is vulnerable to a high volume of extreme weather events. Positioned within the earthquake-prone “ring of fire” and at the centre of the Pacific cyclone belt, the island experiences a high frequency of volcanic eruptions, cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis and landslides. How can NGOs develop Cash and Voucher Assistance programs that connect cash with vulnerable people instantly, ensure that those funds don’t get eaten up by large transaction costs and extract real-time insight to drive program optimization?
The Ethereum Solution
Oxfam engaged Sempo and ConsenSys Solutions to assess the time, cost and quality of digital cash based transfer programs. In May 2019 they launched Project Unblocked Cash: a Cash and Voucher Assistance program pilot built on the Ethereum blockchain mainnet. It connected disaster victims with “cash” aid faster while providing real-time visibility into the flow of funds. The pilot, trialled in Vanuatu in the villages of Pango and Melemaat, aimed to provide Oxfam with a global framework for deploying a more rapid, efficient and transparent CVA mechanism for future disaster relief programs.
Sempo, a blockchain backed cash transfer platform for NGOs, provided the technical solution. Oxfam Vanuatu handled the implementation of the pilot. ConsenSys aided in the initial design of the pilot, provided blockchain advisory and communications support, and evaluated the pilot to make recommendations for future utilisation and scaling potential.
The program was first deployed in Pango. In this community, nineteen shop owners were on-boarded onto the system, and two hundred recipients were given NFC cards that held the balance of their digital wallet. ConsenSys was on site in Vanuatu with Oxfam and Sempo for the pilot in May 2019 to witness both the on-boarding of recipients onto the system, as well as the usage of the system in the community.
The solution distributed capital in the form of NFC cards that held a balance of funds. Participants then used the NFC cards at participating shops throughout their communities. The solution consisted of three main components:
- Pre-funded voucher cards given to each of the recipients
- Phones issued to the shopkeepers with the Sempo mobile phone app installed
- An Ethereum blockchain backend for controlling the flow of digital cash