The Yemen cash transfer programme: How Oxfam used social welfare fund lists and the Post Office system to distribute funds and rebuild donor trust

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In October 2011, Oxfam partnered with the Social Welfare Fund and the Post Office in Al Hodeidah governorate in Yemen to deliver cash transfers to vulnerable households during a period of worsening food crisis. With other donors stalling and expressing a lack of trust in this approach, the Oxfam team had to work hard to demonstrate its legitimacy and effectiveness. This case study shares that experience.
  OXFAM CASE STUDY SEPTEMBER 2013   Aisha lives with one of her surviving sons. The father of two girls and two boys, he works in a market, where if he is lucky he earns 500 YER ($2) a day, if he earns at all.  Aisha is pictured here with money she received through Oxfam’s programme. © Rashad Saeed/Oxfam THE YEMEN CASH TRANSFER PROGRAMME How Oxfam used social welfare fund lists and the Post Office system to distribute funds and rebuild donor trust In October 2011, Oxfam partnered with the Social Welfare Fund and the Post Office in Al Hodeidah governorate in Yemen to deliver cash transfers to vulnerable households during a period of worsening food crisis. With other donors stalling and expressing a lack of trust in this approach, the Oxfam team had to work hard to demonstrate its legitimacy and effectiveness.  2 1. What change(s) was this programme intending to influence through its leverage strategy? The Social Welfare Fund is a social protection mechanism delivering cash through the Post Office to the poorest and most vulnerable people in Yemen. However, in 2011, a lack of confidence in the Social Welfare Fund mechanism from donors meant that some, such as the World Bank, suspended support, while others, such as the Dutch government, withdrew it. . In partnering with Social Welfare Fund to deliver cash transfers, Oxfam had to rebuild trust in the system. In terms of leverage, the programme sought to: ã  demonstrate to donors that INGOs could deliver in a challenging context and counter concerns about how difficult it was to spend donor funds in Yemen at the time - this in turn was limiting donor pledges to Yemen; ã  demonstrate whether or not Social Welfare Fund beneficiary lists were still accurate, and to restore a measure of faith from donors in institutional capacity and delivery mechanisms; ã  take a modality of delivery, namely the use of Post Offices for cash distribution, and show that it could deliver at speed and with greater reach than previously attempted; ã  provide evidence to influence the World Food Programme (WFP) to focus more on cash transfers as an appropriate intervention instead of a narrow reliance on food assistance, at a time when food was available in markets, but unaffordable; ã  encourage other INGOs to consider cash transfers as an appropriate response to the crisis by piloting a replicable methodology and sharing learning with others; 2. What, if anything, was new, innovative or different about the approach through which this programme attempted to bring about change? Ultimately, the scale was the difference. Oxfam has distributed cash before, but we have now reached half a million people in Yemen  –  this is the largest emergency cash distribution ever undertaken by Oxfam.  Additionally, the Social Welfare Fund is a new type of partner for Oxfam. There is a temptation, of course, to keep thin gs ‘ in house ’, by working only with local NGO partners. We were not fully aware of the potential of the welfare systems in Yemen (and, to be honest, in most countries where we work that is a valid concern as there is not a functioning welfare system). But that creates a problem too: In other countries we have partners that are able to take on the responsibility of registration and cash transfer  –  or we like to think they are capable. Sadly, we often over-burden them with the responsibility, and there is seepage of cash or worse and a major limitation on scale. Using the SWF and the Post Office at least ensured that we were using a mechanism that knows how to manage cash and deliver at scale. We could not have reached this scale by ourselves. We would normally   3 do community-based targeting but it simply would not have been possible, with the size of the team that we had, to go to all the villages in the time frame available and do the sensitization, collection of names, verification  –  and then the distribution. So we worked through a government institution, the Social Welfare Fund, in our cash transfer programme with a view to developing a model of excellence. Through this local-level work, we have been able to leverage and influence national-level work with the government on social protection, complementing World Bank and EU initiatives. In order to reduce travel costs of households in collecting cash payments, Oxfam negotiated with the Post Office the use of mobile vans at a distribution point close to their villages (within a radius of 5km of beneficiaries). This included existing Post Office branches, and additional pay centres in public buildings such as schools. Oxfam took the initiative to establish a technical working group for cash and market based programming in Yemen and Oxfam now leads the cash and vouchers working group in Yemen. 3. Recognizing that leverage can be achieved in different ways, how did the programme leverage change? On one level, it is worth recognizing that leverage happened in the tried and tested way  –  i.e. by strongly linking our programme and advocacy. For example, we based our advocacy messages around the need for donors to step up their giving citing our own ability to effectively programme on the ground and our knowledge of the situation at community level. Other aspects of the work also played a part in achieving leverage: We used our access to northern advocacy targets in country and outside to push coherent, evidence-based messages. We communicated succinctly to targets in their ‘ language ’    –  e.g. preparing a one-pager on the appropriateness of cash as a modality in the Yemen context  –  in both English and Arabic prior to the Yemen ‘donor conference’  in 2012. We supported media visits to programme sites in or  der to ‘break the story’ of hunger in Yemen –  from an article in the Economist to coverage in Arabic media. We built strong links with the Social Welfare Fund, with whom we had not collaborated before. We entered into substantial negotiations with the Post Office to reach agreement for them to undertake novel forms of distribution and to do so in a timely and cost effective manner. But mutual lack of trust also meant some unnecessary steps in terms of paperwork. To counter this, we worked to be clearer about roles and responsibilities. We convened other INGOs to consider cash and market based programming.  4 We piloted a new approach, evaluated it, improved it and enlarged it. 4. What worked well and not so well with efforts to leverage change through this approach? The first pilot was generally successful in terms of speed of response, but with key learning on how to improve it. For example, travel costs for beneficiaries were high and we were able to reduce frequency of payments in the next round to reduce the cost to beneficiaries. The pilot allowed us to set up and test all systems, including working with the Post Office, establishing mobile payment centres, and verifying Social Welfare Fund lists. Our beneficiary selection caused problems too; we chose the very poorest in Al Hodeida but they were too geographically spread which made for huge logistical challenges reaching such a dispersed area. When we were scaling up we risked major reputational issues with communities where we began raising expectations of an Oxfam programme but without donor funds secured to deliver it. Building relations with local and national staff of Social Welfare Fund and the Post Office was crucial  –  with some tricky moments along the way. The Social Welfare Fund lists did have their problems, mainly due to the length of time since they were updated. Our main concern was about exclusion errors, given that more people have fallen into poverty since the lists were compiled. But from our experience, we were very satisfied that the lists did not have huge errors  –  the accuracy was better than we expected. We set up a complaints mechanism, which helped identify cases of double counting and heard complaints about exclusion from the lists. And having the Social Welfare Fund as a partner meant they were on the spot during the distributions so they could verify and improve their lists for the future and were also able to adapt them and include some vulnerable families which were not included on the srcinal lists. This modality does not create a parallel system but rather strengthens state structures, laying a foundation for greater sustainability of the intervention and government ownership. However, Oxfam is not in a position to continue providing cash payments to vulnerable groups and it is critical that the Social Welfare Fund assumes this responsibility in the coming years. The issue of armed guards is a sensitive one. There are a lot of weapons in Yemen and having an armed escort is a necessary evil. We aim to make sure they are as invisible as possible, but this is a challenge.  Asking staff of the Social Welfare Fund and Post Office (including the guards) to sign a code of conduct has been difficult and still something that needs to be agreed. At the moment there is no real solution  –  however, people are not intimidated on site by the guards. WFP were undertaking their own cash pilot, but responded very slowly in changing their approach towards cash programming  –  however they did send cash experts and greater cash programming is now planned.
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