Improving Humanitarian Payments Through Digital Innovation: Challenges and Opportunities

COVID-19 supercharged the uptake of digital payments worldwide.

The adoption and usage of digital payments is accelerating across the globe, including in new and varied markets. In humanitarian crises, however, digital payments may not always be the best solution for recipients if there is not the necessary infrastructure and ecosystem. To be “better than cash”, digital payments must be responsible, especially including women, and create pathways towards full economic participation.

This report will help humanitarians assess if and how digital payments can be effective - recognizing when the best solution for recipients may not be digital. Drawing on diverse implementation examples from ten markets, it focuses on the challenges and opportunities of digitizing the delivery of humanitarian payments, responsibly: what has worked, what has not, and what the future holds.

The report offers research-based analysis and practical advice for humanitarian agencies on the advantages and areas for growth of five key financial technologies in digital payments: mobile money, artificial intelligence, distributed ledger technology (i.e. blockchain), super platforms and QR codes. These financial technologies are assessed against four essential criteria*: people, places, periods and policy.

Humanitarians will learn about the critical prerequisites for each of these digital payments innovations, and how to implement them responsibly.

*Based on analysis of 2019 data from the World Bank, UN, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and GSMA databases.