At a Moment’s Notice: Mercy Corps Tests and Deploys an E-Voucher System for Crises in the DRC

At a Moment’s Notice: Mercy Corps Tests and Deploys an E-Voucher System for Crises in the DRC

Guest post by Sara Murray, May 29, 2014

The following is a guest post by Sara Murray, Electronic Payments Program Manager at Mercy Corps, a Better Than Cash Alliance member.

At a Moment’s Notice: Mercy Corps Tests and Deploys an E-Voucher System for Crises in the DRC

Beneficiaries rush to purchase basic items like soap, fabric and batteries

Last month, in a remote village two plane rides and a bumpy road away from our base in Goma, Mercy Corps piloted the first use of electronic vouchers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Like many humanitarian organizations, Mercy Corps faces difficulties delivering cash and even paper vouchers in places like the DRC, a country with fragile security and infrastructure. We are pleased to share an update on our experience “shifting” from paper to digital payment systems in this challenging environment.

We first introduced electronic vouchers to the DRC after we piloted a successful trial program in Nepal. Mercy Corps knows that electronic transfers can help deliver aid more quickly and securely to communities in crisis. But we’ve also seen that establishing these systems consumes precious time and resources in the aftermath of emergencies. In 2013, Mercy Corps, with support from MasterCard, began searching for electronic cash transfer systems that can be set up and deployed globally at a moment’s notice. We launched the ELEVATE program to test global electronic voucher platforms in a non-emergency setting in Nepal, transferring vouchers through both smartphone applications and SMS messages to families in Kathmandu’s urban slum areas. Recipients were able to buy items they needed locally, and this low-pressure pilot environment allowed us to sample globally available, “off the shelf” solutions, while creating and adjusting internal implementation procedures.

A Mercy Corps beneficiary shows off his newly purchased bike wheels and e-voucher card. Being able to travel to farms further away means that he’ll now have higher and more reliable source of income A Mercy Corps beneficiary shows off his newly purchased bike wheels and e-voucher card. Being able to travel to farms further away means that he’ll now have a higher and more reliable source of income

At a Moment’s Notice: Mercy Corps Tests and Deploys an E-Voucher System for Crises in the DRC-1

A Mercy Corps beneficiary shows off his newly purchased bike wheels and e-voucher card. Being able to travel to farms further away means that he’ll now have a higher and more reliable source of income

With lessons learned from our Nepal experience, Mercy Corps is currently implementing the next phase of ELEVATE in the eastern DRC, working with households recently displaced or affected by conflict. Electronic vouchers are being tested as part of the Alternative Responses to Communities in Crisis II program (funded by DFID and coordinated by UNICEF), with additional funding and support from MasterCard. Over a 15-month period we will work with 8,000 families to test and compare e-vouchers, mobile money and cash, but unlike our Nepal effort, this will be in a true emergency setting. The control groups provide an ideal opportunity to study the differences in efficiency, security and ease of use offered by each modality while still getting crucial aid to vulnerable community members.

Last month we made our first disbursements using e-vouchers outside the

remote town of Dungu, an area recovering from attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army. We invited vulnerable families to a marketplace to shop for household items, food and other essential goods with electronic vouchers.

Many people purchased mattresses with their vouchers, explaining that they either never had a proper bed or had lost theirs when they became displaced. Moving from sleeping on straw mats or leaves to having a proper bed was important in re-establishing, or even elevating, former standards of living and regaining a sense of dignity. It’s also an example of a large purchase that is difficult for people to save for, since keeping over $25 in cash at the home is considered risky, and other savings tools are hard to come by.

Sara Murray photo

About the Author

Sara Murray

Electronic Payments Program Manager at Mercy Corps

As Mercy Corps’ Electronic Payment Program Manager, Sara Murray works with teams across the globe to deliver humanitarian aid using new technologies. Recently, Sara has designed, implemented and evaluated emergency response and recovery programs in Nepal, the Philippines and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Learn more about Sara Murray