Ideas & Updates

Electronic cash aid gives Rwandan refugees more options

As part of its commitments to enhance food security, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has introduced mobile phone facilitated cash transfers to feed the 14,500 refugees in Gihembe refugee camp in northern Rwanda.

Electronic cash aid gives Rwandan refugees more options

In addition to the electronic cash transfers to all households in Gihembe camp, the most vulnerable refugees will continue to receive additional supplementary food based on their specific needs in order to maintain and improve their nutritional status. Credit: WFP

Since this new form of assistance was launched in January 2014, WFP has distributed nearly 3,500 mobile phones to all heads of households in the camp. These phones can receive and transfer money through an electronic banking solution called mVISA,provided by Visa and the Bank of Kigali.

“I’m very happy about this new way of providing support,” said Mukandutiye Venancie, a

54 year old mother of 6 children. “[Through the card] I received cash instead of being given food so I’m able to choose the type of food I want.”

Venancie added that, by buying different foods, she can save on the fuel she has been using to cook

maize grains for her family. This also reduces the negative impact on the environment around the Gihembe refugee camp.

The piloting of electronic cash transfers replaces WFP’s in-kind food distribution that has been provided to refugees in the camp for the past 18 years. The introduction of the e-cash transfers follows a successful pre-pilot carried out in December 2013 to test the viability of this new system. To achieve its goals and objectives, WFP has started working with World Vision as an implementing partner and strengthened its existing partnership with key stakeholders, notably MIDIMAR, the Rwandan government ministry in charge of refugees’ affairs, and the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR.

BTCA co-founder, Visa Inc is also supporting the program in conjunction with its ongoing work with the Government of Rwanda. In addition to providing its mVisa mobile money platform, Visa is supporting the refugees through product and financial literacy training, including sessions on savings and budgeting. Visa also worked with Bank of Kigali and the WFP to expand the agent and merchant network in the surrounding community.

“This program is improving the lives of refugees and driving local economic activity,” said Lucy Mbabazi, Group Country Manager, Visa. “By shifting to electronic disbursements, you are not only increasing efficiency and security, you’re supporting the dignity of the refugees by putting decision making power into their hands.”

Dusabe Claudine, a 47 year old mother living in Gihembe camp, is also very happy about the cash transfers.

“I hope this new programme continues because money is easier to manage and you can buy foods of your choice,” said Claudine.

The value of the cash transfers is based on the local market prices of the food ration previously distributed. All beneficiaries get paid in Rwandan francs for easy transactions on the local markets. If the pilot project is successful, the electronic cash transfer system may continue and possibly be expanded to other refugee camps.

“Among several benefits, cash transfers give more flexibility to refugees in diversifying the types of food commodities they can access, hence improving their nutritional status,” said Jean-Pierre de Margerie, WFP Country Representative in Rwanda.

“Together with our partners, we’re making efforts to pilot innovative approaches that can benefit refugees, such as electronic transfers. We’re pleased with the pilot project so far and are hopeful of its potential for the future,” said de Margerie.

Story: World Food Programme