Ideas & Updates

The IRC joins the Better Than Cash Alliance

© Rebecca Blum/IRC

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is pleased to join the Better Than Cash Alliance, in support of our commitment to provide essential services within the first 72 hours of crisis.

IRC Photo

Khadija arrived in Akkar, northern Lebanon eight months ago with her son and his seven children. Her grandson, Yehye, was injured in Syria and the family fled across the border so that Yehye could get hospital care in Lebanon. Khadija has spent the money from the IRC’s cash transfer program on medicine for Yehye and on rent for her family.

The IRC is committed to providing crisis-affected populations with the most immediate and relevant forms of humanitarian assistance possible, and encourages market-sensitive interventions at all stages of humanitarian response—from the onset of an emergency through post-crisis recovery and development.

A persistent chorus has emerged from the aid community indicating that “cash transfers” and, more generally, efforts to expand economic opportunities are increasingly important and preferred forms of humanitarian assistance — further corroborated by displaced populations and the communities that host them.

In 2014 alone, the IRC provided cash or asset transfers to 41,983 households with a cash value of US$8,698,945, and created 1,531 village savings and loan associations, benefiting 35,752 members with a total savings of US$1,715,833. The IRC also provided job-related skills training to 18,417 people, and helped support or create 4,498 businesses in post-conflict economies.

Perhaps more encouraging than the aid community’s paced incorporation of market-based methodologies is the increased access many affected populations the IRC serves now have to “advanced” electronic payment technologies and the modern financial services those technologies connect them to. Of the 30 countries the IRC currently supports livelihoods programmes in, all but six have at leave one mobile money service provider; a larger subset has infrastructure to at least facilitate electronic transfers and/or payments, whether through online banking or mobile payment terminals. It’s safe to assume these numbers, and the reliability of the services provided, will only continue to grow.

Middle East IRC users
Africa IRC users
Asia/Pacific IRC users


From mobile payments to incentive workers in Kenya to prepaid ATM cards distributed to Syrian refugees, the IRC sees electronic payments as a game-changing means to increasing our ability to provide swifter, more impactful economic support to populations affected by crisis. While always keen to improve our operational efficiency with quicker methods to transfer “cash”, electronic payments also allow us to increase efficacy and accountability to our clients by providing more transparent and secure methods to transfer payments at mass scale.

While the humanitarian sector continues to face some of the most complex humanitarian challenges of its time, the IRC is also charting the future of its programmes. And with electronic payments – the future is now. While digital payments may not feasible in all the contexts where the IRC works, integrating electronic payments are intrinsic to bettering aid operations and the ability to reach the most vulnerable with economic support… and will continue to be so.

Sustainable economic recovery in post-crisis settings bolsters what already exists, whether that is a local financial institution, private-sector service provider or first-time entrepreneur. Strategic partnerships like the Better Than Cash Alliance, whose membership spans governments, aid agencies and the private sector, help facilitate these crucial linkages. The IRC looks forward to engaging with the Alliance as we continue transitioning to “cash-lite” and cashless approaches throughout our programmes and operations.