A woman smiles while holding ttwo sheep on her arms
Part three: Delivering better

Cash and Voucher Assistance

Intikane, Niger

This Malian refugee was forced to flee twice: when her husband was killed protecting his cattle, and when armed groups attacked her host village. She said: “I received a cash grant and bought myself some goats for breeding. Thanks to my new business, I gain up to $1 per day to support myself and my children. I hope one day they can become doctors or teachers." UNHCR/Boubacar Siddo

The implementation of cash and voucher assistance (CVA) has experienced significant changes due to COVID-19, with new opportunities to not only scale up but to work more effectively and efficiently. The pandemic has forced humanitarian organisations to rethink and innovate their responses in several areas – most importantly in their choice of modality and delivery mechanisms.

CVA already offers an efficient and flexible modality that puts decision-making power with those who receive it. The COVID-19 response has shone a light on the value of this approach to meet basic needs, supplement household incomes, protect livelihoods, support local markets and reinvigorate local economies, while providing options for the delivery of remote assistance. Furthermore, for vulnerable populations who are excluded from or unable to access Government social protection, scaling up CVA as part of the wider humanitarian responses can serve as an entry point for specific groups to access longer-term social protection assistance.

Various actors involved in CVA have made impressive efforts over the past months to understand and develop guidance on the opportunities, challenges and risks in using this assistance method in response to COVID-19. Public health messaging has been integrated into different stages of CVA programme cycles, and CVA actors have developed and strengthened COVID-19 guidance for their respective constituencies. Household economies and markets are being more closely monitored, allowing cash actors to adjust programming, i.e. whether it is necessary to scale up CVA and how.

The response has also shifted towards considering digital payments and testing new technologies to limit the need for physical contact by allowing for remote distributions to people in need. This includes the use of voice ID and information and communications technologies for registration, verification, delivery, and monitoring and evaluation. In the context of the pandemic, digital means for delivering and following-up CVA have been important, as has the flexibility to retain or change some non-digital delivery mechanisms, being cognizant of the digital gap that may exist among vulnerable populations.

Governments have played a key role, with more than 200 countries initiating or expanding social protection systems since March 2020 – largely delivered through cash assistance. This has refocused attention on the need to strengthen and better leverage links between CVA and national social protection systems, including by considering such opportunities more systematically throughout the HPC.

The COVID-19 response has also reiterated the importance of strengthening collaboration between cash actors. In this regard, UNHCR, UNICEF and WFP have implemented the UN Cash Collaboration Statement in seven focus countries, while also using the existing collaboration as a mechanism for engaging with additional partners and identifying further joint cash response opportunities in the COVID-19 context. Members of the Collaborative Cash Delivery Network, comprising 15 NGOs, have strengthened their approaches around collaborative programming, risk analysis, impact on markets and joint analysis in their focus countries, in line with the Global Collaboration Agreement for the Collaborative Cash Delivery Network.

Better responses and longer-term, improved delivery rely on continued efforts to ensure the positive shifts in CVA are maintained and that the potential for impact is recognized. Engagement is needed on several fronts, from identifying opportunities to collaborate around programmatic aspects to exploring how best to link up with national social protection systems in such a way that future vulnerability to shocks can be reduced.

Further reading


  1. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, CAR, DRC, Ecuador, Niger and Yemen
  2. Current focus countries are Colombia, Ecuador and Ethiopia, with start-up operations in Nigeria and Uganda. See www.collaborativecash.org