Cash Learning Partnership: Turning Cash Into Aid, Part 1

Flour mill in Uganda.
Cash-transfer programs help set up small businesses, like this flour mill in Uganda. Credit: ACF-Uganda, L. Trenouth.

Kendra Hughbanks is working for ACF International as the Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP) Assistant. Though based in New York, she is spending a month in the Philippines to focus on case studies that illuminate emergency intervention and recovery. This post is the first in a series. Read Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.


With today's technology, it seemed unnecessary at first that I should travel halfway around the world just to sit in on meetings and pull together some data for analysis. However, after my first week in the Philippines, it has rapidly become clear that one’s digital presence—however capable—is no substitute for actually being present.

I spent my first two weeks with ACF in New York familiarizing myself not just with the organization’s work but also with the aims of the CaLP—the Cash Learning Partnership. As an institution, ACF prides itself on its extensive experience and its emphasis on using the latest, best practices in humanitarian work. The CaLP, sponsored by Visa, aims to strengthen the tactics that organizations like ACF use to respond to emergencies by encouraging them to consider cash transfers as a tool. CaLP members are working together to research and build the humanitarian aid sector's capacity and knowledge on cash transfer programs, otherwise known as cash based interventions(CBIs).

This week, I had the opportunity to see how the CaLP's philosophies are being put into practice at ACF. On Friday, Geraud Devred, CaLP’s Focal Point in the Philippines, asked ACF staff from across the country to consider how CBIs could have been used in the past, in which situations CBIs would be an effective substitute or complement to in-kind aid, and how staff here can integrate cash into their contingency planning.

So many remarkable things came to the surface as a result of these presentations. For a start, they got everyone discussing the possibilities of cash as a useful tool in humanitarian response. We were forced to grapple with not just the flexibility that cash provides but also its limitations in helping people affected by emergencies. The CaLP’s goal is not trying to replace all conventional aid methods with cash, but to work cash into the conversation as a very viable and flexible aid option.

On so many faces I saw the unmistakable look of new understanding as they began to envision how CTPs could have been used in the past, how it's not as simple as handing victims money, and how cash is not a standalone program but one tool among many available to help beneficiaries recover what they had lost. The discussions that followed opened our staff up to collaboration and new possibilities for emergency response. It is presentations and activities like Geraud’s that keep ACF lively and evolving.

What really clinched it, though, was Isabel Navarro’s exploration of the cash transfer program at Cotabato. Isabel is the head of programs, food security & livelihoods for ACF Phillipines. Isabel provided a strong example for how cash was useful due to the presence of working markets and how different cash transfer mechanisms can get around issues like local security threats and technical limitations. Isabel was so exuberant while speaking that everyone was already excited about the program by the time she showed a terrific video featuring local business partners, staff members, and beneficiaries all speaking about the difference that 2,000 Philippine peso (roughly $47) distributions had made in the recovery from floods that affected Cotabato earlier this year. One elderly woman in particular sat in front of the camera and carefully selected her words as she expressed the relief that she had felt as a result of the program. The room split open with applause after Isabel finished her presentation.

That moment when people's passion for humanitarian aid emerged, their smiles glowing with the pride they felt in seeing the true effect of ACF's work on an entire community, could not have been shared via video conferencing. That moment connected me to the realities of my work here and made my trip seem like such a small price to pay to be part of something that’s clearly making a huge impact.