My son likes carrots and my daughter likes cucumbers, they both hate parsnips. When we lived in London we sometimes joined a Farmer veg box scheme. Many weeks our box had lots of parsnips and kale – no carrots or cucumbers. Most aid programmes are like the veg box, you take what you get whether you like it or not. Then you swap and barter to get what you want and need. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Underlying the humanitarian principles is the idea of treating those affected by a crisis with dignity. A fundamental belief that all humans regardless of race, religion, or circumstance deserve dignified interaction. The recent world events remind us we all have still have work to do. And while dignity can be defined in different ways, for me it is closely associated with choice.
That is one of the many reasons cash programming will ‘save’ humanitarian aid. Yes, it is not perfect and threatens aspects of our humanitarian principles, but fundamentally it will remake aid and reinterpret the humanitarian principles for the 21st century. We are just at the beginning.
Organisationally cash programming can help reduce operational and implementation costs. We still have a long way to go yet as cling on to old models and try to shoehorn cash programming into them. When cash programming is freed from the tyranny of our in kind distribution logistics models we will reap the benefits organisationally. We are beginning to see more network and system thinking, but this needs to grow. Too many networks are still still structured in traditional consortium models.
More importantly, beyond organisations, cash programming can enable choice for those we seek to serve. Many, if not most, of us believe that we know what our family or household or ourselves need better than someone outside our family or household. This doesn’t mean that we are not open to learning from others, it just means that we tend to think we know what is best for those we do life with. And that we would like to be able to make the choices for ourselves. If this is taken away from us, we feel some of our dignity is stripped away.
So when we use cash and voucher programming as a means of delivering aid, we are promoting this belief. We enable households to choose the food they want and in some cases even the shops they buy from (because we all have our favourites shops!)
Ultimately cash programming will ‘save’ humanitarian aid when our organisations decide it is ok for the people affected by crisis to tell us what they want in kind and what they want as cash. And each household can choose differently.
But in reality, cash programming won’t save humanitarian aid. Stories will. Stories connecting people affected by crisis to you and I. They helping us see our systematic racism and colonialism. Stories helping us see that those affected by crisis are like us and would like to be able to choose how they provide for their households.
When we believe they are like us, cash programming and humanitarian aid can thrive. The choice is up to us.