Making the Most of Cash at Scale

A program participant in Nepal holds money and a Mercy Corps ID card in hand during a Mercy Corps cash distribution.

Cash and Voucher assistance (CVA) refers to the direct provision of cash transfers and/or vouchers for goods or services to individuals, households, businesses, or community participants.

CVA is a primary form of humanitarian assistance delivered by Mercy Corps and partners and is increasingly recognized as a key aid tactic for those impacted by crisis. CVA assistance is especially appealing due to its support of local markets, potential for cost efficiency, and for its multiuse applications that provide recipients dignity, flexibility, and freedom of choice.

As the use of CVA has increased, so has the desire to utilize it at scale; Mercy Corps proposes in this report that scale is achieved when the numbers of participants reached, the breadth of geographic areas covered, and/or the total value of cash assistance result in greater impact for those reached, increased cost efficiency, and new junctures of opportunity for effective collaboration between stakeholders.

For many years, Mercy Corps has partnered with donors, local and international organizations, private sector partners, and governments to deliver cash at scale via consortium models, wherein networks of agencies coordinate and deliver services and manage desired outcomes through shared accountability. This cumulative experience has allowed Mercy Corps to research and reflect on the efficacy, challenges, and opportunities of providing CVA at scale, as well as fill gaps in existing research on CVA at scale.

This policy brief contains a summarization of key findings in addition to recommendations for practitioners, donors, policymakers, and other advocates in the NGO sector. Research for this policy brief was performed through interviews with informants within Mercy Corps as well as with external partners. Additional research was performed through an extensive literature review, and targeted common assumptions about cash programming.

This policy brief is overall designed to augment the dialogue of CVA, prepare those involved in enacting CVA at scale for programmatic challenges and opportunities, and contextualize decisions around CVA programming for policymakers and advocates.