Oxfam Pacific scales blockchain solution

Richard Butler | Exclusive Report By Daily Post VU | OCT 29th, 2020

A block chain-based Cash and Voucher Assistance (CVA) solution that enables much faster, less expensive, and more transparent financial aid for relief efforts is being scaled across the world, starting in the Pacific nation of Vanuatu.

A year after its groundbreaking pilot, Oxfam in Vanuatu, together with 17 local and international partners, is scaling its block chain-based Un-Blocked Cash project to distribute cash and voucher assistance to over 35,000 beneficiaries affected by the Category 5 Cyclone Harold and COVID-19.

The registration of beneficiaries has been inaugurated on Wednesday in Vanuatu by the High Commissioners of Australia and New Zealand.

The governments of Australia and New Zealand are the main donors of the program. Un-Blocked Cash is now serving as a single payment platform to unite partners in the harmonized delivery of cash assistance, enhancing coordination, collective capacity, and ensuring more value for each donor dollar by boosting the local economy.

Oxfam Pacific scales blockchain solution to revolutionize humanitarian aid

Oxfam is deploying this solution in Papua New Guinea later this year and in the Solomon Islands in 2021, with the Pacific region leading other pilot locations across Oxfam’s global confederation.

The world’s population requiring humanitarian assistance has been growing in recent years due to climate-caused disasters, and the socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have only enlarged the burden on the humanitarian community, who now need to assist more people with the same or fewer resources.

Oxfam’s Un-Blocked Cash project, powered by Australian fintech Sempo, is set to tackle this challenge by saving costs of distributing aid by up to 75%, reducing delivery times by over 90%, and bringing more transparency and accountability in the process. All of this is possible thanks to a blend of humanitarian assistance, digital financial inclusion, and locally-led block chain innovation.

The Un-Blocked Cash solution consists of the e-voucher “tap-and-pay” cards used by beneficiaries, a smartphone app through which vendors receive the payments, and an online platform where NGOs like Oxfam can monitor transactions remotely and in real-time. Modernizing aid with block chain technology.

Oxfam Pacific scales blockchain solution to revolutionize humanitarian aid

“We are changing the existing approach of delivering aid through automating and tracking payments using a platform to convene NGOs regardless of their experience with cash transfers”, said Sandra Uwantege Hart, Oxfam’s Cash & Livelihoods Lead in the Pacific, who designed the project.

“The platform allows for seamless coordination of resources, which in many places, like in Vanuatu, remain untapped.

Now we are able to expand our cash assistance capabilities with multiple partners including among others the Vanuatu Red Cross, World Vision, ADRA, Save the Children, Vanuatu Business Resilience Council, and the Government of Vanuatu.”

This is a critical advantage in the Pacific region, where financial infrastructure is limited, and local and international actors are scattered across a highly complex operating environment — home to over 25,000 islands, multiple extreme weather and seismic events, and exposure to some of the most severe impacts of climate change.

Community-driven economic empowerment.

Oxfam Pacific scales blockchain solution to revolutionize humanitarian aid

“I’m glad to join the program. I think it will benefit local businesses as well as people in the communities because they can choose what they want. It’s very interesting seeing how technology can be used to provide assistance to people at the grass-root level”, said Priscilla Tabe, a vendor from Sarakata, Santo.

The Un-Blocked Cash project has been designed as a user-centered solution empowering the beneficiary communities and local shops in their economic recovery. This payment delivery system is enabled by the participation of community-level vendors who play a direct role in micro-economic recovery and development.

Vendors participating in the program receive android smartphones with a pre-installed Sempo payments app and are trained in basic digital skills.

Enrolled households receive e-voucher cards, which are then tapped on vendor phones to complete payment to purchase goods. The unique feature of the Vanuatu program design is a vendor-to-vendor cash-out, where vendors can exchange their digital tokens into a local fiat currency between themselves, or purchase goods from each other without any intermediaries.

This offers greater financial liquidity and ease of exchange that is essential for economic development. In addition, this approach shifts the focus of traditional aid delivery — engaging microbusinesses and the private sector in the relief and recovery process and trusting the supply chains that they have already put in place. Enrolled households and vendors alike are recognized as essential participants who work together to enhance post-disaster recovery.

Oxfam Pacific scales blockchain solution to revolutionize humanitarian aid

Greater transparency of the aid funds.

“We are very pleased to be supporting such an innovative and important program in this time of double disaster with COVID-19 and TC Harold. It is targeting the most vulnerable and at the same time supporting local businesses and the economy”, said Her Excellency Sarah deZoeten, Australia’s High Commissioner to Vanuatu and His Excellency Jonathan Schwass, New Zealand’s High Commissioner to Vanuatu attending the program inauguration.

The innovative use of digital currency, in this case, a digitized version of the local currency in the form of a collateralized block chain token, has introduced the concept of digital financial inclusion and access to Vanuatu, where the majority of the population are unable to access ‘brick and mortar’ banking services.

In other iterations of the initiative, the use of stable digital currencies (stable-coins) as a “borderless” digital store of value has also introduced the potential for the institutional donors to fund, and track funds across multi-country programs, with just a single contribution and access to a central analytics dashboard. The platform also has the potential to flexibly integrate direct cash distribution and individual donations, allowing for a more transparent, direct, and participatory model for humanitarian assistance globally.

Earlier this year, Oxfam won a €1M prize from the European Commission to support the development of this humanitarian innovation beyond the Pacific region. Accelerating humanitarian innovation.

Oxfam Pacific scales blockchain solution to revolutionize humanitarian aid

As the program scales, Oxfam’s Vanuatu and Pacific teams hope to inspire other local and international organizations globally to explore how the technology can be replicated and applied across a diversity of programs and countries. If a local team in the remote Pacific Islands can take block-chain, a cutting edge technology this far in the midst of a global pandemic, it begs the question — where else is this possible, and why isn’t it happening?

Follow @UnBlockedCash on social media to get live updates from the field, see how beneficiaries and vendors engage with this innovation, and what impact it creates.

Oxfam in Vanuatu partners for the Un-Blocked Cash TC Harold and Covid-19 response are: ADRA Vanuatu, Barrett & Partners, Churches of Christ, Red Cross Society Vanuatu, Sanma, Shefa, Tafea Province, Department of Local Authorities, Save the Children Vanuatu, Vanuatu Business Resilience Council, Vanuatu Disability Promotion & Advocacy Association, Vanuatu Christian Council, Vanuatu Society for People With Disabilities, View PX, Wanfuteng Bank, World Vision Vanuatu.

Oxfam has been a leader in humanitarian cash transfer programs for the past 25 years, and delivers humanitarian assistance to 10 million+ people globally each year. Oxfam in the Pacific has offices in 5 pacific island nations and ongoing projects in over 10 countries across the region.