The webinar “The role of local and national actors in linking humanitarian cash and social protection in response to the COVID-19 pandemic took place on 13 August 2020. The discussion was moderated by Lois Austin, with guest speakers Danger Nhlabatsi and Siphelele ‘KB’ Mkhonta, both from the Baphalali Eswatini Red Cross Society (BERCS), Patricia Miarisoa Rakotonirina from the Ministry of Population, Social Protection and Promotion of Women in Madagascar and Ilir Zguri, Director of Social Welfare of Municipality of Korca Municipality of Albania.

The speakers provided insights from COVID-19 responses in Albania, Eswatini and Madagascar, shedding light on a number of issues including:

  • The point at which engagement between humanitarian and social protection actors/systems was made
  • Decision-making processes in relation to collaborative action, and how timely these processes were
  • Stages and levels of collaboration – policy; programme design; implementation
  • Key successes, challenges and learning for the future

Watch the full recording for more examples and access the ppt slides for more information.

Experience of Eswatini

KB started by providing a brief overview of the country context and background information on BERCS’s engagement in humanitarian cash transfers. Even before COVID-19, Eswatini faced a number of humanitarian challenges, from food insecurity caused by frequent droughts to public health crises such as HIV/AIDS. The government provides social protection to vulnerable groups such as elderly and persons with disabilities, yet programmes were fragmented and had high administrative costs. To fill the gaps, and reach food insecure populations affected by drought, BERCS, together with WFP and World Vision have been implementing cash transfer programmes and advocating for the use of cash over in-kind support in emergency responses since 2017.

As COVID-19 hit, the Eswatini government partnered with BERCS and used the existing delivery system that BERCS was already using to disburse cash transfers to target groups (elderly and persons with disabilities) through mobile money instead of the usual method – cash in envelope. In addition, BERCS supported the government to identify populations who were facing food insecurity due to lockdown measures and proposed the use of cash transfers to address their needs.

As the experience shows, BERCS played a crucial role in linking humanitarian cash transfers to the establishment of strengthened national social protection approaches to the pandemic. Secretary General Danger Nhlabatsi noted that this has been the result of extensive advocacy work done by the Red Cross National Society, including meetings with key government officials from the National Disaster Management Agency and the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office, sharing best practices and lessons learned and showcasing cash disbursements processes. UN Agencies, such as WFP also played an essential role in this advocacy.

Experience of Madagascar

For the experience of Madagascar, Madame Patricia started by providing an overview of the national social protection system and institutional framework in the country that guides the social protection and humanitarian cash transfer work of various actors.

Institutional framework: In Madagascar, the Ministry and UNICEF co-lead the national social protection group, with members representing government agencies, donors, NGOs and other development and humanitarian partners. Within the group, they’ve also set up a cash transfer working group, led by the Ministry and the National Agency for Disaster Response. Both groups aim to strengthen coordination, align programmes and support, exchange knowledge and experiences, and give advice to actors working on social protection and humanitarian cash transfers.

Legal and Policy framework: Madagascar has also established a strong legal and policy foundation to expand social protection measures during crises. Shock responsive social protection is embedded in the national social protection strategy, supported by an operational manual on when and how to expand the schemes during emergencies. A MoU has been signed between the Ministry and the National Agency for Disaster Response to clarify roles and responsibilities in execution.

COVID-19 response: To respond to the crisis and reach vulnerable populations in need, the cash working group formulated a strategy for the Tosika Fameno cash programme in March 2020, clarifying priority areas for response, design and delivery of cash transfers including targeting criteria, benefit amount and duration of the transfer. In April, the government with financial support from the World Bank and UNICEF expanded the existing social protection schemes into previously uncovered urban areas. Development and humanitarian partners WFP, UNDP, ACF, CARE, the Madagascar Red Cross, SOS, Handicap International provided support to other geographic areas, complementing the government-led measures. In total, 240,000 households received cash assistance in April, and an additional 7,000 in July, and 80,000 in August, horizontally expanding the current social protection scheme. All the actors involved in the Tosika Fameno programme have used common tools, in terms of targeting, beneficiary registration, M&E systems and communication strategy.

The experience of the Madagascar COVID-19 response demonstrates the importance of pre-existing coordination mechanisms, use of common tools and strategies to avoid fragmentation in response and to maximize impact on beneficiary households. It also presents an opportunity to develop long term social protection programming for urban areas based on the temporary emergency measures.  

Experience of Albania

Ilir started by providing an overview of the COVID-19 response in Korca Municipality in Albania, a small city with a population of around 110,000. At the municipality level, the Department of Civil Emergencies is the main authority in charge of emergency response. As the pandemic hit, the department found itself unprepared to respond to the multiple challenges presented by the crisis, and support families and children in need.

At the national level, the government immediately approved a financial package which doubled poverty targeted cash assistance and unemployment benefits; and adopted specific legislation to disburse food aid to 600,000 individuals in need. Yet many families were still left out, and local governments faced challenges in implementing policy decisions on the ground due to lack of experience and capacity. To identify and reach families in need and those who were left out of responses, the municipality established a network of ten teams consisting of regional leaders and social workers, procured food packages to complement the national government support, and tasked the local police with disbursement. The mayor also reached out to development and humanitarian actors such as UNICEF, Terres Des Hommes, and World Vision for support, and used a common database of beneficiaries to avoid overlap and maximize reach and impact of the responses.

In addition to the in-kind support, the municipality worked with UNICEF to pilot a one-time humanitarian cash transfer to 610 vulnerable families. UNICEF allocated funds to the Korca Municipality, who then identified the households who were not benefitting from any kind of assistance, and approved the list at the municipal council, following the same procedure as other types of aid. The benefit amount and other design details were determined based on economic aid measures, and other recommendations and standards set by the national government. Delivery of cash transfers through postal services has started and ongoing.

This is the first-time cash was used in humanitarian assistance in the Korca municipality. Compared to food aid, cash assistance proved more effective and efficient response, as it doesn’t require procurement, transport, warehouses, and personnel to deliver the aid. It was also highly valued by families, and adequate to meet their needs – compared to in kind support.

The webinar concluded with a rich Q&A session, available here.


This blog post is part of the Linking Social Protection with humanitarian cash webinar series, which brings together the summaries of webinars organized by IFRC, UNICEF and DFID on the topic. To set the scene, don’t forget to watch the foundational webinar on this topic: Demystifying the entry points for humanitarians. If you have any thoughts on this webinar summary or the whole series, we would love to hear from you. Please add your comments below! 

Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Social assistance
    • Social transfers
      • Cash transfers
      • In kind transfers
  • Labour market / employment programmes
    • Passive labour market policies
      • Unemployment benefits
        • Unemployment insurance (contributory)
Social Protection Building Blocks: 
  • Policy
    • Laws and Policies
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Health
    • HIV/AIDS
  • Humanitarian assistance
  • Madagascar
  • Eswatini
  • Albania
  • Europe & Central Asia
  • Sub-Saharan Africa
The views presented here are the author's and not's