Tech Talk: Empowering people through electronic cash transfers

It wasn't so long ago that delivering aid in times of crisis, whether in Canada or elsewhere, inevitably took the form of distributing goods (blankets, food, water, and other essentials) and services (shelter, first aid, and so on). But in recent years, the Red Cross has also taken a new approach, one that utilizes the latest technology and empowers people who are affected by emergencies to access cash and purchase items most needed by their family.

In the most recent large-scale disaster to strike Canada, the Alberta wild fires that forced the evacuation of the entire city of Fort McMurray, electronic fund transfers were sent to all affected residents by the Canadian Red Cross within weeks of the response.

Donations from Canadians poured in, and just as quickly, millions of dollars were transferred to families via email. It was a first for the Canadian Red Cross and the direct assistance has allowed people to pay for the various expenses resulting from the evacuation and losses from the fire.

In another part of the world, drought and the constant threat of hunger weights heavily on the minds of people in Zimbabwe.
The Zimbabwe Red Cross Society, with the support of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), is helping vulnerable people through mobile cash transfers

After receiving a text message, Patricia, one of the beneficiaries of this program, heads to the distribution point to collect $40 US dollars. 

Upon receiving the funds, she heads to the local market to purchase food for her family. Where the previous distribution method might have provided her with a bag of maize, with cash, she is able to buy cooking oil, salt and other much needed items.

“This money has made a lot of difference. It’s quite different from going on a hungry tummy every day. We are very thankful for the support we have received."

In Canada much like in Zimbabwe, these cash transfers not only allow for the most flexibility in helping people affected by emergencies, it also contributes to the local economy. 

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