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Published on 21 May 2021

Targeting those most in need of humanitarian assistance is a dilemma, with many people concerned local elites will ‘capture the process’ or ‘divert aid’ (both jargon for fraud and corruption). But with the right structures put in place to foster participation, communities invariably target those in need. Here’s a terrific example of community participation and accountability in aid delivery.

Since the Sulawesi earthquake of 2018, our local partner KUN Humanity System + (KUN), an Indonesian NGO, have been working with Christian Aid on Survivor and Community Led Response (SCLR), which help put local communities at the heart of decision making when it comes to disaster response.

In late 2020 they put the approach to the test, by implementing a Cash Transfer Programme (CTP) in response to COVID-19.

The small-scale project could only target 225 people with cash transfers, but it also operated in a context where there was already some government support.

At the onset it was clear this was a sensitive subject. After the initial beneficiary lists were received from the local communities, Prasetia Lumbantoruan (KUN Project Manager) stated:

Conflicts are inevitable. Cash Transfer Programmes are quite sensitive in the area because all community members still consider themselves a deserving beneficiary even though they might have received cash assistance from village government or other NGO’.

Consequently, the team decided to initiate a deeper participation process.

The challenges were only just beginning…

A bank had been selected to make the transfer, but its regulations required documentation that not all participants had. In addition, other informal barriers, such as vision impairment, made it hard for some people to open accounts, making them de facto ineligible.

In order to overcome these challenges, the team worked tirelessly with local community leaders to help all selected people to be able to have access to a bank. Finally, though, if it was not possible to open an account, several people received their cash directly from KUN as a backup process.

All this coincided with ongoing local elections. As such, there were myriad conversations with local authorities to ensure the process was not being misconstrued as undue political influence.

These contextual challenges, as well as a lengthy verification process, meant that the initial distribution plan had to be updated. Different tranches were used to balance the dual priorities of speed and inclusion.

Those who had accounts weren’t left waiting; neither were those who didn’t have accounts, although there were some delays.

Flexibility was critical to make the most effective distribution process, balancing speed, accountability and conflict sensitivity at a time of local elections.

The project was completed in January 2021 and monitoring showed how much the participants appreciated the process.

Overall, this is a good example of how communities produce transparent and fair processes for cash distributions, which avoid pitfalls of politicisation and inciting conflict.

The 5 things we learned from this programme

  • If the proper structures and planning are put in place, communities will agree on vulnerability criteria which are transparent and fair and not influenced or diverted by local elites.
  • Formal financial systems may have criteria which exclude vulnerable people; however, good programming involves finding solutions, not simply disqualifying the vulnerable.
  • Trade-offs need to be made with speed of distribution and acceptable targeting, clear communication is vital to this process, to ensure transparency and accountability.
  • Longer term planning is needed to ensure quality humanitarian response, the programme was a response to the earthquake in 2018 but came into its own in response to COVID-19 in 2020.
  • Adjustments were only made possible by the flexible and adaptive approaches which were guaranteed in the funding from Christian Aid to KUN.

Our programmes have ended in Indonesia, but KUN is still working on several community projects.

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