Time for Action: Piloting digital cash based interventions with refugees in Uganda

  • July 17, 2017

  • Kampala, UGANDA

By Naomi de Groot and Bram Peters, UNCDF MM4P in Uganda.

For more information, please contact:
Naomi de Groot
KM Consultant, Uganda


Never have there been so many displaced people as now. People fleeing their homes in search of safety. Many displaced hope to find this safe haven in Uganda. The country currently hosts 1.2 million refugees, 72% of whom - mainly women and children - are from South-Sudan.

Last month, the UN Secretary General António Guterres visited Uganda to co-host the Solidarity Summit on Refugees. This summit was called to translate the New York Declaration Commitments into action. And action is needed because, since last year, over 900,000 refugees, primarily from South-Sudan, have fled to Uganda.

Together with the UN Secretary General around 200 high-level international guests attended the summit and visited the settlements in Northern Uganda. Amongst them was also the Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Development Cooperation, Alexander De Croo. With a small team and journalists from Belgium, De Croo visited both South-Sudan and Uganda as the Belgian Government supports several projects providing humanitarian assistance to the refugees in Uganda.

During the last day of his visit, De Croo also had the chance to meet with several Ugandan stakeholders that use digital solutions to spur the development of Uganda. Not only is De Croo Minister for Development Cooperation, but also for the Digital Agenda, therefore he is a strong supporter of the use of digital solutions to advance the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

During this meeting, the UN Capital Development Fund’s programme Mobile Money for the Poor (UNCDF MM4P) presented an online financial inclusion dashboard that has been developed with support from the Government of Belgium, using the data records from the two biggest mobile network operators (MNOs) in Uganda: MTN and Airtel. This dashboard has been developed by Dalberg Data Insights and it gives real-time insight on the penetration and usage of mobile money in the country. It provides a very detailed overview per district and even per MNO cell tower on how many people have a mobile phone, whether they are using mobile money and what their activity rate is. This application directly shows the impact of UNCDF’s projects on financial inclusion, with special focus on Ugandans living in rural areas.

Financial inclusion dashboard, Uganda. © UNCDF Uganda/2017

UNCDF is also supporting the digitization of cash-based interventions (CBIs) for refugees in Bidi Bidi. Instead of cash, which is being driven by a van into the settlements, refugees as well as members of the host communities can now receive this supplement digitally on their mobile money account. In order to successfully implement digital CBIs, UNCDF MM4P works with its partners DanChurchAid and MercyCorps to build a digital ecosystem to enable the digitization of these transfers. Concretely, this means that UNCDF engages with the MNOs to ensure that there is sufficient mobile network coverage, and that it assists in the roll out of a network of mobile money agents that maintain sufficient cash levels to sustain withdrawals by refugees whenever they receive mobile money.

These disbursements may be small but are very important to the recipients. Once refugees receive them digitally, this opens the door for other use cases for digital financial services, such as access to mobile savings and loans, but also to affordable Pay-Go Solar Power Systems. “Cash transfers to refugees are increasingly being adopted by humanitarian and development organisations as they are a catalyst for local economies to grow, especially enabling host communities to benefit from the growing local economy that comes with the influx of refugees. Mobile money fits in perfectly as it not only ensures safe and secure cash transfers to beneficiaries, but also because of the additional services like the ability to save using a mobile phone”, says Ronald Rwakigumba, Uganda Country Coordinator, Agri-Fin Mobile, at MercyCorps.