Since the start of the war in Ukraine, more than 8 million people have fled their homes. Each of these people have unique, personal needs that humanitarian organizations are working to address as their lives are turned upside down.
Supporting so many people with different situations at once can be very difficult, especially in conflict zones. But we know from our humanitarian partners that when people are displaced from their homes, because of war, natural disasters, or other catastrophic events, cash helps people withstand the initial shocks and departure. When aid organizations provide financial assistance – including through electronic transfers or cash vouchers – they put money directly into the hands of those experiencing crisis. This way, people can decide how and where to use the support, whether it’s on clothes for their children, medicine for themselves or a family member, or food and water.
In some settings, cash transfer programs are implemented through face-to-face meetings by individual staff who manually process requests. This can lead to long wait times and delays, hampering an organization’s or volunteer’s ability to meet the most urgent needs in times of crisis.
Leveraging digital communications to quickly activate cash programs
In the case of Ukraine and its neighboring countries, cash grants have been a large part of the assistance humanitarian organizations have provided to those affected. As part of their digital solution, some social impact builders and humanitarian organizations have been using Twilio technology to increase their reach and scale, enabling them to help more people in a shorter amount of time.
Christopher Hoffman, Global Programme Manager, Digital Community Hubs at the Norwegian Refugee Council noted: “It’s not that face-to-face interaction is the wrong thing. It’s just that there are so many ways that we can scale it now with digital tools. It gives us a much wider opportunity to assist more people quickly than we have in the past.”
This tech-powered, rapid, and personalized response means that a new mom can use the cash she receives to buy the right type of baby formula that works best for her newborn. It means someone who left behind life-saving medication such as insulin or an inhaler can purchase the exact medication they need immediately. And it means a single dad can buy his child a new jacket that fits them perfectly and reminds them of the one they had at home, instead of relying on what’s available through donated goods. These decisions are critical for health and well-being, as they allow people to choose the type of goods and services that are right for them at a time when so little is in their control. Cash can be an incredibly powerful tool to ensure the dignity of those impacted by conflict.
Continue reading to learn more about how organizations are using Twilio technology as part of their digital solution to meet the needs of those who have been displaced.
“In order to do cash at scale, clear communication lines with the people you are helping are essential–especially if you do not see all of them face to face,” said Tijs Ziere, a Cash Information Manager with Red Cross Netherlands. “Twilio enables us to reach out to people, inform them, learn from them, and service them better in the future.”
Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)
NRC’s mission is to protect displaced people and support them as they build a new future. The organization currently works in 35 countries and helped 10 million people who had to flee their homes in 2021 alone. In Ukraine, where individuals and families are currently escaping war, this mission is critically important.
To assist as many people fleeing conflict as possible, NRC uses a Twilio-powered chatbot to help manage requests for financial support. Here’s how it works: The chatbot asks a series of questions to determine the needs of individuals or families and captures important identifying documents like an individual’s Tax ID on a secure NRC server. Once NRC receives this information, they are able to quickly assess whose needs are the most urgent and work with their payment processing vendor, RedRose, to get cash into the hands of those with the most urgent needs as soon as possible. RedRose then uses Twilio’s SMS messaging and WhatsApp system to provide updates to those who have requested assistance, so they know if and when they’ll receive cash assistance to support them.
Importantly, the communication doesn’t stop there. NRC wants to understand how the process works for individuals requesting funds, so they use WhatsApp to reach back out to those receiving funds to determine what the organization might be able to do differently in the future to best serve the needs of those looking for support.
The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)
IFRC is the world’s largest humanitarian network, with members in 192 countries. They act before, during, and after emergencies to meet the needs of those impacted by crisis situations.
Using an IFRC app that is available on any smartphone, people who have left Ukraine and are currently in Poland or Romania can easily fill out a series of questions to determine their eligibility for aid.
Once IFRC receives this information and processes the request, IFRC then uses Twilio’s SMS messaging system to send status updates and notifications to those who have requested assistance. If an application is approved and a person or family is receiving assistance, they can pick up their cash at MoneyGram locations or receive the funds virtually if they use certain bank accounts.
When crises hit, it is critical to ensure that humanitarian organizations and NGOs have the tools to respond quickly to those who need help most urgently. As the crisis in Ukraine continues, and the need for support remains, Twilio will continue to work with organizations like NRC and IFRC to ensure they have the right technology in place to help as many people as possible.
Erin Kelly is Principal Brand Manager for Twilio.org. She's interested in exploring the intersection of technology and social impact; and in identifying the impactful ways people are using technology for good. She can be reached at ekelly [at] twilio.com
Using Twilio technology to scale up and increase the reach of cash transfer programs is just one way organizations are using these tools—and so much more is possible. If you’re working to support those impacted by Ukraine or want to know more about how Twilio technology can help boost your reach and impact, please reach out to the Twilio.org team, Twilio’s social impact arm, to chat.