The Humanitarian system is under severe stress. Today, as a result of armed conflict, famine, epidemics, and natural disasters, there are millions of people facing displacement, hunger, violence and disease. News coverage is sensational and short-lived, but the resolution and recovery time is not for those affected. As the numbers continue to rise, new solutions are needed to ensure that aid can reach those in need efficiently and effectively.

Last week, Uphold had the fantastic opportunity to be part of the Innovation Marketplace at the UN’s first World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in Istanbul. The event was a global call to action by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, to reaffirm a collective commitment to humanity, share best practices and initiate concrete actions to better prepare and respond to crisis situations.

One of the main topics – and the reason for Uphold’s attendance – was the role of innovation in money, cash transfers and how digital solutions can positively impact humanitarian causes.

Cash transfer programs are the direct distribution of money – as opposed to goods – to individuals affected by crisis. In this context, the term “cash” refers not only to physical cash, but also to redeemable vouchers, cards and electronic money transfers, such as mobile money.* While cash transfer programs currently only make up about 6% of global humanitarian aid, there is clear and compelling evidence of the strength of these programs. In our data-driven and mobile-first society, the case for digital programs is even more clear.

Giving individuals affected by crisis money directly also gives dignity, choice and empowerment. When transacting with digital money in particular, these transfers provide transparency and accountability, reduce duplication, enhance localization, and are more efficient and effective, i.e. easier to disburse more quickly and at less cost. For example, a representative at one panel noted that during the Somalia food crisis, the UK government found that with cash transfers, 85 pence per pound reached the beneficiary versus only 35 pence per pound with food aid.

A recent report by key development and aid organizations coordinated the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) highlighted the need for greater use of cash transfers in humanitarian aid and that, where possible, cash should be delivered digitally and in ways that further financial inclusion.

While the context and market dynamics should of course be central when choosing the type of tool, cash in its various forms also holds the power to strengthen and shift those dynamics.

Of course, for humanitarian organizations, building the digital rails takes time and planning. This is where a digital money solution such as Uphold, with built-in security, compliance and a global network, can help.

Uphold welcomes the opportunity to work with local and international experts to bring payments, remittances and digital savings to populations in need around the world – transparently, at scale and at very low cost. Our open API is free and available for anyone or any company to build on or integrate into their existing platform. In support of making the world a better place, Uphold waives all service and exchange fees for registered nonprofits.

If you want more information or to see how you can get involved, feel free to reach me at [email protected]


Diana Biggs

VP, Head of Growth & Partnerships, UK & EMEA


*For more information, Cash Atlas highlights interesting statistics on the use of CTPs from global aid organisations.