For 30 years, WFP has collaborated with a vast network of Standby Partners consisting of public and private organizations that complement WFP’s operational capacity by providing staffing, equipment, and services.
Standby Partnerships are activated in various job positions and provide crucial support to WFP operations in emergencies or when WFP needs specific technical expertise. Currently, 95 experts from our standby partners network are working in 32 Country Offices, 6 Regional Bureaux, and Headquarters.
We spoke with Mireia Termes Serra, a Spanish Expert deployed by NORCAP’s CashCap Initiative for ten months, to support crisis response and development interventions in Iraq. She told us about her responsibilities as the Cash Working Group (CWG) Coordinator in this post-conflict country which is at an important crossroads in its history.
The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down the economy, and there are still 1.2 million internally displaced people and nearly 249,000 Syrian refugees unable to return home. Overall, 2.4 million people are in acute need of food and livelihood assistance in Iraq, including the communities which host displaced families and refugees.
1. Since April 2021, you have been supporting the work of both WFP and its partner organizations in Iraq. Why have you decided to contribute your time and experience as a Standby Partner?
I have been a member of the Standby Partners network since 2019 as a Cash Expert readily deployable in emergency operations. Previous SBP experiences had already taken me to Latin American and Middle Eastern countries. Unsurprisingly, I was thrilled when the Norwegian Refugee Council’s CashCap contacted me in March 2021 about a Cash Working Group (CWG) Coordination role advertised by WFP in Iraq. This was an excellent opportunity to support the humanitarian response while contributing to the country’s fragile recovery process. The interagency aspect of the job was also a huge motivator.
2. What are your main tasks during this deployment?
The Iraq Cash Working Group aims to scale up Cash Based Transfers (CBT) across different sectors, enable collaboration among humanitarian and development actors, and support them in making their progress. As of 2021, the CWG gathers about 60 member organizations and is co-led by WFP and Mercy Corps.
As the current CWG Coordinator, my role is to ensure CBT mainstreaming, drive the development of common policies and good practices, support the establishment of sub-national cash working groups across the country, provide technical support and advise key humanitarian and development bodies on CBT related issues. It’s a challenging but exciting role!
3. How do you work with WFP’s team, partners and people assisted?
I work from the WFP premises in Erbil, in the Kurdistan Region. Given the security situation in Baghdad, many organizations have offices in Erbil, and several clusters (CWG included) are coordinated from here. Regarding WFP colleagues, they are passionate about their mission and very supportive. They treat me like family.
My day-to-day work mainly revolves around the CWG members. Each entity operates at a different stage of the response: from emergency interventions to longer-term recovery. Some have in-depth experience with CBT, while others are conducting pilots. Despite their different mandates, all members understand that CBT potential cannot be achieved alone. Collaboration is key!
As for vulnerable populations, I admire how resilient they are despite their hardships. Millions of people got displaced, losing their livelihoods, facing insecurities, and being separated from their relatives. Their situation is exacerbated by unstable food markets and higher food prices. Listening to them is critical to understand their challenges and design assistance programmes accordingly.
4. What challenges do you face during your assignment, and how do you resolve them? What surprised you the most?
Considering vulnerable people’s high levels of need and across several sectors – food, shelter, health and more – Iraq increasingly requires sustainable solutions such as CBT. Unfortunately, CBT implementation is hindered by various factors: the 18 percent currency devaluation of the Iraqi dinar at the end of 2020 has generated inflation and decreased the population’s purchasing power. In terms of delivery mechanisms, Iraq has limited bank and electronic services.
Consequently, digital transfers are still developing, so the primary CBT method is the “Hawala” system (money transfer, in Arabic). Families directly receive a pre-determined cash amount from a Hawala agent. Some organizations may prefer voucher distribution: in that case, recipients visit contracted retailers to redeem vouchers against staple foods (wheat flour, rice, lentils, beans, bulgur and more).
5. What are your key achievements, and where do you feel your work has made an impact?
Thanks to the CWG’s hard work, CBT has gained ground in Iraq. Although in-kind dispatch remains the pre-dominant relief modality, a growing number of actors are seeking to integrate CBT in their operations. It is cost-effective, has an immediate impact, allows freedom of choice and ultimately restores people’s dignity. Furthermore, the received resources are re-injected into local markets, thus benefitting the wider community. WFP now uses CBT for all its activities, both crisis response and resilience-building interventions, and currently assists an average of 300,000 people through CBT every month. This number is expected to further increase.
The CWG results in capacity building are also rewarding, especially when it translates into national partners’ growing involvement in CBT. Thanks to a steady training programme (in English, Arabic and Kurdish), more Iraqi counterparts are contacting the CWG to introduce CBT into their interventions. These developments are encouraging because local organizations’ ownership is key to sustain CBT in a country.
6. Has there been a remarkable personal moment during your assignment? What is your best story?
The CWG recently collaborated with the Gender sub-cluster to design a pilot meant to enhance CBT support among Gender-Based Violence survivors, thus contributing to strengthening the links between CBT and social protection systems. Supporting victims through this transformative project was very special to me. Also, I occasionally carry out fields visits to monitor market assessments or CBT distributions in IDP camps. I value these missions because they enable me to discuss with the people we serve and get first-hand impressions of the assistance’s impact. The CBT really enables vulnerable people to meet their basic needs and minimize reliance on negative coping strategies, such as eating less food, or borrowing money to buy food. Listening to people’s stories is both moving and motivating.
7. What are the main lessons learned?
Inclusiveness is critical to ensure consensus and success. Every partner’s experience, big or small, is valuable to the CWG. Therefore, to meet our common objectives, we must listen to everybody’s perspectives and challenges. Without all members’ engagement, we cannot expand CBT in Iraq. This inclusiveness lesson also applies to my personal life.
Tiwonge Machiwenyika, WFP Iraq’s Head of Programme, confirms that “by coordinating the work of a multitude of key organizations in the CBT field, Mireia is greatly contributing to humanitarian and development interventions in Iraq”.
For deployment of standby expertise, provision of services and equipment through corporate partners, please reach out to ALITE team in the Emergency Operations Division at ALITE@wfp.org