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WFP SBP Stories: Fred Merie boosts cash transfers in Jigjiga, Ethiopia

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

The Somali region, known for its predominantly arid and semi-arid environment, faces multiple challenges such as drought and food security crises. These factors intensify the already precarious situation of the pastoralist and agropastoral communities residing in the region.


In 2021, Fred Merie, a Kenyan Cash Expert, was deployed by the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) to Jigjiga, the capital of the Somali region, located at 70 km west of the border with Somalia. The purpose of his 29-month assignment was to expand WFP cash assistance in the region.


Fred Merie, Cash Expert seconded to Jigjiga @ WFP
 

Fred has always been passionate about humanitarian work and driven by a deep desire to make a positive impact on the lives of those in need. When the Jigjiga Area Office requested Standby expertise to increase cash-based transfers in their operations, he immediately knew he could make valuable contributions, especially in a region where such initiatives were relatively new. “At the time WFP Ethiopia was gradually increasing its cash portfolio and Jigjiga was one of the pilot areas. I had previously worked with WFP in Kenya and knew how empowering the cash modality (whether food vouchers, digital transfers or cash) could be for beneficiaries, compared to in-kind distributions”, he recalls. “Cash is more cost effective to implement than in-kind transfers, hence more food insecure households can be reached with the same amount of funding”.


Fred (right) discussing with Logistics Officer Simon Kabucho about the complementarities of cash and in-kind assistance @ WFP

Bringing 10 years of experience in this field, Fred embarked on the challenging mission of expanding cash assistance to beneficiaries in Jigjiga. He understood the importance of relief cash in providing more dignified assistance and believed that empowering individuals with the choice to meet their own needs could bring transformative change. “In addition to planning and coordinating cash activities, I provided capacity building and provision of technical input to WFP programming”, he said. Financial service providers partnering with WFP also benefitted from his knowledge and unrelenting support.


Furthermore, throughout his assignment, Fred remained dedicated to fostering strong partnerships. He actively participated in the regional cash working group, collaborating with other organizations implementing cash-based transfers. Together, they aimed to harmonize efforts, avoid duplication, and share best practices. Fred's commitment to cooperation was instrumental in revitalizing the working group, which had been inactive for years before his arrival.


As he delved into his work, Fred however faced some challenges. One of the main hurdles was the need to digitize cash transfers. In the past, cash had directly been distributed to beneficiaries, but this approach lacked the long-term benefits of digital financial inclusion. In addition, this method did not meet WFP high demand for transparency and accountability in reporting. Consequently, Fred worked tirelessly with local stakeholders, including government officials, financial service providers, and WFP staff, to implement cash digitization. The process required careful coordination, capacity building, and extensive fieldwork.


Cash distribution monitoring in Filtu woreda, Somali region @ WFP

Through continuous lobbying, technical discussions, evidence-sharing and calculation of transfer values Fred ensured that cash assistance became more responsive to market changes than ever before, meaning that beneficiaries received an amount of cash comparable to the in-kind food basket value. These efforts gradually started to translate into tangible results.


When Fred joined the Jigjiga Office in February 2021, only a small pilot of 1,016 households was being rolled out in Dolo Bay, a small village in the Somali region. By the end of his mission in June 2023, close to 70,000 households in 180 locations were receiving relief cash assistance, as well as additional ones getting nutrition assistance through electronic vouchers. During this time, refugee camps in Jigjiga area also received the first ever digital cash transfers in refugee camps in Ethiopia, which had been under discussion for years. “The cash portfolio is now very successful and has potential for remarkable expansion. I have identified additional locations with possibilities for relief assistance through cash. This is the next frontier,” he proudly stated.


As time went on, Fred witnessed the impact of his work first-hand. The preference for digitized transfers grew among beneficiaries, with many expressing their gratitude for the freedom and convenience it brought. His proudest moments came when beneficiaries shared their stories, highlighting how the transition from in-kind assistance to cash had positively transformed their lives. “Every time cash is transferred and reaches beneficiaries through their mobile phones is a special moment for me. There is great relief in receiving assistance when it is most needed: beneficiaries get to spend the cash when, where and how they desire without having to queue for it”, he stated.


As Fred’s assignment neared its end, he reflected on the impact he had made during his time in Jigjiga. The knowledge he contributed to empowering individuals, alleviating suffering, and building resilience in the face of adversity filled him with a profound sense of fulfillment. Moreover, he realized the importance of incremental progress and the impact even small steps can have. He also understood the significance of adaptability and collaboration in navigating complex humanitarian landscapes. His efforts, combined with the collective work of the WFP team and partners, played a pivotal role in empowering vulnerable communities and building resilience.


Fred piloting QR coded beneficiary cards in Somali Region @ WFP

Moses Ojota, Head of Programme at Jigjiga, confirmed: “Fred has diligently collaborated with WFP and stakeholders to strengthen capacity in all locations where relief cash was being implemented, which is a key pillar in the success of his deployment. Beneficiaries are able to purchase the same amount of food as those receiving in-kind assistance, which is a significant achievement to increase our cash coverage, and in turn support the local economy Thanks to his work, the groundwork for further expansion has been laid in the region.”

 

Since 1991 the World Food Programme (WFP) collaborates with a vast network of Standby Partners consisting of public and private organizations complementing 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. In 2022, 205 experts supported 45 Country Offices, 4 Regional Bureaux, and Headquarters. To request and deploy experts Standby Partners please reach out to WFP Standby Partnerships team in the Emergency Operations Division at: standbypartners@wfp.org.

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