Two Guadalcanal communities are piloting Oxfam’s Unblocked Cash (UBC) project in the Solomon Islands, a digital cash transfer approach for humanitarian aid response in the Solomon Islands using blockchain-powered technology.
Oxfam in the Pacific (OiP) activated the distribution of funds for 124 registered individuals from Suagi in North Guadalcanal and Malango in Central Guadalcanal that took part in a two-week long pilot period.
Beneficiaries who took part had access to supplies of their choice using their e-voucher cards across seven different vendors located around the Guadalcanal region and in Honiara, who are engaged in the pilot.
“This is unlike anything we’ve received before,” says Peter Manebosa of Suagi Community.
“[Usually] after a disaster, the things they bring to us are shared amongst the community and most of the time these are materials that we do not need,” Peter says.
“I’m really happy that I am taking part in this pilot, and I hope this response is used whenever we are hit by a cyclone.”
The current UBC Pilot targets the vulnerable population of Suagi and Malango inclusive of the elderly, people with disability, widows and widowers, and single mothers.
Vendors engaged in Honiara are wholesale supplies Ausmart, Health Food Pacific and Palm Clothing, while two retailer vendors are based in Guadalcanal, and three transport operators that can accept transportation fares with the e-voucher cards.
Discussions are still ongoing for the involvement of hardware suppliers.
The Unblocked Cash system is powered by Australian tech company Sempo and modelled after Oxfam Vanuatu’s award-winning UBC program that was used in the response to Tropical Cyclone Harold in 2020.
Vendors are provided smart phones with NFC (near-field communication) features and installed with the Sempo mobile app that can work offline. A simple tap on the phone “tap-and-pay” by an e-voucher card automatically transacts a desired purchase.
Vendors can range from wholesale suppliers to retailers, clothing shops, vegetable and food providers, and transport operators.
The UBC went live after months of preparations based on market surveys carried out since 2019 in Western, Malaita and Guadalcanal provinces.
The pilot is also supported by local stakeholders including the National Disaster Management Office, Central Bank of Solomon Islands, the Solomon Islands Cash Working Group, and major private sector suppliers.
“The UBC response gives beneficiaries or those affected by natural disasters, the power of choice to choose their required support based on their actual needs,” says Iris Parisuri, OiP’s Coordinator to the Cash & Voucher Assistance program in the Solomon Islands.
“There are of course challenges such as the need for a vendor to momentarily acquire internet connection to update their account standings and the logistics needed by beneficiaries to travel to vendors who are based in Honiara,” says Iris.
“Early on during the introduction of the UBC, it took a while for people to fully grasp how the systems works as it seemed a bit overwhelming – however as soon as we went live and transferred the funds to their accounts, the process played out smoothly.”
The Unblocked Cash Pilot Project in the Solomon Islands is part of OiP’s Cash & Voucher Assistance Programme and is funded by the Australian Government through the Australian Humanitarian Partnership (AHP) and the European Union.
Oxfam’s Unblocked Cash project in Vanuatu won the European Union 2020 Horizon Prize for Blockchain for Social Good in Aid category and was also selected the winner of the 2020 World Summit Awards in the Inclusion & Empowerment category.
According to the Vanuatu Business Resilience Council, research has shown that in emergencies, cash solutions can often meet people’s immediate needs more quickly and appropriately than the direct distribution of aid such as food supplies and shelter for example.