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Getting smart in the fight against poverty

By Andrew Horton | 16 May 2019

Smart cards in South Sudan

In South Sudan, we’ve just finished trialling a new cash transfer project with a technological twist…

Cash transfer programming – giving people cash rather than goods – has been one of the most successful recent developments in providing humanitarian aid. It’s an effective and dignifying way to support people in need.

By giving cash, Tearfund and our partners put the decision-making back into the hands of people in need. Cash is given to people who need and will benefit from it the most. But in Juba, South Sudan, instead of coins and notes, people have been given digital smart cards. These are pre-loaded with the local currency and can be used to buy food, goods and to access services.

We tested how this smart card technology can be used in remote areas to provide vulnerable families with access to food and other vital items they need to live.

Good choices

Violent clashes between warring parties began in Juba in December 2013 and soon spread to other parts of the country. The conflict forced many people to flee their homes. Drought and extreme weather conditions for farmers has left millions malnourished. The worst affected are children, people with disabilities, and pregnant or new mothers.

'When Tearfund came here, I was registered and given a smart card. This has helped to change my life.'

In our two-month pilot, 500 families – that’s around 2,500 people – were helped with 120 US dollars (£93) per month. They could choose to either use their smart cards to obtain cash, or to buy food and other items from local Tearfund-contracted vendors. Or a mix of the two.

Take up was high. By the second month, more than 80 per cent of those who were offered the service were using it.

One of them was Joyce, who says, ‘When I registered in Tearfund’s project I was pregnant. But there was not enough food for my family.

‘I like the smart card because it keeps the money safe. When I gave birth to my baby I was not able to go to the shop. But my money on the card was safe and meant I could buy milk for my baby.’

Out of danger

Grace is another woman who has benefited from the project. Her husband passed away a few years ago. She says the smart cards have been invaluable to her.

‘I don’t have anyone helping me and my children, and we often didn’t have enough food in the house. I used to go to the bush to collect firewood and sell in the market, using the money to buy food. Sometimes I met people with guns in the bush and they stopped me getting any wood, so we went hungry that day.

‘When Tearfund came here, I was registered and given a smart card. This has helped to change my life.

‘I thank Tearfund in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ for being an answer to prayer. I now have a joy in my heart because my life has changed. I no longer need to go to the forest to collect and sell firewood.’

Paola Castiati, Tearfund’s Global Cash Specialist, says of this groundbreaking initiative, ‘I have run a number of projects in South Sudan, but none of them have given the same positive feedback from beneficiaries as this. The smart cards make their lives easier – they feel less exposed, more confident and less stressed. They feel like they can live again.’  


Father God,

Thank you for technology. We know that it is not always used for good, but we thank you for the way that smart cards for cash programming are helping to fight poverty. May this pilot scheme in South Sudan be a catalyst for setting up more projects, in the toughest, most fragile places on Earth. Lord, you are the restorer of life. Help us all to be your hands and feet on earth today, giving of ourselves to each other. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

Written by

Written by Andrew Horton

Andrew is Online News and Film Editor for Tearfund. This involves finding and writing up inspiring articles for the website, and capturing compelling stories on video.

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