What is the WFP?
Founded in 1961, the WFP (World Food Programme) is a branch of the United Nations, and is the largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide. Funded entirely by voluntary donations, the organization reaches around 90million people in 80 countries each year. The WFP is continuously extended to make sure it can reach as many people in need as possible.
Until recently, the WFP focused on the distribution of food, but in more recent humanitarian crises such as the current situation in Syria, it is using more technologically advanced solutions to provide assistance. The Syrian crisis has displaced more than 2 million people who have been forced to flee Syria and take up residence in nearby countries such as Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Many thousands are currently relying on the WFP to provide sufficient nutrition and in January 2015, the WFP in Egypt provided 86,576 refugees from Syria with food voucher assistance.
What is the food voucher system?
The World Food Programme is currently using the Carrefour Shopping Card program to support its food program beneficiaries in Egypt. The WTP sends lists of beneficiaries to Carrefour with the amount allocated for each one. Carrefour issues shopping cards to newly registered refugees, or reloads existing cards, with the indicated amount. The vouchers have a limited validity period and are valued at US$17 (around 130 Egyptian Pounds) per person per month. The amount must be spent before the end of the month, otherwise it is credited back to the WFP but, the scheme allows refugees to redeem multiple times (up to the value of the voucher). Recipients can therefore, purchase fresh produce as and when they need to, during each period of validity.
Originally, the WFP was looking to issue an open loop payment card and distribute it amongst its network of beneficiaries, namely VISA prepaid debit cards. The cards would be accepted in a wide range of retail locations. Carrefour was looking to accept the redemption of these cards without the costs associated to such bank card payments. The WFP needed a technology to restrict the use of the card to food spending. Ogloba recommend the use of its closed loop solution, rather than an open loop one.
How it works
The WFP assistance scheme is embedded into the Shopping Card platform of Carrefour, operated by Ogloba. Closed loop payment cards are issued, and associated to a beneficiary account by the WFP. The PAN number of each card (a 16 to 26 digit serial number) represents a debit-credit account. It is recognized as a shopping card PAN in the database and associated with the beneficiaries’ credentials such as name, cell-phone number, etc. Each time the WFP decides to credit a beneficiary account, a message is sent to the Shopping Card platform in real time, or by batch, to reload that shopping card’s account. In the same way, an SMS is sent to the beneficiary, with the amount credited. The balance on the card is printed on the Carrefour receipt after each transaction.
At the store, the cards are swiped or scanned at the till, not the payment terminal, by the cashier, and identified by the cash register solution as a WFP card. An important feature for the WFP is that the card set-up – via the Ogloba authorizer – rejects the non-food transactions coming from Carrefour.
Benefits for all
Ogloba’s reliable platform, as used by Carrefour in the management of the e-card scheme, has many advantages over direct food distribution, and printed paper vouchers.
Money can be automatically uploaded on to the cards, so recipients do not have to queue to receive aid (food or printed vouchers). This is more time-efficient for recipients and aid organizations, and removes some of the stigma that can come with waiting in line for aid. Indeed, the opportunity afforded to refugees to shop in local stores when they want, allows them to lead a more regular life.
The cards are better than food aid because they allow people to buy what they actually need on a day-to-day basis, rather than them having to eat what they are given. At the same time, the platform allows restrictions on which goods can be purchased to be put in place so, while the money can be spent on daily necessities, they cannot be used to buy alcohol or tobacco.
Unlike with food distribution, the card-based system benefits the local economy because the cards are redeemed in neighborhood stores. In 2013, around US$200million was put into the economies of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt by recipients of WFP aid. As the payments are electronic, merchants receive their payments much faster than they would with paper vouchers. In addition, because the cards have no value until they are charged with credit, they are more secure than distributing aid in the form of cash.
The cards are accepted in any branch of the partner retailer, and because there are a number of branches, access to goods is made easy. In addition, because all the cards are for the same retailer, they can be ordered, manufactured and distributed in bulk, saving both time and money, and making logistics more simple to manage. Recently, this allowed Ogloba to facilitate the upgrading of all WFP/Carrefour barcoded cards for the Greater Cairo area, these cards covering 62,250 refugees.
To find out more about the work of the World Food Programme, visit www.wfp.org