Reshaping tools and services to build financial health for migrants
In this issue of Fresh FINDings we feature a Working Paper created as a result of roundtable conversations that Karen Jacobsen and Kim Wilson participated in this past Spring, as well as an analysis of our FINDings on the role of mobile wallets in improving financial inclusion of refugees in Jordan.
Please visit the Journeys Project at Tufts University for previous studies, ongoing research, videos, maps, and artwork on refugees and migrants in the Middle East and Mediterranean, Latin America, and Africa.
- Mobile Money and Financial Inclusion of Refugees in Jordan—Hope or Hype?
- Forced Displacement and the Humanitarian‐Development Nexus
- The Importance of Ongoing Discussion and Action Toward Financial Inclusion
Mobile Money and Financial Inclusion of Refugees in Jordan – Hope or Hype?
By Swati Mehta Dhawan and Hans-Martin Zademach
In recent years, but especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments worldwide have increased policy support for digital financial services with the aims of making payments more efficient and making banking safer while formalizing large informal sectors. To this end, payment fees have been waived and financial service providers have been allowed to onboard new customers remotely.
Mobile wallets are increasingly promoted for payments, including for social protection measures in times of crisis such as the COVID-19 lockdowns. Despite the increased support and use of mobile wallets, especially for aid and cash assistance disbursements, barriers to access persist for many refugee populations in Jordan.
As Jordan went into lockdown due to Covid-19, the Central Bank of Jordan (CBJ) took prompt measures to allow online registration and electronic know your customer (KYC) verification for m-wallets. CBJ partnered with the National Aid Fund (NAF) and Social Security Corporation (SSC) to distribute aid to vulnerable Jordanians through m-wallets. This was supported by major efforts to raise awareness through social media platforms and television.
Between March and July 2020, the country saw a 40% increase in the number of registered wallets, with more than one million wallets registered (and 1.47 million as of May 2021), or 10% of the country’s population. The increase in the transactions, both by volume and value, has been impressive as well. Most of this use is attributed to the capture of salaries and aid distributed through NAF and SSC, which means users’ primary motivation to use their m-wallets is to make cash withdrawals. Notable in the increase of m-wallet usage for NAF and SSC distributions is that such assistance is received by the “head of household” which is a male in the vast majority of cases, resulting in a massive gender gap in the receipt of assistance and likewise, the ownership and use of m-wallets.
A recent national survey found other use cases gaining popularity as well, such as paying phone bills or airtime top-ups, person-to-person transfers, paying for utilities, and even making other online purchases. Still, the survey confirmed that most Jordanian users opened their m-wallets to receive government aid. Likewise, aid receipt was the primary motivator for refugee participants to download to register for an m-wallet.
While m-wallets serve valuable purposes as tools for the transfer of money, payment of bills, and disbursement of aid for those eligible, what we saw for refugees was not a finance problem, but an income problem. For the majority of refugees unable to receive humanitarian assistance, m-wallets’ primary function would be cashless transfers.
With unstable incomes and lack of work opportunities, however, what kept the majority of research participants up at night was not how they could make a payment more conveniently in a cashless way, but rather how they could get the resources they needed to pay bills, repay mounting debts, smooth consumption of food and basic necessities, better prepare for the next health shock, and improve income in the future
Hence, could we then think of how m-wallets could be made relevant to refugees’ ability to generate income and improve resilience?
Read the essay here for our full discussion of what we learned about mobile money in Jordan, pilot programs testing financial inclusion through mobile money, and our recommendations for policy going forward.
Forced Displacement and the Humanitarian-Development Nexus: A Roundtable Anthology
In the Spring of 2021, the Expert Group for Aid Studies (EBA) arranged for a series of three roundtables to discuss challenges and opportunities for working within the nexus of forced displacement and humanitarian-development.
Karen Jacobsen and Kim Wilson wrote the keynote statement for Roundtable 2- Beyond Livelihoods: “Financial Health” and the Humanitarian-Development Nexus. In their keynote statement, they introduced a Financial Health framework through which to view the financial health of migrants in each phase of their journey and to inform services and programs aimed at improving refugee and migrant livelihoods.
EBA shares the main findings of the roundtable series:
1. Addressing protracted displacement requires an area-based approach that takes into account the impact of displacement both on displaced persons and the host community.
2. Displacement responses should focus on several “levels” of interventions, starting with the local, and scaling up to the national and regional.
3. When it comes to addressing forced displacement, contextual analysis is necessary for effective responses – such analysis also needs to take place on a macro, meso, and micro level.
4. The issue of displacement is inseparable from larger, structural challenges, most notably economic development; work related to the latter must be strengthened to foster resilience for displaced persons and host communities.
5. Donors and practitioners need more and better evidence and data to guide strategies and programming.
6. Global instruments for forced displacement play an important role, but on-the-ground implementation may be limited due to a lack of enforcement mechanisms.
7. Preventing, managing, and resolving forced displacement are fundamentally political activities; humanitarian and development interventions are essential, but they cannot substitute political will and effort.
The Importance of Ongoing Discussion and Action Toward Financial Inclusion
The FIND Symposium was full of honest conversation, heated debate, and innovative ideas. We are grateful to everyone whose efforts made the Symposium happen, and to everyone who continues to participate in this important, ongoing conversation. Some of our partners shared words of support for the ongoing conversation and work around the financial inclusion of refugees.
Fresh FINDings is made possible through a partnership among Tufts University, the Katholische Universität Eichstätt – Ingolstadt (Catholic University or KU), the International Rescue Committee and GIZ. Fresh FINDings also features work sponsored by Catholic Relief Services, Mercy Corps, and the International Organization for Migration.