NABATIYEH, Lebanon – MasterCard has teamed up with United Nations World Food Program (WFP) to provide e-cards for 800,000 Syrian refugees, in part of a digital food voucher program that supports Lebanon in meeting the pressing food aid needs of the Syrian crises.
“At MasterCard we believe that technology has the power to unlock innovation in food aid delivery, enabling a greater impact and helping achieve the vision that a world beyond cash builds a world beyond hunger,” said Ann Cairns, MasterCard’s President of International Markets, in a press release. “We are committed to working with the UN World Food Program to end world hunger.”
The e-card program was piloted in September 2013 for approximately 2,000 Syrian households, which is an estimated population of 10,000 in the southern Lebanese town of Nabatiyeh. Expanding to other parts of the region, the cashless system replaced WFP’s paper vouchers. Each family received an e-card, which has a monthly value of $27 per person that serves to be redeemable upon certain food items at participating local stores.
The money is electronically wired to the cards and this saves time for the refugees who no longer have to wait in line to receive their entitlements. Approximately 300 stores participated in the digital food program. Another plus factor is that the e-card allows them to buy fresh food that is not typically included in traditional food rations.
“The new e-cards will allow Syrian refugees to choose the foods they want, when they want,” said Elisabeth Rasmusson, WFP’s Assistant Executive Director for Partnership and Governance Services, in a press release.
“We are grateful for MasterCard’s assistance in setting up the e-voucher system in Lebanon and Jordan, the two countries hosting the largest number of refugees. It’s just one example of how our combined efforts can offer powerful and innovative ways to fight hunger,” continued Ramusson.
While there will always be the need for food aid to be shipped in major catastrophic emergencies, many humanitarian agencies such as WFP have found that the key issue is the affordability of food in local shops and markets, and the lack of access the hungry and poor have to such food.
WFP’s partnership with MasterCard enabled them to “harness digital technology in a transformative way that could revolutionize WFP’s food assistance programs through electronic voucher transfers.”
“By supporting WFP, we have developed a solution which combines our experience in payments and technology with WFP’s insight into the most pressing needs facing refugees,” emphasized Basel El Tell, MasterCard’s Levant Market Manager, in a press release. “It is very encouraging to see how the e-cards can positively impact the refugees as the initiative scales up across the region.”
The revolutionary prepaid card solution has several benefits. It has the potential to stimulate demand within its local economies and promote “sustainable changes to how food is accessed and supplied.” By October 2013, it was reported that WFP had invested a sum close to $192 million in the local economies of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt as a result of the e-voucher system.
The digital food delivery system, as it is also referred, is a transparent way of making a transfer — one way that helps eradicate corruption. In another sense, it also empowers the poor, hungry and vulnerable to decide how and with what they feed their families.
“This is a real boon for Syrian refugees who have endured tremendous hardship over many months,” said Muhannad Hadi in a press release. Hadi is WFP’s Emergency coordinator for the Syrian crisis.
“The e-cards also bring business to local merchants, and they make WFP’s operations more time and cost effective. This is a win for all of us,” continued Hadi.
In conjunction with the digital food aid project, MasterCard helped WFP develop an improved online donation device to allow more people the opportunity to donate through a broader array of online payment methods. This new device also allows brands to participate by integrating the donation mechanism onto their products. Retailers are able to offer customers the opportunity to make donations to WFP at checkout without having to exit the site.
“All donations are tracked and credited to both the brand and the consumer, offering new opportunities for consumers and brands to work together and have a meaningful, measurable impact on the fight against hunger,” wrote Greg Barrow, WFP program spokesman for the UK and Republic for Ireland, on the Reuters website.
As the Syrian crises persists, WFP is targeting to reach close to 2.5 million refugees in need of food assistance in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey by the end of the year. These digital food vouchers undoubtedly will continue to play a significant role in WFP’s operations.
– Flora Khoo